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Posts tagged ‘revolution’

Inclusive Nonviolence

Must We Change Our Hearts Before Throwing Off Our Chains?
by Cynthia Boaz
10 July 2012
Excerpt from Nation of Change

One of the consequences of the Occupy movement’s emergence onto the scene over the last nine months is the escalating disagreement about the role of various strands of nonviolence and nonviolent action in the struggle. In the process, misconceptions about nonviolent strategy are being unfortunately perpetuated by earnest adherents of principled nonviolence and require correction. The phenomenon of nonviolent action is already misunderstood in most media. To see it further distorted by our own colleagues is disheartening.

In an article called “How to Sustain a Revolution” that appeared on Truthout several months ago, Stephanie Van Hook made an eloquent case for personal transformation in the context of nonviolent struggle. The essence of her argument was that acting nonviolently is not enough to sustain a people-powered revolution, and that a person must have nonviolent intentions and the willingness and ability to engage in an internal discipline of personal nonviolence if the struggle is to be truly won. On this point, I don’t have any serious disagreement. While I am not sure I would make the same case that nonviolent success requires this level of individual transformation prior to the waging of the struggle, Van Hook’s argument is similar enough to the case I would make — that nonviolent success requires genuine appreciation of one’s own (and thus our collective) power. I am someone who does not align solely with one camp of nonviolence or nonviolent action, and am someone who believes that both principle and strategy are magnified when they are married. I think our differences here are mostly rhetorical rather than conceptual.

However, in describing what she sees as a key challenge to nonviolent success in the ongoing people power struggles around the world, Van Hook writes:

“Those who profess a commitment to what is called strategic nonviolence know how to start a revolution, that is, in the same way that one would have to fight if one is the weaker party: you do what you your opponent is trying to prevent you from doing, you cast all or most of the blame on them, and you draw upon the sympathies of the masses — the “reference public” — to express your power. In this approach it’s acceptable to use threat, humiliation, and coercion to get what you want, and you often accept short-term and short-lived “success” as your goal. Nonviolence in this approach is simply refraining from physical violence while one’s inner frustrations and pains continue to grow, or are left wholly unresolved. After lighting the match of revolution, a person using nonviolence by this definition can walk away from the responsibility to carrying it forward for the long run. So a people left their guns at home this round? Where will it get them when they decide to take them back out because a limited vision of nonviolence did not bring about the deep changes needed?”

Although I believe it was unintentional, Van Hook’s characterization of adherents of “strategic nonviolence” seems to be guilty of the same sort of stereotyping with which she takes issue. I know hundreds of scholars, activists and journalists who study and engage in this form of struggle, and have yet to meet one who has “professed a commitment to strategic nonviolence.” Such an assertion does not make sense because nonviolent strategy is not an article of faith or a belief system. More concerning, though, is the implication that those engaging in strategic nonviolent action are not just unprincipled, but also undisciplined and lacking in a basic sense of social or civic responsibility.

One part of the problem is in the mislabeling of the phenomenon. By calling it “strategic nonviolence” instead of “strategic nonviolent action” or “nonviolent strategy,” she implies that the phenomenon is fairly classified as a category of nonviolence, but this isn’t accurate. Nonviolence implies commitment to a philosophy that eschews violence in all forms and that adheres to some key principles. By calling it “strategic nonviolence,” which is juxtaposed conceptually against “principled nonviolence,” the field of study with which Van Hook identifies, the suggestion is that the commitment to nonviolence has been made for non-principled reasons. But according to Van Hook’s principled outlook, a person who engages in nonviolent action for reasons other than commitment to principle is suspect because they are not embracing or practicing “true” nonviolence. No wonder there is tension — the person practicing principled nonviolence sees the person practicing “strategic nonviolence” as a pretender.

