Friday, April 03, 2015

It's the law--look it up

This week, the first week in April 2015, Marxist insurgents in Turkey gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a gift. First, they attacked and killed a prosecutor in Istanbul. Then one of them attacked a police officer in the same city.

A gift? 

Certainly. Erdogan's immediate response was to vow to hunt down the "dark forces" behind the two attacks. He now has justification for cracking down on his political opposition using any methods at all. 

Or does he?

Turkish activists showed that they do have a nonviolent civil society opposition with the beginnings of a large and disciplined force with commitment and resiliency. They demonstrated that beginning 28 May 2013 with a simple protest in Gezi Park in Istanbul, a protest of the government plans to bulldoze that park, but the protest quickly widened to oppose the increasing Islamisation of the country under Erdogan's more and more brutal rule. Eventually, an estimated 3.5 million of Turkey's 80 million people showed up in parks and encampments in some 90 locations in Turkey and in dozens of foreign towns featuring Turks in diaspora. 

Nonviolent Law #1: All violence backfires. 

So, while the opposition to Erdogan was recognized as almost entirely nonviolent, and even though the previous research on many other stuggles over the past century showed that the 3.5 million sustaining participants ought to have been enough to cause the end of the Erdogan regime, he clung to power and indeed is more Islamic and more draconian than ever. 
Turkish police and a demonstrator: Photo from user @CemSa

The failure in Turkey is not unrelated to the context of violence backfiring from another source, the US and Europe. Muslims everywhere came under great and increasing pressure to regard the US and much of Europe as the enemy when Bush and Cheney lied to justify invading Iraq. The massive war crimes against that ironically fairly secular Muslim country have changed all the games, drawing the fastest growing religion on Earth toward a clash of civilizations faster and faster, leaving us looking at (and bombing) the new self-annointed caliphate under ISIS. Any country with a Muslim majority is now being sucked toward that clash and Muslims all over the world are vulnerable to the cycle of backfiring violence. Turkey, more committed historically to secularism than any Muslim majority country, is fast losing that rational, democratic, enlightened nature too, which is a true pity.

Humanists, peace-lovers, and liberals across the board have argued against and dismissed the Huntington notion of a clash of civilizations, but it's being created by our seemingly endless militarism, great exceptions like the new nuclear deal with Iran notwithstanding. It is painful to watch the stuck-in-the-ditch-of-violence approach as it either outright fails or manages to create an even larger problem each and every time. It. Never. Fixes. The. Problem. Nev ver. 

And so those who dismiss nonviolence as a western idea and who point to the general failure of Arab Spring and its sequelae such as Gezi Park really need to answer for the other half of the equation, that is, that violence is a western thing. Britain violently invaded and colonized Iraq in the early 20th century. The US not only overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran but then supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein in its 1980s war on Iran, including supplying Saddam with the ingredients for chemical weapons, which he used against Iranians and his own Kurdish people (and which Iranian hardliners evoke to trump the 1979 hostage situation evoked by US hardliners). The US supports a Saudi royal family that is astonishingly misogynist and also conducts frequent beheadings in public. We support the counter-revolutionary brutal government in Egypt and we've massively armed Israel every year for decades with zero strings attached, no matter what their human and civil rights record. Our violence is utterly western. 

Nonviolent Law #2: All rulers are vulerable to committed nonviolent resistance.

It may well be that the autocratic governments of the region--from the royals in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Qatar or Bahrain to the generals in Egypt or the theocracy in Iran--are less vulnerable to nonviolence, requiring larger numbers, more discipline, and greater endurance than some other countries that fell to mass nonviolent movements. If so, then that is what is required. All despots can be taken down with nonviolence, but it may take that additional percent of the populace and additional period of time. And anyone outside the country in question needs to be very careful not to exacerbate the problem by getting directly involved except at the request of the actual people on the ground in their own country. 

We need a whole living body of law devoted to nonviolence. Research and practice, reflection and study, adaptation and commitment, analysis and innovation--these will conspire to write the entire corpus. Let's keep it going. It is what gives hope in the face of growing ignorance on all sides.