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Gene Sharp’s Message to Iranians

The Center for the Study of Strategic Nonviolent Defense (CSSND) just put out this interview with Gene Sharp, the most influential advocate of strategic nonviolence alive today, as a response to claims by the governement in Tehran and some on the left that he is somehow behind the recent nonviolent uprising against Ahmadinejad.

In the video, which includes subtitles in Farsi, Sharp chuckles at the idea that his work is supported or funded by the CIA. “Well, you’ve seen our office,” he says. “You can see how well-funded we are.”

Sharp, who is now 81-years old, proceeds to give a brief overview of his thoughts on the power of nonviolent struggle and some generic strategic advice to Iranian resisters.

“I dream that the oppressed people of the world will be able to learn from the available records and new experiences that this type of nonviolent struggle can be used to liberate all oppression and replace military and violent conflicts, that you won’t have to carry on struggles against terrorism anymore because the people who might have become terrorists have instead chosen to use this kind of struggle to help out the oppressed people. This can change political systems throughout the world,” Sharp concludes.

I’ve read several books by Gene Sharp and have read with interest his critics as well. While I have no doubt that his writing have found a ready audience in Iran, the arguments against him appear to be specious. From the best that I can tell, Sharp seems to be merely a proponent of nonviolent methods of struggle, who believes that we would be better off if all sides of every conflict would abstain from violence. Promoting nonviolent techniques only fom a strategic perspective, however, means that they can very well be used for causes that progressives abhor – which is one of the problems with his approach. For proponents of principled nonviolence, like Gandhi and King, fighting for a just cause was just as important as what methods are employed.

To read probably the most detailed defense of Gene Sharp, check out Stephen Zunes’ article over at Foreign Policy In Focus.

As a side note, there is next to nothing on the internet about the organization that made this video. Here is what I could find:

CSSND, which has only been in existence for little more than a year and a half,  bills itself as “a virtual center that represents an international network of researchers, translators, writers and activists with the common goal of promoting the education of nonviolent action as the most effective method of causing social change” in Iran. They do this by analyzing the effectiveness of nonviolent strategies and tactics, publishing their findings in Farsi and getting them into the hands of Iranian activists.  The backbone of CSSND’s curriculum is “based on the latest edition of Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS)’s Student Curriculum.”

Their site does not mention anyone who is involved with the organization by name, and does not disclose its sources of funding. They do, however, mention a working relationship with Voice of America, which suggests that they may be recieving funding from the US. While it may make sense to not provide a list of who is running the organization due to the repression in Iran, they could go a long way to undermining the claims of conspiracy theorists by being more transparent about who is backing them.