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National Review misunderstands nonviolent resistance

Ghiyath Matar, a 26-year-old activist, was arrested in Syria on Sept. 6 and then died in detention after being tortured, according to Human Rights Watch. (Human Rights Watch/AFP/Getty Images)

Not surprisingly, the conservative National Review does not get what nonviolence is all about. In a commentary on the killing by Syrian security forces of Ghiyath Matar—a young activist nicknamed “little Gandhi,” who pioneered the tactic of handing out flowers and water to soldiers—Mark Krikorian writes that his death “highlight[s] the limits of nonviolent resistance.”

I have a couple issues with his analysis, if you can call it that. First, while it’s tragic that Matar was killed, his death doesn’t show the limits of nonviolence. The fact is that people die in nonviolent struggle, just as they die—almost always in far greater numbers—in violent conflict. To really illustrate the hypocrisy here: Would Krikorian argue that every US soldier that’s killed shows the “limits of war or violence?” I highly doubt it.

What Matar’s death shows is that nonviolent struggle requires sacrifice and it may highlight the need for the Syrian opposition to consider shifting to tactics of dispersion, like strikes and boycotts, that would be more difficult for the security forces to repress.