Pashtun Protection Movement in Bannu, Pakistan in 2018. (Wikimedia)

Pakistan’s long history of nonviolent resistance continues with the Pashtun Protection Movement

Qamar Jafri discusses the influence of Pakistan's nonviolent independence leader Badshah Khan on current struggles against oppression and injustice.
Pashtun Protection Movement in Bannu, Pakistan in 2018. (Wikimedia)

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Qamar Jafri visits Nonviolence Radio this week to talk with Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler about the Pashtun Protection Movement, or PTM, which is committed to bringing about justice through nonviolent means in Pakistan — a place that has suffered from entrenched violent conflict. This interview explores not only the ways the Pashtun Protection Movement effectively uses nonviolent resistance to end oppression and injustice (via marches, sit-ins, direct calls for government reform), but also highlights the constructive aspect of nonviolence.

Qamar explains the deep roots of nonviolence in Pakistan and the inspiration the PTM takes from nonviolent independence activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Qamar explains how Badshah Khan — as he is more simply called — “started an education system at the village level, to give the concepts of nonviolence. He established the network of schools at the local level, to reform and transform.”

Building off the legacy of Badshah Khan’s interpretation of the Pashtunwali, or the Pashtun “Code of Conduct,” the Pashtun Protection Movement reflects a sense of justice that does not devolve into an endless cycle of retribution and revenge but one that continues to grow through concrete practices, through “deradicalizing, countering violent extremism, through literature, through education, and through contact — like making study circles, groups, seminars, conferences, workshops.” Because of this ongoing formative education in nonviolence, youth today see that “the response to this violence should be nonviolence.”

Qamar explains some key elements of effective nonviolence in the Pashtun Protection Movement today, namely: inclusion of women, of victims, of children’s voices; use of local knowledge recognizing and relying on the expertise of indigenous people; establishing both practical networks on the ground as well as formal legal support, and turning to modern social media to bypass distorted reports from state run media outlets. After all, it is through contact with one another that we see our common humanity and the very real possibilities we have to make peace.

Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. We’re from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California.

If there’s one thing that we know for sure about nonviolence is that it’s happening in every place all over the world, all of the time. It’s just not often shared or given the importance or urgency in the mass media. And what we try to do is to illuminate what’s happening all over the world.

I was really excited recently to come across a special report from the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, ICNC. It’s a report by Qamar Jafri. He’s a researcher from Pakistan living in Australia, reporting on the Pashtun Protection Movement. Now, this is interesting to us because the Pashtun Protection Movement is a movement totally committed to nonviolence, drawing its inspiration from a very important figure in India and Pakistan’s history, Badshah Khan.

Khan raised the first ever nonviolent army. Over 100,000 people at one point became totally committed to nonviolence and organized and trained and courageous as an army. But all through nonviolence. So, this is a very important piece of history that often isn’t told.

And Jafri looks at how that movement has evolved today into something called the Pashtun Protection Movement. This interview explores how the movement began, its relationship to Badshah Khan, its relationship to the Taliban and international politics. Let’s hear from Qamar Jafri.

Qamar: Back in 2017-18, while I was doing my field work on PhD, there was an emergence of Pashtun Protection Movement at that time. That was in an initial stage. So, while I was doing my research on this ethnic identity and peacebuilding, religious violence, violent extremism, political violence in Pakistan, I was working with a local civil society at Islamabad, Pakistan.

During that time, it triggered my mind. This is the first movement in Pakistan that is nonviolent. And it affected me. Why should I study this one? Why is it nonviolent? How are they using nonviolence strategies? And from there, they have got inspiration to be nonviolent. So, I started to work on Pashtun Protection Movement.

Secondly, ethnic Pashtuns are the Pashto language speaking people in northwestern Pakistan. They are about 14% of total Pakistan’s 220 million population and mainly they are considered with the border of Afghanistan; the population is concentrated in the – near the border of Afghanistan, like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. And the tribal districts or tribal areas, they are more than 2000 kilometers border with Afghanistan.

