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Confronting Violent Suppression

jumpjet's picture

Things are getting even uglier in Syria. Bashar is brooking no challenge to his reign, and what started as nonviolent protests have broken down into a very bloody and deadly tumult.

It's giving me cause to ponder what might happen to protests of a similar scale with similar demands in the United States. In talking about Occupy's eventual fate, the specter of heavy military reaction has been raised before, but what I have never seen, or perhaps what has eluded me, is a frank discussion of how to proceed in the aftermath of a violent response to large nonviolent demonstrations.

I wish to plainly state that I am not an advocate for violence. It goes without saying that unarmed protestors could not beat the United States Army in a standup fight (and we will for now leave aside discussion of other styles of warfare). The ideal result of massive nonviolent protests are to grind the whole rotten system to a halt and collapse it. However, those in power are only too happy to use violence to maintain their power, and we may reach the point that they wield their bloody instruments unprovoked against a group of protestors.

What I would like to discuss is this: say some successor to the Occupy movement, or some unrelated protest spirit, results in massive nonviolent demonstrations in major US cities. One demonstration in one city is met by a heavy, violent crackdown from the US military. What should be the response?

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tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

Yep, the point is making the military realize things are at the point where they're actually the bad guys. The point is making "progressives" realize they're conservatives. The point is holding up a mirror and forcing all of us to look in it. At least that's how I see it from my armchair. :-P

tom allen's picture
Submitted by tom allen on

Read them first. LOL. :-P

Sometimes it feels like I'm a voice in the wilderness. Nice to hear there's at least one other voice out there. And a wiser one at that. :-)

Submitted by Lex on

You're digging deeper into the news and reading about the very real possibility that the same government the Occupy movement is hoping to change through non-violent protest is likely arming and aiding the very violent wing of the Syrian resistance.

It was a peaceful uprising for a very, very short time. It is an armed revolution now, and - more importantly - it is effectively a proxy war. It is also, and always has been, almost an entirely sectarian uprising.

Nir Rosen has done a good job covering it, and he does so from a point of view that is clearly pro-uprising ... or at least anti-regime.

There are some telling quotes in Rosen's coverage, like revolutionary leadership saying that they should have gone to violent insurgency immediately rather than even trying nonviolent protest. By which we can assume means not just violent confrontation with security forces but also assassination and car bombings. (Aleppo, that the FSA originally said they were responsible for and then said that they weren't)

It might be wise to not draw conclusions from situations that only seem similar if they're looked at very shallowly, based on news reporting that is almost certainly slanted to give the impression desired by one actor in a proxy war.

Note: it never ceases to surprise me how people will be distrustful of news sources until those sources tell them what they want to hear.

Submitted by lambert on

... but it looks to me like the relation between militarization and an outcome that's happy for the populace is inverse (which is why "our" government supports militarization, I imagine).

Frankly, it looks to me like this is the first front in a war with Iran. At least the Bush administration had the common, human decency to fake stories of horrible deaths and abuse, instead of bringing them about on the ground.

Submitted by Alcuin on

Off-hand, I can't think of any massive nonviolent protests in American history that were met with violent suppression. I don't see how any parallels can be drawn between societies in which these kinds of events occur and this country. If such an event were to happen in this country, though, my prediction is that everyone would go home and meekly comply with the authorities. There would be no response.

Submitted by lambert on

What if a substantial portion of the anti-Iraq marchers had simply not gone home?

One can make the "sheeple" argument, or some less tendentious variant thereof, but in the same way that "we know the way to Tahrir Square," we know how to Occupy.

We see the problems the authorities have with 10s and 100s and 1000s. What if the decimal point were moved one more to the left?

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

That's what the literature on backfire is about. Backfire occurs when the outcome from an action is negative, i.e., worse for the people acting than doing nothing. The people resisting want to create or increase backfire; the people attacking want to prevent or minimize it.

To create backfire, you need [PDF] (1) a perception of something as unjust, unfair, disproportionate, or otherwise in violation of a social norm—a heavy, military crackdown on nonviolent protests seems like the normative case—and (2) communication to receptive audiences.

Attackers (those perpetrating the crackdown) will try to inhibit or prevent backfire. To counter the ways in which they’ll do that, you “increase the outrage” with some countermeasures [PDF]; you

  • Expose the action (to counter a cover-up)
  • Validate the target (to counter a devaluation of the target)
  • Emphasize the injustice (to counter reinterpretation such as excuses or minimizing the consequences)
  • Mobilize public support and avoid or discredit official channels (to counter the official channels that will try to give the appearance of justice)
  • Resist and expose intimidation and bribery (to counter attempts to silence those involved in the crackdown)
  • That’s, of course, a very generic answer and we can all haggle over the likelihood or feasibility of the specifics but it’s a starting point. (I don’t know if nonviolent resisters typically plan consciously employ these countermeasures in advance of an attack but it would be nice to think that they did.)

Brian Martin’s Justice Ignited: The Dynamics of Backfire, which talks about how to respond to acts of injustice (such as a heavy military crackdown on nonviolent protesters), is available online [in pre-publication form] here.

Submitted by lambert on

1. Young women peppersprayed by NPYD

2. Students peppersprayed at UC Davis

3. Scott Olsen

All enabled by Streamers, I might add..

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

The “Battle of the Camel”—thugs on horses and camels wielding swords and cudgels

(Shortly thereafter Mubarek stepped down so that seems like a good example of successful delegitimization through backfire.)

You don’t start throwing Molotov cocktails, you start tweeting and filming: reveal, redeem, reframe, redirect, resist.

Submitted by lambert on

... would never have been felt necessary by Mubarak if he had control of the Army.

And it was the Egyptian's practice of NV that split the Army.