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Posts tagged ‘non-violence’

Non-violence In Syria

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Michael Nagler
31 July 2012

Syria: Lamp in the Storm

During the climactic “Quit India” campaign launched by Gandhi in 1942, there were outbreaks of violence. Earlier, in 1922, similar outbreaks had led him to suspend the non-cooperation movement. This time, however, he said, “let our lamp stay lit in the midst of this hurricane.”

This is very much the precarious situation of nonviolence in Syria today. A bit of background:

In the Quranic version of Cain and Abel, Abel says to his jealous brother,: “If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee, for I do fear God, the cherisher of the worlds.” (Quran 5:28) In other words, the first murder is accompanied by the first act of nonviolence, a refusal to kill, even in self-defense, through mindfulness of a God who stands far above partisan conflict.

Islamic scholar Sheik Jawdat Said based his book, The Doctrine Of The First Son Of Adam, apparently the first book in modern Arabic to proffer nonviolent solutions to the region’s problems, on this verse. Said’s ideas were well received in some intellectual circles in Syria but did not lead visibly to any appreciable change the political or social environment. The wave of agitations touched off by the Iranian revolution (though it itself had, and still has, some nonviolent character)—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to a limited extent Syria itself—were in one way or another nationalistic but not particularly nonviolent. But a group of young men (shebab) who had fallen under the influence of an open-minded teacher at a school that was soon closed by the regime were receptive to the ideas of the distinguished sheik. With the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2001 they began to take some modest actions that were, particularly in one case, provocative to the regime. They began to clean up the streets of their respective neighborhoods. This may not seem very revolutionary to us, but in Syria people did not feel that they owned their country. Inside they lived in clean, orderly houses, but the public streets belonged to the state—which did nothing about them. In other words, while it’s doubtful any of them knew this, it was a perfect example of a Gandhian “Constructive Programme:” taking matters into your own hands in a way that puts the regime in a bad light if, as often, they interfere. Which they did. There were arrests. The regime knew these shebab were giving the people back ownership of their country.

Then came Arab Spring. Protests began in Syria in late January of 2011. In the early months Opposition forces were creating defections among military and government—critical for the success of non-violent insurrections—but many of the defectors and others turned to armed struggle in the face of the repression. According to Erica Chenoweth, the author, with Maria Stefan, of the highly influential study, Why Civil Resistance Works, such movements usually require two and a half to three years to take hold. There have been cases of nonviolent campaigns persisting in the midst of armed elements on both sides, and sometimes even rising to capture the legitimacy of the opposition from those armed elements, usually with some international recognition behind them, and going on to win the struggle: South Africa, the Philippines, and at some point (inshallah) maybe Palestine. This is crucial because, as Chenoweth and Stefan point out, nonviolent insurrections are twice as likely to succeed and vastly more likely to lead to conditions of real liberty (yet to happen in Egypt). In Syria, however, the fledgling movement was rather quickly overwhelmed. Extreme violence creates mobilization challenges that fledgling movements may find difficult to overcome. Some movements manage to maintain—or even increase—participation in the face of extreme violence (the Pashtun Khudai Kidmatgars in 1931, Iran in 1977-9), whereas others find themselves in disarray.” As Bsher Said (Jawdat’s son) informed me, when people are arrested and questioned they generally tell their captors what they want to hear—“Oh, yes, it was armed gangs that did the killing.” It has prompted Bsher to comment, pointedly, that “If we could stop the lying we wouldn’t need a revolution.” So far the wall of fear has not cracked, so we are lacking the sine qua non of successful insurrection—or successful almost anything.

Yet, as Donatella Rivera posts in her recent blog, “The young people I met—including those who had been injured—said they have no intention of stopping their protests.” And while the state actors of the “international community,” even if they resolve their differences, feel that they can do nothing, or worse, global civil society is not so inhibited. There is more going on than I am free to describe here, unfortunately, because of security concerns and the delicacy of some issues, but nonviolence training, badly needed visioning of a future for Syria, reconciliation work, and weekly discussion groups across borders are all going forward. As for higher level operations, we all know that the UN has sent in some 300 monitors, the so-called “blue berets” (joined by a smaller number from the Arab League). But this is the main point.

Summing up the failure of the nonviolent movement of Syria so far, Bsher succinctly says, “we were not ready.” Well, neither were we—the watching world. Three hundred monitors? When it comes to blue helmets the UN is ready to field 16,000. These unarmed monitors are a great step in the right direction, but they should have been at least ten times more numerous and ‘armed’ with a more robust mandate. As Mel Duncan, founding director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, shared, they must be ready to protect Alawites as well as Sunnis: anyone under threat. They should set up cross-sectarian teams who can call in international help to forestall retaliatory violence when the transition takes place. Duncan should know. Nonviolent Peaceforce and other Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping groups have been doing this successfully, and with almost no casualties to speak of, around the world since the 1980s, and have recently made highly successful contacts with offices of the UN.