The other problem with this terminology is that it implies that the phenomenon being discussed is actually attempting to be what is understood by adherents of principled nonviolence as nonviolence. Recall that nonviolence embodies an entire philosophy and set of principles regarding the ethics of eschewing violence. Nonviolent strategy — defined as organized, collective action in pursuit of a clear and achievable objective, carried out with nonviolent weapons — does not, on the other hand, require the practitioner to adopt a philosophy in order to utilize it. In fact, to me, this is a great appeal of nonviolent strategy: its inclusiveness. Anyone can practice it. There is no spiritual or philosophical litmus test. And since unity isa criterion for success in nonviolent struggle, inclusiveness is a very helpful means to achieving that end. And moreover, contrary to principled critics of “strategic nonviolence,” I would argue, the unwillingness to adopt a philosophy of principled nonviolence from the outset does not necessarily make the subsequent action an inferior form of nonviolence. I suppose this is where Van Hook and I really part ways. She wants nonviolent action to be engaged in with full intention and consciousness of the power of nonviolence, while I believe that the use of nonviolent tools produces an appreciation for the power of the phenomenon and probably does more to convert skeptics than any other mechanism. In other words, I believe that commitment to the principle can evolve from the action, which itself is a result of the strategy.

On the other hand, by demanding a commitment to a spiritual philosophy as a prerequisite for joining the struggle, there is a danger of being perceived as (or of actually being) exclusionary. Such a requirement suggests that in order for the practice of nonviolence to be effective, the activist must hold a set of spiritual beliefs about, say, the unity of all life or the imperative to turn the other cheek. But there have been many successful nonviolent struggles waged by people who either held religious or spiritual beliefs different than those commonly found amongst practitioners of principled nonviolence, or who held spiritual beliefs very different from others in the movement, so that there was no unity over fundamental belief systems. The unity came from the commitment to nonviolent action as the most effective set of means to address the injustice. Would these movements have been formed and the struggles been waged if there had been a spiritual litmus test in place before action was taken? I doubt it.

Nonviolent action, when done well, can achieve results. When people come to see its efficacy and power through its use, they may develop more appreciation for the principles called for in Van Hook’s treatise. But whether activists get to the principle prior to action or through it does not matter. One need not necessarily be fully converted to the philosophy of nonviolence before being willing to try a new means of waging struggle. Willingness to take such a risk is the essence of courage — the most important personal quality in the nonviolent activist.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Egyptian Blogger Speaks Out

From Nation of Change and Democracy Now
28 December 2011
Interview with Alaa Abdel Fattah

Democracy Now! speaks to Fattah about the Egyptian revolution’s ongoing struggle against the military regime and his ordeal in one of Egypt’s worst prisons.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent Egyptian revolutionary activist and blogger, has been released from prison after nearly two months behind bars. Fattah was ordered jailed by a military court on October 30 and summoned to face charges that included inciting violence — a charge he firmly denies. He refused to cooperate, rejecting the legitimacy of the military court who wanted to try him as a civilian. Democracy Now! speaks to Fattah about the Egyptian revolution’s ongoing struggle against the military regime and his ordeal in one of Egypt’s worst prisons, which prevented him from attending the birth of his first son. Fattah’s trial comes just as Egypt’s ousted leader, Hosni Mubarak, returns to a Cairo courtroom today to face charges over the deaths of 840 protesters during the uprising against his rule. “What comes next might be even tougher and even more difficult,” Fattah says, “but I don’t think that this revolution is going to end without really completely renegotiating the order of power in Egypt and across the Arab world.”

Read article and watch interview at Nation of Change.