Their identity is very – you can say, changing or conflating with Afghans and Pashtuns. So, Afghans are also Pashto speaking. And the Pakistani Pashtun are also Pashto speaking. So, they have ethnic and cultural unity. And this region, internationally, has been the hub of the war between Russia and Afghanistan, then the U.S. and Afghanistan. So, this region became the center point of militancy, violence, military operations, migrations of civilian populations. This civilian population suffered during all these actions.

So, my concern was why these civilian populations are suffering. Whether these are the policies of the U.S., whether this is the policy of Pakistan, the security policy, or there are other international or regional powers. But why should civilian people suffer there? That was my concern.

And then nonviolence. When I started the research on nonviolence, there were many interesting things I came to know through just my research. There was a ground-breaking study on this. I also was very curious to learn more and more about this, particularly in relation to Badshah Khan.

Background on the movement

Qamar: The background of this movement goes to the American arrival in Afghanistan after 2001, 9/11, and then the concentration of Talibans into these tribal areas from the Afghan region.

When the Taliban concentrated in this region of tribal Pashtuns, there was a complex network of, you can say, militants, human traffickers, drug traffickers, criminals, gangs. That became a complex network of terrorism, violence, and insurgency.

After that, Pakistan launched several military operations in those areas – in tribal areas – against those militants, against those insurgents in those areas. When those operations were launched, the civilian population suffered. The people – almost all the population of tribal areas – there are seven tribal districts. Seven tribal districts. There, the population of those districts uprooted and migrated to different cities of Pakistan. For example, Peshawar city, around Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and around Karachi, Quetta, they migrated to different cities due to war and conflict in their area.

When these military operations were over, the government told all of those people: go back into your area. There was a restructuring and development for the businesses, homes, everything. But they suffered other issues there when they went back. Those issues were excessive security checkpoints of their families, their movement, and there were IEDs – explosions of IEDs in different areas where the children used to play, and they were killed.

And there were targeted killings. Those people who used –

Stephanie: From the government? The government was doing those things?

Qamar: That was complex. That was complex. The government said these are the terrorists while the local population said that these are the security forces networked with the Taliban or militants, whatever they are. So, the point-of-view of both parties was different. The government told that these are the terrorists, these are the militants, these are the foreign terrorists. These are those big target, Taliban – like TTP. And the issue again became complex because the government divided into good Taliban and bad Taliban. That has become a complex issue for the local people. They can’t judge who is good, who is bad because they are suffering targeted killings, destruction, business destruction, and separation on the hands of both Talibans.

Stephanie: How did the government do that? Like good Taliban, bad Taliban?

Qamar: Yeah. That is also again regional – regional complexity. Pakistani State – those Talibans who support the interest, regional interest of Pakistan, or Pakistani in government, they are determined as good Taliban, for example. In Afghanistan currently, these are the good Taliban. And the TTP, Tehrik-e Taliban, they attack different areas of Pakistan. They are considered as bad Taliban. They are supported from external countries, externally – they are believed, or they are considered as. So, that is a complex region.

But actually what we see on the ground, there’s a network between, you can say, state actors and non-state actors. We can presume that there’s a network between state and non-state actors. And people get confused between these networks.

This is the reason the civilian people suffer – civilian people, whoever raises a voice, whoever speaks for his or her rights, whoever speaks for the rights of other people, for human rights, for constitutional rights, for justice, for peace. They make the same situations and conditions like territorial killings, enforced disappearance, or labeling like, you are anti-state.

Stephanie: And so, what happened in 2018? There was an event that took place that ended up galvanizing the group that is the Pashtun Protection Movement?

Qamar: The situation became more prominent and clear when the people of tribal areas, the kids, the children of tribal areas migrated to major urban cities of Pakistan. In urban cities, they started to receive education, particularly university education, college education. Most of them moved into social sciences. Because they have suffered social issues, there was attraction in political science, IR, sociology like this – and law.

