Between Libya, which has endured more than 2,000 NATO bombings, and Syria, where more than 2,000 civilians have been killed by their own government so far, we see the two traditional responses to a perceived need for intervention by the international community in regimes gone wrong. It’s a grim picture—invaded Libya and abandoned Syria—and a sad comment on the paucity of human imagination, at least when that imagination is squeezed into the narrow confines of “realism.”
Fortunately this Hobson’s choice, and the comment it delivers on the creativity of our concern, is not, in fact, all humanity can come up with.
In the 1922, when Hindu-Muslim tensions were threatening to tear down everything Gandhi was building in India, he proposed that volunteers could go to villages in insecure districts and live there as a kind of resident third party to proffer good offices, abate rumors (a frequent escalator of conflict there and everywhere), and in extreme cases interpose themselves between parties in open conflict. He called an important meeting to put this institution, which he called the Shanti Sena (Peace Army), into practice for February, 1948 but, as we know, was assassinated days before it could take place.
Shanti Sena did nonetheless come into being. Despite various problems, it served creditably well in a variety of districts and the 1962 Chinese border incursion. More to the point, the idea spread throughout the world, where it was picked up by organizations as diverse as the World Peace Brigade, Peace Brigades International, India’s Swaraj Peeth, the colorfully named Rainbow Family of Living Light and even the Guardian Angels, known for riding the subways of New York to prevent crime. It also deepened into a force that could intervene across borders: not just in local communities but around the world.
The unheralded growth of this idea and its on-the-ground institutions is probably typical of how the best ideas in the modern world have to grow: from the bottom up. The movement for “protective accompaniment,” for example, which became the main focus of groups like Witness for Peace and Peace Brigades International (the former being explicitly a religiously based organization, the latter explicitly not) was carried out by remarkably few individuals, negligible financing and even less coverage by the press. Nonetheless, it saved lives from death squads in Central America and equivalent forms or terror in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. In one case, that of Guatemala, it seems to have created space for a real peace process to unfold when it saved individuals in a key human rights group from systematic assassination simply by being with them day in and out, so that anyone who did them harm would have to do so before the eyes of the world.
The improbable hope represented by protective accompaniment and other functions of Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (as it’s now called, or UCP) did eventually percolate upwards to the attention of more official bodies: an international norm (not yet a law) called the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) has come into play after the shame of passivity in Rwanda, stating that “If a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.” While not nonviolence, this does open the door for more UCP activities even as it breaks down the wall of absolute state sovereignty. More to the point, the UNICEF has made a grant of one million dollars to the most ambitious of the UCP organizations, Nonviolent Peaceforce, to do training for child protection in South Sudan and the Philippines.
In the penetrating light of Gandhi’s vision, passivity and violence are really two sides of the same coin. On the spiritual plane, they emerge respectively from fear and anger—both drives of the private, separate self. The only really different coin is that of nonviolence, or selfless love in action (to paraphrase Martin Luther King). The only meaningful choice, then, is not between intervening (with blind force) or not intervening, but between violence and nonviolence as a guiding principle.
As I write these lines, black Africans are being harshly persecuted in “free” Libya, usually for no reason. We should not be surprised. This is what violence does: it cannot but grope blindly after victims, as history so often shows. And it also shows, if we know where to look, that nonviolence does the opposite: it spreads hope and toleration, preventing enemies from oppressing if not actually converting them into friends. And now, as institutions emerging from this principle slowly find themselves and reach across borders into realms that formerly were reachable only by force—or by neglect—we get to choose.
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You really hit this one out of the park. Sharing widely. Thank you.
Gandhi’s plan, as described here: “a kind of resident third party to proffer good offices, abate rumors (a frequent escalator of conflict there and everywhere), and in extreme cases interpose themselves between parties in open conflict.” Note that it counted on “resident third party” – someone who was identifiable, and likely came with a reputation that could be checked via others who had already a longstanding reputation for believability and integrity.
The Internet is a marvelous tool for instant and widespread communication about events, both good and bad, benefit and harm. It has served as the tool of communicating all sorts of news, rapidly and to most everyone most everywhere. However, there is an increasing problem as to whether sources can be believed as providing accurate information. A large portion of the lack of believability stems from anonymity of the sources which provides no basis for assessing the writer’s history for truth and honesty.
I agree that passivity and violence contribute to each other, but I contend that anonymity plays a very big role in both – the environment that enables no one to hold another accountable for his/her actions. More: “Anonymity – Hazard, Not Protection; Limitation, not Enhancement” – http://selfsip.org/focus/anonymity.html
An interesting comment for sure, Kitty—and your association between internet anonymity and violence certainly brings to mind the group Anonymous, whose actions are so often on the borderline between nonviolence and violence. I wonder how their work would be different if they, too, identified themselves.
Thanks for your comment, Kitty. Yes, separating oneself from one’s responsibility, or imagining one can do so, is a big contributor to violence. But I feel that taking on one’s responsibility, rather than having it imposed by others, is the only permanent fix.
“But I feel that taking on one’s responsibility, rather than having it imposed by others, is the only permanent fix.”
