Terrorism Vs. Civil Disobedience - A Scorecard
No Pulpit-pounding sermons, just a clear-headed examination of the historical scoreboard
This article started out as a passionate condemnation of violence and terrorism and an equally ardent defense of free speech, inspired by the attack on the offices of French magazine Charlie Hebdo that took place on January 7th of this very young year. It contained a lot of pretty terms like "filled with righteous indignation," "bottomless cesspools of violence and retribution," "brutal, soulless beasts," and other expressions of disgust and dismay that would have made any Bible-pounding pulpit preacher proud.
But then I remembered that I am just a mailman, not a prophet or a preacher, and when I stand up on my soapbox to preach or rant most of the time people just turn up the volume on the TV or go into the other room. At least this is what my darling wife does. So I ripped out that page from the clunky manual typewriter in my head with the sticking "f" key that makes it very difficult to write profanities, and started again, thinking I would approach the topic of Terrorism vs. Civil Disobedience in a calmer, more analytical manner, giving each side a fair hearing without any predisposed bias, then drawing a conclusion about who is right and who is wrong based simply on the points on the scoreboard. "Scoreboard baby!" the passionate fans calling into sports talk shows declare on Monday morning after thumping their hated rival on the gridiron. We will use the same principle here, comparing and contrasting Terrorism and Civil Disobedience as techniques for removing unpopular governments or bringing about social justice, then decide which side is winning with a look at the historical scoreboard.
The waning days of football season are upon us. The NFL's conference championships are kicking off even as I write this, which means that many people in the United States are busy ignoring everything that doesn't involve big boys playing with an oval shaped pigskin. Therefore, in case you missed it, I will provide you with a brief play by play summary of the tragedy that occurred in Paris, France this last January 7th.
On January 7th two masked Muslim gunmen infiltrated the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and killed 11 people. The terrorists' specific grievance against the publication was its insistence on depicting Islam's Prophet Mohammed in cartoons, but the attacks were apparently unsuccessful in bringing about a more reverential attitude toward the Prophet. On January 14th, a week after the murderous assault, Charlie Hebdo thumbed its nose in the terrorist's faces by adorning its magazine cover with another caricature of the Prophet Mohammed. The magazine's print run went from its typical 60,000 copies to an unprecedented 7 million and climbing, demonstrating that terrorist techniques may not be successful at suppressing a perceived source of injustice.
I struggled for a while over whether or not to include one of these famous Charlie Hebdo magazine covers with this article. What stopped me was the thought that images of a religiously offensive nature may be against this site's guidelines. But I was also held back by the grisly mental image of Hub Page's San Francisco offices being firebombed by narrow minded people who can't take a joke. Therefore, if you want to see the controversial cover you will just have to Google it. This should take you all of three seconds because the images are everywhere. For you fans of terrorism out there, you may be disappointed to learn that your home team has once again failed to bring home a victory.
What is Civil Disobedience?
Everybody knows what terrorism is - just switch over to a news channel at halftime instead of watching the Lingerie Bowl and you will undoubtedly hear some disturbing report of another suicide bomb going off in a city in the Middle East, another jihadist cell being broken up in Europe, or another beheading of an "infidel" being posted on the Internet. Terrorism really requires no explanation, it means what it says, which is simply scaring the be-Jesus out of people into accepting your demands.
Civil disobedience is a bit more complicated. A lot of people haven't heard about it because it's not as sexy or as flashy as terrorism and doesn't tend to make headlines or get soundbites or sell advertising time because it does not feature decapitated heads, mangled limbs, or masses of burning bodies. Therefore, a definition of Civil Disobedience is probably necessary, and this is "...the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands or commands of a government, or of an occupying international power." Civil disobedience essentially means doing nothing, but doing nothing can be a powerful weapon in the right hands. Not in my hands, because when I recently put Civil Disobedience into practice against my wife's tyrannical practices by refusing to paint the back fence, all it got me was a tongue lashing and a paintbrush in my disobedient hands.
Civil disobedience is not always non-violent, but Civil Disobedience's peaceful sub-category of Nonviolent Resistance has been very successful, especially where stacked up against terrorism, as will be seen.
Although American philosopher Henry David Thoreau is often credited with launching the practice of Civil Disobedience throughout the world as he sat placidly on the quiet banks of Walden Pond, watching the ripples on the water and refusing to pay taxes, successful modern Civil Disobedience movements can trace their genealogy back to Leo Tolstoy of War and Peace fame, whose grouchy, glowering stare you see above. In addition to his classic novels, the Biblical example of Christ's command to turn the other cheek inspired Tolstoy to write essays on Civil Disobedience that were read around the world, most notably by a young Indian lawyer named Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi. Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within You had a profound effect upon Gandhi's Satyagraha or "truth" movement, which was employed to successfully expel the British from India.
Gandhi's success inspired American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King to use Gandhian techniques to win Civil Rights for black people in the United States. Dr. King proclaimed that the Ghandian philosophy was "the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom." He even went so far to say that Gandhi was the "Greatest Christian of the modern world," even though Gandhi was not a Christian at all, but a Hindu. In a hypothetical conversation between the two Gandhi might have replied to Dr. King with one of his own notable quotes: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
At any rate, it is interesting how the bloodlines of Civil Disobedience can be traced back across three continents, to intellects and leaders that arose from three entirely different peoples of entirely different cultures and social statuses, which demonstrates quite clearly that Nonviolent resistance is a method of overthrowing oppression that is applicable to everyone, everywhere.
Nonviolent Resistance lights up the Scoreboard
So what tangible results have been achieved by the Civil Disobedience tactic posited by Tolstoy, put into action by his disciple Gandhi, and then imported onto the American continent by Martin Luther King? We only need to glance up to the diamond-vision to see the outcome. The scoreboard says that Nonviolent resistance played a critical role in 50 of 67 successful struggles against authoritarianism between the years 1966 to 1999. Among these were:
- the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which deposed the Shah.