So, when they got context with the social sciences and the university education, they clarified the conflict. They became clear what is conflict, as I told you before. They clarified what kind of network is this and how this network is working, and what should we do? What can we do, and what should we do?

The rise of the Pashtun Protection Movement

Qamar: In this backdrop – in those areas, tribal areas, started grassroots tribal movement for the rights of a particular tribe. That is a Mehsud tribe. Because most of the sufferings, most of the destruction, most of the military operations were conducted in Mehsud tribal areas, Mehsud areas. Like the ex-TTP leader, Baitulla Mehsud, he was Mehsud by tribe.

So, when they started – and the MTM, that is where Mehsud Protection Movement. This grassroots movement was led by Pashtun Manzoor Pashteen, who was a university student. And he made a group of university students, and that is from University of – Gomal University in the city of Dera Ismail Khan.

So, when they started this movement, that was specifically for the protection of Mehsud tribe rights. Like removal of landmines from the areas. Their demands were the removal of landmines, stopping the forced disappearances of Mehsud youth in the name of terrorists by security forces, and the targeted killings of local people, local Pashtun leaders. They are called masharans, local tribal leaders, the masharans – killings of masharans. So, these are the basic demands of MTM.

But this movement got a trigger in January and February 2018 when a Mehsud youth, Naqeebullah, who was a Mehsud by tribe from this area – they had migrated due to war. And he was killed there extrajudiciously by the police – that he is a terrorist. But actually, he was not a terrorist. So, that was a trigger for this movement.

When that killing was aired by the media, national media, on TV, print, this movement got up a majority that no, this is the time to show ourselves. And that is what we were asking, this is the example, this is happening with us in tribal areas also. The same thing is happening with us in tribal areas. That was their stance. And they developed certain strategies to unite all ethnic Pashtuns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern region.

In that backdrop, they started a Long March from tribal areas toward Islamabad. When they reached Peshawar City, in between the state, Peshawar City, there was a huge gathering. That was unexpected. They were not expecting there would be such a huge gathering. When they saw this is a huge gathering, this is a big jalsa, big speeches, and the media is there, they transformed the movement into PTM, Pashtun Protection Movement. That becomes protection of ethnic Pashtun tribes. That was a grassroots tribal movement, transformed, changed into ethnic Pashtun rights.

So, there, it was named as – in February 2018. In Peshawar City, it was named Pashtun Protection Movement. From there, they started a Long March and came to Islamabad, and they remained there for ten days in Islamabad. They gave a sit-in in Islamabad for ten days in February 2018.

Stephanie: What were the demands of the sit-in?

Qamar: So, they united their demands: stop the racial profiling of Pashtuns, like Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed in Karachi as a terrorist. They used “terrorist.” Stop racial profiling that all Pashtuns are terrorists. We are not terrorists. Stop enforced disappearances of Pashtuns from tribal areas and other Pashtun areas. Remove the land mines from tribal areas. And remove the security checkpoints from where the local people, local Pashtuns are stopped and they are frequently checked by the security forces, and they have to wait for long hours. And Pashtuns also have great value, dignity, and respect for women. So, they told that our women are disrespected at these security checkpoints, and we have to wait for hours here. So, our dignity here is damaged. These are the main demands at that time.

Movement acheivements

Stephanie: And did they achieve their goal?

Qamar: Yeah. Their ten-day sit-in at Islamabad, the government signed an agreement with them. At that time, the prime minister of Pakistan signed an agreement with them that we would remove landmines from there. We will also reduce the number of security checkpoints. And we will also give justice to Naqeebullah Mehsud. These were some written agreements by the governments.

But on the ground, they didn’t get any assurance from the government. Those people who were supported by the state, and the state supported local tribal leaders went back, but the youth remained there. Youth told the government that we don’t trust until you take some constitutional or legal assurance to us.