Tunisia’s Revolution

From Nation of Change by Mary Elizabeth King
15 December 2011

One Year On, The Roots of Success for Tunisia’s Revolution

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

Tunisia’s uprising has been in the making since at least 2008, when protests began in the mining basin of Gafsa. The country’s hounded civil society was able to unite nearly the entire society in pressing for fair elections. Mohamed Bouazizi—the unemployed fruit and vegetable seller who set himself on fire in the central town of Sidi Bouzid on December 17, 2010, triggering their nonviolent revolution—was not the first aggrieved Tunisian to commit suicide by fire. Two other young people, one in coastal Monastir, on March 3, 2010, and the other in Metlaoui to the southwest, on November 20, 2010, had self-immolated themselves. French journalist Olivier Piot writes that as early as 1998 the burns unit of a major Tunis hospital did a study showing that an estimated 15.1 percent of its admissions were “suicide by fire.” The study’s authors considered these acts “extraordinarily” violent but viewed them as “a response by our country’s youth to another type of violence.” (I am indebted to Piot for sharing with me his book and English-translated article on the revolution.)

With 40 percent of the population under 25, unemployed college graduates were the first to activate themselves after Bouazizi’s death. Their efforts galvanized towns such as Thala, Sbeitla, Sidi Bouzid, Regueb, Douz and Kairouan—located in the neglected interior, as opposed to the coastal areas that had been endowed with monies to support tourism and development. With little hope for employment and no delusions, they led the revolt.

Indignation then turned into social upheaval and spread throughout the central and western regions. A 31-year old man self-immolated himself in Metlaoui on January 5, the day that 5,000 attended the interment of Bouazizi. In this mining town of 50,000, the local branch of the main union, the Tunisian General Union of Labor, well knew that 40 percent of the active population was unemployed and 75 percent of employees had been laid off in the previous 25 years. As Metlaoui heated up, the neighboring towns of Kasserine and Thala did too. Workers and Tunisia’s educated young were now in alliance. The parents and grandparents of the young soon joined them.

Early in the Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali regime, political activists began watching the extent of his clan’s corruption. As the family took over national enterprises during its 1995–2005 privatization schemes, their corruption became common knowledge. Beside unemployment, ending a culture of endemic, systemic corruption and impunity became a priority for Tunisians.

After a strike in the Tunisian city of Hawd el-Mongamy, young online organizers set up what became the Progressive Youth of Tunisia. Organizers in Egypt and Tunisia began exchanging views over Facebook. According to Piot, one in three Tunisians use the Internet. Egyptians were persuaded that Tunisians faced a more severe police state than their own because of Tunisia’s strict controls on blogging and press freedoms, but they perceived Tunisian labor unions as more powerful and independent. To Egyptians, Tunisia’s revolt was more “modern” and politically mature, because its discourse was that of educated, literate classes, who spoke the language of human rights, liberty, citizenship and democracy.

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Police repression against young demonstrators from poor areas swelled and recoiled, causing a second detonation on January 7 and 8, 2011. Tunisians burst with simmering resentment against the 150,000-strong police forces, long recognized for their arrogance, corruption and contemptuous behavior.

During Ben Ali’s 23-year rule, Tunisia’s civil-society organizations suffered severe, stifling repression. Yet they now emerged as politically important with their large networks of associations, radio stations, musical bands, clubs and human rights groups. Some claimed an apolitical identity, including Amnesty International. Others expressly came into being to oppose the Habib Bourguiba regime (1956‒1987), and then that of Ben Ali. Among these is the Tunisian League for Human Rights; founded in 1976, it is the oldest advocacy group of its kind in the Arab world.

With all political organizations dubbed the “illegal opposition” in Tunisia, the student movement—avidly organized during the 1970s and 1980s in the General Union of Tunisian Students—had gone underground years earlier. Yet the UGTT’s web of trade unions meant that local leaders were in place. These dispersed power centers, if mobilized, could represent a diverse opposition against the regime.

Ben Ali’s closing of all educational establishments on January 10 finally provoked the UGTT labor unions to react. They gave the go-ahead to locals in Sfax, Kairouan and Tozeur to organize a general strike for January 11 and 12, and in Tunis on January 14. Workers may have sparked the uprising, but as it spread to the middle classes, the nation’s academicians, bankers, doctors, lawyers and shopkeepers became engaged. This reach matched the geographic spread of the protests. Tunis, Sousse, Sfax, Gafsa, Gabès and Bizerte—the largest cities—rose up in turn, especially after the successful January 12 general strike in Sfax.

