Nonviolence and the ME Revolution – the paradox of nonviolent state-building


Right to Nonviolence (RN) organized in Beirut on July 19, 2012 an active discussion that joined Advisory Board members, leading figures in the Syrian opposition, youth activists, and RN research associates, with prominent representatives of both the Lebanese Association for the Philosophy of Law and Friends of Kamal Joumblatt Association.

 The participants received in advance a paper prepared by RN Chairman Chibli Mallat in English and a summary version in Arabic arguing that the ‘eternal peace’ announced philosophically by Kant in 1795 remained the cornerstone for nonviolence in the world but that it was built on a paradox; Kant argues that international peace needs a world filled exclusively by democracies, although even democracies rely on coercion and violence represented by the judge who “deals pain and death everyday” (Robert Cover).  From Germany Prof. Sadek Jalal al-Azm raised a number of challenges to the philosophical setup proposed especially given the charismatic nature of any revolution that creates its own foundation irrespective of whether it uses violent means or not.

Chibli Mallat, Shakeeb Al Jabri, Khatoun Haidar, Georges Saad, Said Al Ghoz, Georges Aramouni; behind Tobias Peyerl, Emilie SickingheConsidering the importance of Syrian developments much of the discussion and questions revolved around the appropriateness and limitations of nonviolence in a situation where the government uses extreme and relentless military means to subdue the revolution. Shakeeb al-Jabri, one of the youth leaders of Syria’s revolution, explained the difficulty of sustaining nonviolence when the Syrian Army began to split and defectors were hounded and pursued into their homes while the population was asking for their active protection in the ‘killing fields’ of Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, and elsewhere.

Along with the question of the threshold of state violence that is sustainable by a nonviolent revolution, other issues were energetically debated. Prof. Ishac Diwan of Harvard’s Kennedy School and member of the Advisory Board, raised the issue of the necessary flexibility of the revolution and the tactical use or rejection of violence by the revolution depending on a set of circumstances that are related to a host of factors, especially the balance of powers within the country and internationally.

Khatoun Haidar argued that much of the revolution in Syria had remained nonviolent and that people were continuing their systematic demonstrations in several parts of the country in nonviolent ways. Another issue discussed was the possibility of groups like the Free Syrian Army (FSA) actually developing a strategy of military protection as any state would be required to provide protection for the population, at least on the territory controlled by the revolutionary position.

A significant discussion raised by several RN associates considered the role of the international community in providing the ‘missing judge’ and the means that he or she would need, including military needs, to enforce an international rule of law still totally absent in the Syrian situation. Said al-Ghoz pointed out a quote of Kamal Joumblatt that “A nonviolent revolution must turn violent rather than fail.”

An intense discussion revolved about the argument proposed in the paper that the revolution postpones the ‘judge’ until it takes over the government. The question is whether that postponement is essential to the nonviolent revolution and whether territory liberated by the revolution must also consider as a priority the establishment of a legal system that punishes violent actions perpetrated in the liberated territory that are condemned by the laws of war.

The seminar documents including the podcast are linked below.

Manifesto for the Middle East Nonviolent Revolution a.k.a. the Arab Spring, Chibli Mallat

السؤال الفلسفي في ثورتنا: هل الاعنف ممكن فيها على ااطاق؟ شبلي ماّط

Podcast (unedited): RN Seminar – Nonviolence and the Middle East Revolution – Beirut, 19 July 2012

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