Stephanie: And they did not get that or did they receive that assurance?

Qamar: Yes. They received assurance. They received assurance in written form, in written agreement form from the government. And then they went back. But when they went back, they started a series of marches, Long Marches, to different cities of Pakistan. It spread to different cities. Like, they went to Lahore City. They went to Karachi City, and Quetta City. The Long March to Islamabad, Peshawar again, and other cities.

So, in separate and network to different cities of Pakistan. Why? Because feminist movements labeled political groups and parties, and the victims of terrorism and violence from other ethnic minorities. They became part of this movement. It was growing larger, like Baloch, ethnic Baloch, ethnics in the – and religious, some religious minorities, they were also with them. It became a national level movement because the issues it raised were the same, almost all ethnic, religious, and sectarian minorities of Pakistan. And they told us, “Oh, yes, this is our issue. They’re the same issue. We should go with them.”

From Khudai Khidmatgars to Pashtun Protection Movement

Stephanie: Now this movement is committed to nonviolence, or nonviolent resistance. Can you talk about the nonviolence of this movement and why the commitment to it?

Qamar: Yeah. This movement is nonviolent because its main inspiration is from Badshah Khan. They have some Indigenous or cultural or local knowledge of nonviolence. They have experience with nonviolence strategies and nonviolence, impact of nonviolence from previously of Badshah Khan or Khudai Khidmatgars. So, this movement is already existing, this local knowledge is already existing.

Secondly, as the youth were educated, I told you they’re mostly college or university educated. And the youth are educated — the response to this violence should be nonviolence. And we should be committed to nonviolence because the state operators are trained to quell the violence, but they don’t have the strategies or tactics of training to quell the nonviolence.

That was the main stance of their experience or observations since their childhood, that state easily crushes, “That this is anti-state. This is against Pakistan,” and crush them. But they know with nonviolence and strategies, the state is helpless. The state has to listen because of the international community, civil society, media, neutral public. Mostly neutral people respond to nonviolence. That these people are nonviolent, they are asking for legitimate and reasonable demands. They have the rights to ask to reason. They are not damaging something. They are not doing harm to anyone. They are very peaceful.

And whatever they speak, whatever they talk – this is true. This is evident. Yes, they are true. They have suppressed, they have suffered, they have suffered militancy, extortion, violence, all these things they have suffered. And they are right. Legally, they were getting support.

So, when the government put them behind the bars the other day, after one week, the court released them. So, they are not interested. They are just asking for their rights. So, this is a constitutionally – this is a right to speak, to ask for rights. So, these are the strategies the youth have learned that we should not resort to violence. We should adopt nonviolence.

And their followers, they are mostly the followers of Badshah Khan. Like Pashtun Protection – like Khudai Khidmatgars, Servants of God Movement and their political parties, Awami National Party. This is also an offshoot of Khudai Khidmatgar, they are followers of Khudai Khidmatgars.

So, mostly the leaders of the PTM are staunch followers of Badshah Khan. They always refer to Badshah Khan whenever there is some kind of this violence from the street. They say, “We are Badshah Khani’s. We are the followers of Badshah Khan. We will never resort to violence. We are nonviolent. We will remain nonviolent. We will tolerate. We will show tolerance.” So, this is kind of the bombardment to their followers, this kind.

Badshah Khan’s interpretation of Badal and the Pashtunwali

Stephanie: For those of you just tuning in, you’re here at Nonviolence Radio and we’re speaking with Qamar Jafri about the Pashtun Protection Movement inside of Pakistan.

In the Pashtun culture there’s a code of conduct called –

Qamar: Pashtunwali.

Stephanie: Can you describe that is? Because I think that also has been reinterpreted by Badshah Khan in favor of nonviolence. Help us understand what the code is and how Badshah Khan reimagined it with nonviolence.

Qamar: Well. Culturally, Pashtun society works on a code that is called Pashtunwali code, or “the way of Pashtuns.” The way of living of Pashtuns, that is called Pashtunwali code. We can say that it is our informal constitution of Pashtun society. They follow this one.