Professionals, traders, merchants and financiers came on board, many of them allied with the Bourguiba regime and with Ben Ali in his early years. The ranks grew of those who felt embittered about being pushed aside by Ben Ali’s networks, especially the Trabelsi clan of his second wife Leila.

In Sousse, a city favored by tourists, workers from the Farhat Hached hospital organized a massive protest march. They were soon joined by hotel employees. The upheaval expanded to the upper crust as, on January 8, a delegation of business executives from Sousse, Ben Ali’s base, called on the presidential palace in Carthage to ask the president to step down. On January 14, Ben Ali left Tunisia.

Even if subdued, the free-standing civil-society networks with independent leadership provided Tunisia with what Gene Sharp calls the capacity for “corporate resistance and defiance.” As I have previously written, a clear link exists between the cohesion of a nonviolent civic coalition during the years prior to a democratic transition and the depth of its self-governance in the outcome.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Egypt’s Virginity Testing

From Nation of Change by Vanessa Ortiz

Hidden in Egypt’s Closet: Virginity Testing as a Tactic of Repression

Women’s broad and persistent participation in the ongoing revolution in Egypt has brought a gruesome new tactic to light—virginity testing. This form of repression that specifically targets female activists and journalists peaked around March 2011, and under Egypt’s post-Mubarak military leadership, the tactic is on the rise.

Recently, the courageous Samira Ibrahim, a 25-year-old Egyptian human rights activist, has not only publicly exposed the torture she and other women were subjected to, but she is filing a legal case against the Egyptian military for sexual assault. Human Rights Watch and other human rights advocacy and defense organizations have denounced the practice of virginity testing and are helping publicize Samira’s case, including a video testimony by Samira that details her experience.

Certainly, sexual torture is not new in Egypt, and men have been subject to it. Bloggers have helped expose this form of torture for years. In June 2011, the popular writer and lecturer, Mona Eltahawy, helped bring to light the new issue of virginity testing as part of a larger strategy targeting women to discourage them from participating in protest activities. She rightly declares, “If the ‘it wasn’t about gender’ mantra is stuck on repeat so that we don’t scare the boys away, then let them remember the state screwed them too…”

Up to now, virginity testing as a tactic of repression has remained in the closet among Egyptians. In this patriarchal, conservative, and now military-run society, it is not difficult to understand how a woman’s virginity could be used as rationale to intimidate detained female activists by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Women’s overwhelming participation during the revolution helped break open myths and traditions about gender in the Middle East. The current military regime’s understands this, and the desire to supposedly restore law and order, while keeping the country wrapped in the patriarchal cloak that has suffocated Egyptians, naturally requires a strategy to quell mass protests. Security forces naturally gravitate to repressive, coercive means. So what better way to keep half the population off the streets and under military control than to intimidate women using the threat of spotlighting the most intimate, personal of issues in a jail cell and later in a military tribunal, with the added accusation of prostitution?

General sexual harassment toward women in Egypt has existed for many years, and there are many Egyptians using tools to tackle the issue. The 2010 film 678 offers three vignettes of harassment and rape against Egyptian women, and the societal repercussions these women face after rape and after reporting such crimes. This is a problem that has multiplied in recent years, in part due to growing conservatism, in part due to a poor economy that has many unemployed, disgruntled young men idle in the street (women know how this goes no matter where they come from).

Egyptian women knew what they could face in January 2011 at Tahrir Square, and they went out in huge numbers anyway. During a recent conversation with Nada Zohdy, a program assistant at the Project on Middle East Democracy, she recounted how two weeks ago, in another wave of protests, she found herself in Tahrir very late at night. She realized at that moment that she was the only female in sight and was surprised to feel safe overall despite the massive gender imbalance in the crowd and not seeing any other women among the hundreds of people. She attributes this sense of safety to the unique, powerful spirit of solidarity that exists in the square. “The challenge now is how to replicate that kind of gender unity and respect in post-revolution Egypt,” Nada added. It seems the revolution brought out the best in Egyptians.

