Sunday, May 18, 2014

Support Syrian strategic shift to nonviolence

As anyone can plainly reason, when anyone gets violent, the conflict in question tends to degenerate toward more violence, with a natural human vengeance for any violent attack driving that series of responses steadily downward toward the worst in human nature. One side gets violent, the other side responds in kind, and the race to the bottom is underway. We can all name any number of examples.

What happens when, at some point, a strategist gains the ear of a sector of the conflict parties and mentions that continuing this response is maladaptive, costly, and ineffective? Is there any hope that a violent conflict can somehow right itself increasingly toward nonviolence?

Of course. We saw that in the Philippines, in South Africa, in the Balkans and elsewhere. Violence begins to lose its luster when logic begins to replace the limbic system response. That is when nonviolence can save the day.

Many of us are hoping for that in Syria. The hearts and minds are there--arguably, the Syrians have the strongest faith in themselves, faith that seems quite lacking from those who are external "supporters," whether that is Putin supported al-Assad or Kerry and Obama supporting the "Free Syrian Army" or its other violent insurgency factions. The external supporters may not be crucial to the defeat of their violent foes--neither al-Assad nor the various armed insurgents are close to a military victory and all those parties are further than ever from winning hearts and minds--but they certainly can protract the misery by adding weaponry to the scene.

Zack Baddorf (2013-14) found evidence that, far from disappearing, the nonviolent civil society resistance in Syria is increasing.

There is increasing rejection of the clearly failing violent insurgency--one that is linked here and there to radically differing positions and interests and demographics, from the US to al-Qa'ida to various religious or ethnic bases. There is also a growing worldwide realization that strategic nonviolence is an effective tool available to insurgents who don't have foreign patrons or a big bank account. Nonviolent uprising can be run without funding from kidnapping or drug sales. It is by far the most pure form of democratic opposition to an autocratic regime and can be led by housewives banging pots, students sitting in blockade, strong statements from moral and ethical leaders, and small business owners refusing to sell to any armed force.

Well, what can we do if we are not Syrian and if we don't live there? We can do many things, including but not limited to:
  • write to or visit to lobby our federal elected officials and tell them to stop funding or giving war materiel to violent insurgents
  • educate our fellow citizens about the poor practice of our government in sending arms to Syria
  • support Syrian refugee assistance groups, such as the Syrian American Medical Society,
  • support Syrian civil society groups
  • encourage churches, mosques, and various other affinity groups to support nonviolence in Syria (the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor (2012) rightly noted that only nonviolent resistance tends to work toward a free Syria for all, rather than one dominant group)
While most militarists bemoan the Obama administration's decision not to engage in a military response similar to that of Libya, it is becoming more clear by the month that such shortcuts only cost more in the long run. Find the Libyans who now love the US because Obama led the air attack on Qadaffi--oh, that's right, Libyans generally hate the US and even killed our ambassador to underscore that hatred. Adding to the violence gains little in the long run and usually is a substantial net loss. We can still help Syrians by working to stop the flow of arms and the materiel of war to that suffering country.

Baddorf, Z. (2013). Practicing Nonviolence in Syria. Progressive, 77(12/1), 54-55.

Monitor's Editorial, B. (2012, May 14). Nonviolent tactics may be Syria's only path to freedom. Christian Science Monitor. p. N.PAG.

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