Within that Pashtunwali code, the concepts which I discussed in my study, in my report that are Nang and Badal – the two concepts, Nang and Badal.

So, Nang and Badal, the concept of Badal evolves around justice. How they maintain justice within their community or society. The concept of Badal means a way to seek justice for any wrongdoing or any crime.

And that justice is done through a tribal council – the council of tribal elders, local tribal elders. In relation to Badal, whenever there is any crime, whenever there are any grievances of two parties, they go to the tribal council. And through the concept of Badal, they decide about any real – like compensation or punishment, whether there is compensation or punishment. But in very new cases, like – about, we can say, less than 5%, the people are not satisfied with the council’s decisions. And they go for grievance. And that can be a murder for a murder.

If someone has murdered, they are not satisfied with the decision, they will go for the murder. When they will murder a person of the other tribe, then there is a series of inter-tribe conflict, inter-tribe killings. That becomes the kind of Badal they are seeking. Badal. And it becomes – this gives an impression to the outsiders that this – Badal is going to be violent in Pashtun society because they always see violence to Badal. They see Badal through violence or grievance.

But actually, this is very low. This is very low. But the media gives prominence, literature gives prominence to this violence. And Badal just becomes a grievance. They translate it into a grievance. But actually, it is a way to seek justice. And a high majority of people are satisfied with that decision of the tribal council, they follow the rules. They will not give some harm to each other. And there’s a material exchange. If they decide, some inter-tribal marriages to resolve this issue. There could also be nonviolent Badal.

And that was the concept of Badal during British times. And that was being used by the clergy or religious people, to seek Badal from the British invasion of tribal areas. In British literature, Badal was becoming violent. It was to radicalize, to motivate the local people. “We are going to take Badal. Yes, we are going to fight the British, and we are going to take Badal.” But that becomes violent. That started to become more violent.

And Badshah Khan told, “No. That is not the way of Badal. Badal should be nonviolent, through nonviolent strategies.” And those nonviolent strategies he told with Long Marches, boycotts, sit-ins, tolerance, forbearance. He started an education system at the village level, to give the concepts of nonviolence. He established the network of schools at the local level, to reform, or to transform this concept of Badal in that era.

So, that, Badal, again, was used during the 1980s by The Taliban against Russians. “Yes, they have invaded Afghanistan, Pashtun region, and we are going to take Badal, our grievance.” Then, that Badal became the source of motivation for Taliban in this area to recruit the young people. Oh, yes, the military of Pakistan lost many operations in this area. And they also recognized the young people to attack in other areas of Pakistan, like TTP, Tehrik-e Taliban.

So, that became very complex. And this is cultural norm, that we are – because as an outsider of that Pashtun culture, we only know that this Badal is a grievance, but grievance is a negative term. When the concept of Badal is translated in Pashtun culture, that is justice, to seek justice.

And that justice can be through tribal councils, and they listen to both parties, and then they decide to – their punishment is not mostly violent. That is through material exchanges. Like compensation through property, compensation through money or inter-tribal marriages to resolve those inter-tribe conflicts or like that.

In this Pashtun Protection Movement, they have unintentionally or intentionally, I don’t know. But they have worked to extend the concept of Badshah Khan that he worked to transform Badal into nonviolent, to seek justice through nonviolent actions.

We should not take a grievance through violence. We should take grievance through nonviolent actions. Like mostly in Pashtun Protection, there are sit-ins, there are speeches. They used to say, “We will take Badal. We will take Badal.” So, when we listen to different words, we think – perceive, we feel, “Oh, they are threatening all of Pakistan, Pakistani state. They’re enforcing – they will give grievance. They will take grievance.”

So, that gives a negative impression. But actually, they are asking, “We are seeking justice.” That is considered – in terms of context – in most of the literature, they all cited literature on those concepts explained in – negatively. I have interpreted it in this way.