Read Complete Story at Nation of Change.

The Mindfulness Revolution

This is an excerpt of a review I wrote for The New York Journal of Books.

The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life. Edited by Barry Boyce (Shambhala Publications, March 8, 2011).

The revolution to which this book refers is the widespread use and acceptance of mindfulness and how it has been applied throughout society. “Mindfulness” in this context refers to mindfulness meditation practice. And one of the wonderful aspects of The Mindfulness Revolution is that the essays address opportunities for mindfulness in everyday actions, such as shopping and online activities.

One of the contributors to this collection, Jan Chozen Bays, provides a simple, yet eloquent description of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart and mind—and outside yourself in your environment.” It involves the awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviors without judgment or criticism. Further insight can also include investigating who or what it is that is aware of our experience when being mindful.

Historically, the most prominent practitioner of mindfulness was Siddhartha Gotama, who became known as The Buddha. His meditation practice and teachings spread around the world and have been used for over 2,500 years. Similar methods of contemplation, prayer, and concentration are also present in every major religious tradition.

In the West, one of the first pioneers in establishing mindfulness as a secular discipline was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who begin sharing it with his patients to help them manage various health issues and concerns. He called it Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This compilation looks at how mindfulness and MBSR has since been applied and the many forms and avenues it has taken.

The book is divided into four complementary sections by editor Barry Boyce and provides a comprehensive overview and specifics, with examples, instructions, research, and lessons.

Part I is titled How to Practice Mindfulness. Part II is called Mindfulness in Daily Life. The third section is Mindfulness, Health and Healing. The fourth area is Interpersonal Mindfulness. The excerpts for each section are provided by experienced and well-known practitioners that include Jan Chozen Bays, Jack Kornfield, Bob Stahl, Chogyam Trungpa, Norman Fischer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nat Hanh, Sue Moon, Elisha Goldstein, Daniel Siegel, Steve Flowers, Peman Chodron, Susan Chapman and The Fourteenth Dalai Lama. There is also an excellent resource section and contributor bios at the end of the collection.

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Proud to be an Egyptian

One of the largest non-violent revolutions in history, in the most populist state in the Arab world and the biggest country in Africa, is transpiring before our eyes! The people of Egypt have provided an example of determination, unity, honor and courage that has opened the eyes of the world to what is possible and what must be.

Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatmas Gandhi, the fall of the Berlin Wall, People Power in the Philippines, the revolution in Romania, the revolts in the Czech Republic and thousands in Iran and Tunisia, the Egyptian people (from all walks of life, backgrounds, religious orientations and economic circumstances) have lit a path for freedom that can not and should not ever be taken for granted or dismissed.

The coming days, weeks, months and years will provide an opportunity for the army of Egypt (which is supposed to be a force for THE PEOPLE) to stay true to their word and be a stabilizing influence for real democratic change and the installation of democratic institutions. If they don’t, there is no doubt that Egyptians will arise in mass once more (despite the cost) and demand their hard fought for revolution be implemented and respected.

Many Egyptians are once again saying they are proud to be Egyptian. In fact, what they have done makes us all proud to be human. Now is the time to support the people of Egypt and similar democratic movements throughout the world, with our actions and not just give lip service as we (our government) has done in the past.

This will be the beginning of a worldwide change that will see authoritarian dictatorships around the globe either make drastic changes in how they treat their citizens or see similar mass civil disobedience and change regardless of their personal wishes for power or control. Countries such as Iran, Myanmar, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Mozambique and China may see Egypt as a wake up call. Let us hope they wake up to allow peaceful democratic freedom and rights for their people and not to clamp down and impose further restrictions, violence and tyranny.

Thank you Egypt. You are one of the cradles of civilization. Perhaps you have now become the cradle of a new world order of peace, prosperity and freedom for all.

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