Read entire Op-Ed at Nation of Change or Yes! Magazine.

Nane Alejandrez

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

Nane Alejandrez

One by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. He crashed and burned many times, but never gave up. His struggle continues, for his own life and that of the young men and women caught in the madness.

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

CONTINUED

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

Keeping Joe Alive

(Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call)

Alexandra’s only child, Joseph Matteucci (age 17) was killed at a youth baseball game on May 15, 1993. During a melee between teams, in which Joseph was trying to extricate his friend, he was struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat, which had been swung in a fit of anger towards another boy who ducked. Two days later Joseph died of his injuries. It was the first game related death in little league history.

As a result of her son’s death Alexandra Matteucci created a national organization, The Joseph Matteucci Foundation for Youth Non-Violence, which envisions the “youth of America discovering the power of standing for peace, respect for life, and passion for living.” Their endeavors include a mediation training program taught to and for high school and middle school children; a sports emblem program designed to educate parents, coaches and players of the importance of good sportsmanship; and a scholarship program which supports educational opportunities to students who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to peace activities on campus. In addition to starting the foundation, Joe’s vital organs were donated to a 44-year-old construction worker, a 38-year-old lawyer, a 13-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man.

Alexandra Matteucci: “Joseph continues to live with me. He is very much a part of this foundation. He has been an inspiration to me all my life, showing me unconditional love. He was very wise for his age. I shared all my problems with him. We were very connected. I was a single parent since he was a year old. I even felt a spiritual connection to him before he was born . . . in the womb.

Joseph’s death was a symptom of how our society deals with violence and aggression that can lead to violence. Our anti-violence program is really about bringing the young people, the coaches and the parents together prior to a season in a single event that’s mandatory. I talk about what happened to my son, how and why it happened and ask everyone to stand and take a pledge. The pledge is, “Play to win. Play safely. Win or lose fairly. And be cool.” Then they sign the pledge and put our emblem on their uniform. Some of the teams incorporate the pledge in their opening day ceremony and their fund raising events.

One of the things I think that makes an impact on these young people is that I talk about Joe. I show pictures of him. They realize who he was and they come away very touched. When I go and talk about him in the schools, I tell them there’s a part of Joe living in each and every one of them and that every child and every parent is important.

Our program now teaches conflict resolution in the schools right along with our safety program. I read this article in the paper about an incident where two neighbors got angry at one another over parking and one of them went over and killed the other with a bat. He had very similar injuries to what Joe had received. I remember saying to myself, “Here’s another example that it’s not about baseball, it’s about anger.”

The impact of having someone taken from you, especially a young person, is so overwhelming that fortunately your body and your mind have the ability to save you. It takes some time before you’re ready to realize the immensity of the loss of your child. It’s so humbling. It’s an experience I can’t even describe in words. Not having that child in your life is difficult to comprehend. There are so many things that go through your mind.

What helped me most were people that sent articles and books or folks that would listen to what I had to say about my grief, that would allow me to talk about Joe. People don’t realize that when you’ve had a loss you want to talk about that person. The first reaction from most people is they avoid talking about it with you.

I’ve realized what great gifts our children are. They don’t really belong to us. We don’t own them. It’s humbling when you realize you can’t control everything. I have memories of holding Joseph in my arms and saying to him, “As long as I’m here Joe nothing will happen to you,” but that’s not always true. They’re going to go places and be around people that aren’t always in your control. You have to trust that you taught them to have a sense of what’s right and wrong.

Though he’s gone physically, he and I are still connected. Our relationship continues. I think Joseph came here as an old soul. In a way he’s my teacher. Since he graduated so early he must have been ahead of the learning cycle.

When Joe was killed it opened me up to my soul. It helped me release myself to my life’s mission. I said, “God, I don’t know why I’m here; I’m obviously not understanding it. It’s too painful and debilitating. I don’t have any purpose in my life any longer. So I’m giving my life to you and to Joseph and whatever consciousness is out there. My life is yours. ou take it. You open the door and show me the way.”

When I did that, I realized the doors are open . . . there is a purpose. What I do now comes very easily. It’s very spiritual. It’s not something that’s coming from me; it’s coming through me. Isn’t that amazing? I find that I have more love now than I ever have.

When Joe was seven or eight, he gave me a card for some occasion or other. I opened it up and started crying. Inside the card was a drawing of some trees on a hillside, birds flying and in his handwriting it said, “Mom, I love you. I love being around you. You are like oxygen to me and I’m a tree. You are also as beautiful as a tree.”

Losing my son in that way was the painful beginning of a new, more open life. And he continues to live through every child he touches. With his story being heard over and over again it brings him to life. It’s Joe’s message, Joe’s story and I’m the vehicle . . . the messenger.”

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