Stephanie: So, it’s very important to educate people about these two meanings of revenge versus justice in Badal, it seems. Because then it helps people to reimagine whether there is a direct threat to their lives.

Qamar: Yeah. They are working to counter, or un-radicalize the people of that area through different strategies. And mostly, they develop some communities. They have established some circles. They have established some study circles. And those study circles provide free books on nonviolence, philosophy of Badshah Khan, and Gandhi. And through that literature, they try to inform the youth, coming youth, that this is nonviolence and this nonviolence comes through Badshah Khan and how he interpreted the Pashtunwali code in a nonviolent way. They are working on this.

They’re also working to extend a network of schools. And those schools – because this – the schooled are part of the Khudai Khidmatgar – the followers of their word – and they have some syllabus of this on nonviolence.

Stephanie: Interesting.

Qamar: Yeah. So, they are working on this, deradicalizing, countering violent extremism, through literature, through education, and through contact – like making study circles, groups, seminars, conferences, workshops. In two different ways they want to expose the young people to nonviolent literature. What is nonviolence? And how we should be nonviolent, to achieve our goals, our rights – political or human rights.

Stephanie: And you have some takeaways that this movement can teach others as well, who are struggling for nonviolent justice or who are in repressive situations. What can we learn from the Pashtun Protection Movement?

Qamar: Yeah. Well, I think my story has given very important lessons – impact and lessons of directions of nonviolent actions of Pashtun Protection Movement. And some of those lessons can be inclusion. A very important aspect of Pashtun Protection Movement is the inclusion of women, children, victims of violence, war, suppression. And the inclusion of minorities, their ethnic minorities, their religious minorities.

Because whenever there was an event against a minority – an incident against a minority, PTM raised their voice. “Oh, yes, we are talking about this one. We are also talking about this one. We support the – we support these people. We don’t like the suppression, violence against these minorities, these people.”

So, this is the main core lesson, the inclusion of – they also included the problematic people. For example, religious people. Many religious people were part of the movement. And these were those people who are problematic for these – liberal and nonviolence, when they became part of the movement, they look like – transformed. So, this is also because of the good strength of PTM.

For example, [Mullah Fa-ro-man]. He is a very famous leader, political leader of – religious leader. He also talked about the PTM, supported. The other main lesson, that is – legal ways. Because going in a legal way, and going in a constitutional way, makes a movement strong. Because constitutionally and legally, any neutral person cannot deny your strength, cannot deny your stance. That is very important to this also.

Another lesson can be local knowledge, Indigenous knowledge. When we have Indigenous knowledge, when we use the Indigenous knowledge, that becomes a source of motivation for the people to get united. For example, Pashtun Protection Movement used Badshah Khan’s strategies. And they used the name of Badshah Khan, his movement in areas that got their actions.

Whenever they fight, the government is going to be aggressive, is going to be violent, they bombard with the messages of Badshah Khan. “Oh, yes, we are Badshah Khani’s. We are nonviolent. And we are not going to use violence against our suppressor.” So, that is local, and the Indigenous knowledge is important to make the movement strong.

Another aspect of the movement, as I learned from my study, is the inclusion of victims. Because victims share their experiences. When victims share their experiences in the media before the people, before the neutral people, before the civil society, that moved the people. Because there are feelings – they have their feelings, emotions. And people are moved through those experiences.

Like there were many speeches of children. There were many speeches of young kids whose parents, whose family members lost in the violence, in the war, missing – they’re missing. They have been missing since many years. They share their experiences through speeches in the gatherings in the jail cell. They’re moved emotionally, the people, and people get more attached with this movement, their stance.

Another important lesson from PTM is the integration of modern media. Integration of modern media into the local strategies of the movement, of the movement or movement strategies, actions. Like they use social media, mobile and social media.

The main media, print and electronic media, was under the control of the state. And they mostly – blackout the jalsas gatherings, actions of the PTM, their demands – they’re blackouts, because they were controlled by the state.