Michael, I agree that the “only permanent fix” away from a violence-prone (or even passive) society will be when everyone is responsible for his/her (hir) own action – what I assume you are saying. And the appropriate way to respond to someone who is *not* assuming such responsibility, despite attempts at reasoned persuasion, is not to voluntarily associate with hir, letting hir know why you are reducing, ceasing or not initiating association until such unacceptable behavior changes. However this can only be effectively done *if* such a person is fully identifiable! I do not know what I wrote in my comment or anywhere on the Internet that would lead one to conclude that I think responsibility should be “imposed by others”, which I interpret as meaning by the use of physical force. (You used the word “But”, as to imply that I do so think.) Most certainly, the influence of Social Preference, whether negative or positive is not any kind of “imposition” on the subject of the preferencing.
If you read what I (and husband Paul Wakfer) have written you will see that all aspects of a Society of total Liberty and optimal Freedom (they are not the same) are by way of Contract and Social Preferencing – the ways that responsibilities are defined and effected. And even for situations now (in societies that are far from full liberty and optimal freedom), the situation described in the previously linked article, physical force imposition plays no part :
“Once he steps away from the use of anonymous “handles” in his Internet and other activities and stands behind his history of actions and ideas, then he is actually demonstrating some of the essential aspects of self-responsibility. He will want to, and expectantly will, preferentially associate with others who do the same.”
Choosing not to voluntarily associate with those who are anonymous or not assuming responsibility, or to do so only in a very limited manner, is negative Social Preferencing, contrasted with positive Social Preferencing which is to favor those whose behavior (including non-anonymity) is approved, ie. those who provide value to the evaluator. This is a direct extension of the common practice of choosing products and services based on one’s values. Social Preferencing becomes the strong public variety when reasons for doing so (positive or negative) are given not just to the party being Preferenced but publicly for all to know. This public action, enables others in turn to also positively or negatively Social Preference according to their own values – all without any initiation of physical force.
Social Preferencing has the potential for being the ultimate effector of social order without government, which is established and maintained by way of threatened or actual violence authorized by the rulers via enforcers, individuals who are willing to initiate physical force. More at: http://selfsip.org/solutions/Social_Preferencing.html
And regarding the appropriate response towards government enforcers by those who evaluate such “work” as unacceptable, see “Tax/Regulation Protests are Not Enough: Relationship of Self-Responsibility and Social Order”: http://selfsip.org/focus/protestsnotenough.html
and one specifically regarding military personnel: “Incremental Approach – A Better Method for Effecting Change” : http://selfsip.org/focus/smallsteps.html
I hope Nathan, that you will read the linked item that expands on my “interesting” comment and on those links provided in the response to Michael.
Regarding the group Anonymous, I think that their DNS actions – overwhelming the target’s severs so that would-be customers cannot access them – are electronic violence, like an interfering electronic signal, a very bright light beam or extremely loud noise, all of which are physical actions even though using an energy source rather than mass (bullet, knife, fist, etc).
If the members of Anonymous were not anonymous, they would probably use Social Preferencing, first not dealing with the target company, group, agency, etc, then trying to persuade others to do the same and finally reducing their own dealings with anyone who was not so persuaded. They could “out” the management individuals of the target, providing names, identifiable photos, and general location so as to enable others to use negative Social Preferencing towards not just the company/group but also towards those who are the chief action-takers and policy makers of that group (or even just employees for that matter). As it is I would bet that these same people who are one day launching a DNS action are the next day blithely doing business with that very same company, group, etc.
When it comes to government, while the politicians – all legislators, executives (including President) and judges – and bureaucrats are the most visible and audible human participants, it is the enforcers, both domestic law enforcement officers and military, who are the essential key. Without the enforcers – individuals willing to threaten and actually initiate physical force, all the words uttered or written by the politicians/bureaucrats that make up the vast numbers of regulations/laws/edicts/mandates/directives/etc. would be nothing but soundwaves and/or scribbles. So even more important than negative Social Preferencing towards politicians and bureaucrats (though it is still appropriate) is the withdrawal of voluntary association with those government enforcers who choose to remain in those positions despite attempts by others at reasoned persuasion that their “work” is unacceptable behavior.
All wars are possible only because large numbers of individuals are willing to be military enforcers; they are key to starting and stopping wars!
All government interference in the mutually voluntary interactions of others is possible only because there are large numbers of individuals who are willing to be domestic government enforcers; as they are key to initiating this interference, so are they key to ending it!
When large numbers of men and women decide that it is not worth the shaming and shunning (negative Social Preferencing) directed towards them by a majority of those who know or simply come into contact with them, there will be far fewer willing to enforce these types laws/regulations/mandates/directives/etc. This also applies to government enforcers of the military stripe… It is the enforcers, both civil policing and military, who are the key to starting, maintaining and shrinking (even eliminating) any and all governments, the chief perpetrators of violence around the world.
The group Anonymous (with a different name…. maybe “Non-Anonymous” 🙂 could be very effective in helping Social Preferencing become a major non-violence activism method.
“If a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.”
So, you’re saying that you support American military intervention in Iraq on the R2P doctrine?
Regardless, this idea is pure folly.
Dave, We are all hurt by what is happening still in Iraq. We want to see an alternative and are promoting UCP as a step in a better direction toward a diplomatic intervention. We haven’t even tried diplomatic intervention in Iraq, the kind that we’re talking about in this article. Please, say more about your ideas, without going down the route of suggesting that we are promoting military intervention. Of course we are not. We’re nonviolent.
Passivity or violence: is that the only choice? – Waging Nonviolence