- The Solidarity movement in Poland which led to the downfall of the Communist government.
- The People Power Revolution in the Philippines that overthrew the corrupt regime of Ferdinand Marcos.
- The 1987-1990 "Singing Revolution" in the Batic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia that brought independence from the Soviet Union to these lands.
- The 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.
- The 1989-90 Monday demonstrations in East Germany. T
- The 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
- 2011 "Arab Spring" revolutions across the Middle East that successfully removed many dictators.
Nonviolent resistance has a very impressive history of success in removing occupying powers, deposing corrupt or authoritarian dictators, or bringing about social justice for people who lack a political voice, such as African-American people in the United States and the "Untouchables" caste in India, for whom Gandhi struggled successfully. So now let's look up to the scoreboard to see how Terrorism is doing in historical terms.
Why Civil Disobedience works and Terrorism doesn't
I apologize to my pro-terrorist readers who found the above list a bit empty, but my research shows that as far as forms of protest are concerned you really are not in the same league as the Civil Disobedience powerhouse, and you really ought to think about getting off of the field before you hurt yourself.
Just why is it that terrorists get so little love and the fellas on the Civil Disobedience team wind up dating all the hot cheerleaders? Could it be that because when you kill or injure or maim people's friends, relatives, and family members yes they do get a little frightened and scurry for cover for a little while, but when they are hiding in the shadows they begin to regroup and they begin to think, and the bubbling cauldron of righteous fury in their souls begins to bubble over. Then, instead of continuing to shirk and cower they start to think and regroup and that is when they come out of hiding even stronger than before, and with a pissed-off attitude to boot. And then what happens is that people who might have been sympathetic to your cause before now look upon you and your kind as deranged killers, and whatever love you might have had before vanishes in a bloody rain of vengeance that only stirs up more attacks and then more vengeance in a never ending cycle.
Nonviolent resistance, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. It stirs up righteous indignation against the oppressors, not the oppressed, which is of course how it's supposed to work. For example, on March 7th, 1965, Civil Rights activists organized by Martin Luther King began their protest March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. State troopers and a sheriff's posse were mobilized to stop them with tear gas and billy clubs. Across the United States a program on the Nazi atrocities was interrupted to broadcast this clash to the American public. In the "Bloody Sunday" confrontation that ensued many of the marchers were beaten unconscious on national television and activist James Reeb, a minister from Boston, was murdered. America was outraged and on March 15th of that year President Lyndon Johnson called a joint session of Congress to introduce voting rights legislation. In spite of violent, intimidating terrorist tactics the billy-clubbing murderers lost and the peaceful marchers gained the legal protections that they were looking for.
So why is Terrorism still popular? - It's not just for Muslims, folks.
Let's face it, boys like to play with guns. Terrorism provides an outlet for unemployed young men in countries with substandard economies to release their restless energies using a religious, or a radically dogmatic political pretext (essentially the same thing) to provide a justification for so-called "holy" war against infidels, "class traitors," "subhumans," or whatever you want to call the bad guys.
In fairness to our Muslim friends, who are overwhelmingly a peaceful people, terrorism is not limited to adherents of the Islamic faith, but occurs anywhere desperate economic conditions attract desperate people looking to release their frustration in acts of violence against unarmed, innocent people. Jim Jone's 1978 murder of 913 of his cult followers in Guyana could be considered an act of terrorism, as could the 1994 massacre in Rwanda of between 500,000 to 1,000,000 members of the Tutsi tribe by radical members of the rival Hutus who embraced the violent "Hutu power" ideology. It should be noted, in the interest of updating the scoreboard, that the Tutsis ultimately won and gained control of Rwanda, in spite of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of their compatriots.
Examples of Non-Muslim terrorism such as these can even be found in the Middle East. In Palestine in the 1940s, Jewish Zionist terrorists belonging to the Irgun and Lehi organizations carried out bombings against Palestinian Arabs in which women and children were randomly and senselessly massacred. Terrorists even abound in the United States, a prime example being Timothy McVeigh's 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 people were murdered, many of them children. Frustrated boys everywhere like to play with guns and bombs, and for this reason terrorism germinates across the globe wherever the seeds of dogmatic, uncompromising ideologies find fertile breeding ground.
Conclusion - Time to change the Playbook
Although I have one of the thickest hides around when it comes to people making fun of me, my heritage or my religion, I'm willing to concede that there are people who also had a right to be offended by Charlie Hebdo's depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. But don't you think there is a better way to protest this insult other than shooting the cartoonists and their friends? What about staging a protest in the streets? Protests are embarrassing and tend to get to people protested against to want to change policy rather than deal with the negative publicity. How about staging a sit-in in front of the Charlie Hebdo offices? Sit-ins are expensive, and just might make the publisher kill the cartoons to get his people back to work. Sit-ins get even messier when the police are called in to move the protesters, because then the rolls are reversed; the protesters look like innocent victims and the publisher is suddenly the bad guy. Peaceful protests get you all of this and also let you avoid the costs of guns and bullets, which tend to be expensive.
Outside of simple offensive political cartoons a lot of other gripes of Muslims across the globe are perfectly legitimate. We in the west have done some bad things by invading Middle Eastern countries, bombing Middle Eastern cities to rubble and supporting countries that have driven people out of their homes. But violence is not the answer; violence does not get you points on the scoreboard, it doesn't get you a triumphant Gatorade bath, and it doesn't get you hoisted on your teammates shoulders. It's time to take another close look at the scoreboard and rethink the entire playbook.