Social media spread the messages, spread the actions through Facebook videos, Facebook Groups, Twitter, Twitter messages – and they aired live. When they aired live, just as on social media, the international media came to them and asked for interviews. “Oh, yes, we want to take interviews. We want your interviews.” And they take interviews. And their voice spread internationally and globally.

I think these are very important lessons from this movement. And they have a long time impact on the society of Pakistan, not only Pashtun society. They have an impact on Pakistani society. Because after that, I have observed, I have noticed there are several movements that arose after the PTM – they are nonviolent. They are mostly women protection movements. They are mostly ethnic minority movements. They are sectarian movements for missing persons. They are nonviolent.

Before that, they were very less trainable with nonviolence. They have got the message from PTM that, yes, nonviolence is the core thing that works more effectively in Pakistan, like Pakistan or in more suppressive or authoritarian states.

Qamar: My report is present on International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s website. And interestingly, this report is also available in Urdu language. So, any audiences who understood Urdu and Hindi, they can access, and they can understand from that because that has been translated by the ICNC, on their website. And it’s available in English as well as Urdu.

Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio and that was Kumar Jaffrey on the Pashtun Protection Movement inside of Pakistan. You can find the report at the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.

In the next part of this show, we’re going to hear some nonviolence in the news with the nonviolence report with Michael Nagler.

Nonviolence report

Michael: Greetings everyone. I’m Michael Nagler. This is the Nonviolence Report for the beginning of April 2022.

I want to go back a little bit over time and tell you about – well, first of all, something that’s coming up now and in the future, in September – it’s the Campaign Nonviolence Action Days. So, they’ve been doing this for nine years now. And last year, people held over 4000 actions, which were mostly events and marches across the U.S. and in 20 countries. Moreover, over 60,000 people participated. So, that’s getting very impressive.

And this year, they are inviting the movement to deepen in focus, and they’re shifting the dates to stretch from the International Day of Peace, which is September 21st, to the International Day of Nonviolence, which is October 2nd. The overall goal, “To build a culture of peace and nonviolence.”

So, now I’d like to report to you on a major conference that dealt with the type of work that’s now known as UCP/A. Unarmed Civilian Protection and Accompaniment. This conference was convened by Nonviolent Peaceforce. And it is the culmination, I think, of a multiyear process to identify good practices in UCP. They had six regional workshops, and they want to discuss findings that came from those workshops for the field. And it’s quite encouraging. Practitioners, partners, and academics – yay – from over 160 organizations in over 45 countries were invited.

There were a total of 22 Zoom workshops that took place over the course of the two weekends. They talked about things like global trends that are affecting the practice of UCP/A, decolonizing it, how it should work differently, if at all, in the digital age. And, among other things, the age-old problem – if you make it one. I guess – yeah, I guess it’s a difficulty. It’s an emotional struggle that actors in UCP have to go through, and that is nonpartisanship. That is to say, when they have a strong party who is dominating a weak party, all your sympathies go out to the weaker party. But you have to maintain an even balance.

So, just to wrap up with that conference for a minute, they conducted case studies in four areas of the world. South Sudan, which you may know about from our film, Colombia, the Philippines – in particular, Mindanao, and Israel/Palestine.

And here’s some of the really – it’s nothing short of inspiring statements from some of the practitioners who had been working in these countries in these areas around the world. So, this was one conclusion that they could draw, “The role of nonviolence in UCP/A practice is very important to most practitioners. Slightly over 90% described nonviolence as central to their work. Nonviolence is a key to protect civilians and de-escalate violence.” And I’m glad this in, “Contrary to the assumption many people may hold, it is also often the safer action, the safer option for practitioners as well as those they accompany.”

Now, this has always interested me because it lifts up the fact that you can go into something like this without “being a saint.” You might have motives that are spiritual or pragmatic, or some combination thereof. That is, assuming you’re not doing it out of cowardice. And of course, you can not always tell just from behavior.

But the main point that always comes out of this for me is that the spiritual is the practical. When you do the right thing from almost any ethical point-of-view, it will often be the most pragmatic. However, for that to be clear, you often have to look down the road. You have to look at the long-term results because you can fail. You can have deaths. You can have injuries.

But later on down the road, if you look at what happened and what resulted from that nonviolent episode, and you compare it to similar violent episodes, you’ll see every time that the nonviolence episode was much more pragmatic, even on that very practical level of saving lives, saving people from injury and death.

But I like to always think also of the long-long-term. What does the practice of nonviolence and its success say about the nature and destiny of the human being? I don’t think we should be shy about asking ourselves those deeper questions.

Now our dear friend Mary Hanna of Meta Peace Teams that’s based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but operating domestically and around the world, she had this comment to make, “These are not religious organizations, but there is a sacred connectedness to all people and all life.” Just what I was talking about. And she says, “There is no enemy. Only people whose hearts we have yet to reach.” Sometimes the statement is, “An enemy is someone who we’ve not yet made into a friend.”

So, one of these interesting gray areas came up. Because people who often reject violence – that is, as I like to put it, they back their way into nonviolence. They make an exception for the case of self-defense. But where do you draw the line when you’re using – I would say force – for self-defense? And here’s a really interesting question that came up which I was also just referring to – what is the definition of self? Because in the case of governments, you can use “self-defense” to justify preemptive military strikes. And then you’re on a very slippery slope.

So, these commentators pointed out – and this is really the solution here. And again, I’m quoting, “There are many tools of nonviolence. And if one tool does not work, you can try another one.” And they said, “If we believe that nonviolence can be used except in certain circumstances, we leave a weapon in the toolbox,” as they put it.

And that’s a really unfortunate development because you know perfectly well what weapon people will reach for when they’re frightened, when they feel under threat. Unless they have been trained very carefully and have a spiritual or religious orientation by this time, they will just instinctively reach for the violent weapon and then off you go.

So, finally, one participant wrote an interesting observation. When he was interviewing people about practices of unarmed civilian protection, he noticed it’s common that people place their hand on their heart. Isn’t that interesting? This intuitive movement occurred across organizations and contexts. So, enough for him to notice that over time that this was a very familiar thing.

And then when he asked people where the power of unarmed civilian protection comes from – and he asked that of almost every other person – it was almost this reflex gesture to locate something that is intangible and difficult to explain in words, in that physical place. One person, and I’m very proud of this one because it was a violence interrupter in Brooklyn, New York – yay. He said, “A lot of the work comes from here,” he said, pointing to his heart. And he said, “You have to be yourself.”

And that was so interesting because the heart is where we locate who we are, where our self resides, where our being emerges from.

Another statement was that when we suffer voluntarily for others, our courage wins their respect and our disciplined love wins their trust, which first opens their hearts and then opens their minds. So, that was really a before summing up for how nonviolence works.

Let me read that again. When we suffer voluntarily for others – this is what Martin Luther King used to call, “Redemptive suffering.” You know, he said redemptive suffering – unearned suffering is redemptive, is what he said.

So, quote again, “When we suffer voluntarily for others, our courage wins their respect and our disciplined love wins their trust, which first opens their hearts and then their minds.

So, next time I hope I have time to tell you about some other very exciting events in Brooklyn, people are protesting an unfair pipeline. But for now, that is the nonviolence news. I hope you find it inspiring and informative, as we do. And I look forward to talking with you again in a couple of weeks.

Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our mother station KWMR, to Qamar Jafri for joining us, to Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, Bryan Farrell, all the people who helped make this podcast and radio program available, transcribed and beautiful. We want to thank you, our listeners out there, including those at the Pacifica Network for sharing our show. And you can find it at the Metta Center’s website. You can find it at And we will be back in two weeks. Until the next time, take care of one another.

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