Understanding Nonviolence

“Understanding Nonviolence” edited by Maia Carter Hallward and Julie M Norman

THIS collection of extended essays, gathered internationally from academics and activists, is a textbook primarily and unashamedly aimed at those engaged with peace and nonviolence studies.

But its relevance to the rest of us should not be under-estimated in an environment where the mass media continually misrepresents the value and successes of nonviolent political strategies. It’s a hugely informative and thought-provoking publication, providing numerous case studies and a general examination of the theory, practise, challenges and opportunities afforded by the nonviolent action which usually takes place outside traditional campaigning channels.

In attempting to outflank those in power — and in the  belief that a natural majority support social justice — the contributors question the apparent consent and obedience in everyday society. Nonviolence is not a passive or pacifist form of political resistance and it is clearly distinct from reconciliation, negotiation and mediation, although it does not preclude using these tactics too.

Conventional voting, marches, rallies and lobbying are not commonly regarded as nonviolent action, which instead is regularly based on boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, non-co-operation, blockades and creating organisations and institutions that run parallell to the state.

In Britain, small-scale contemporary nonviolent action is everywhere — think South Yorkshire’s very own Freedom Riders or the Focus E15 Mothers to get a glimpse of its potential power.

Criticism of its usefulness, especially in societies where violence has become normalised, is forcefully rebuffed. While recognising the likelihood of a physically abusive response from those who do not share a commitment to nonviolence, and accepting that few struggles are purely nonviolent, the authors consistently emphasise that such action has proved more successful than armed resistance throughout history.

Empirical evidence shows that nonviolent methodology is more likely to result in more peaceful transitions, sustainable changes and democratic conclusions. It can also lay foundations for the empowerment of an engaged and politicised citizenry and, unlike armed uprisings, cannot succeed without broad coalitions and mass support.

From undermining racist lunch counter segregation in Nashville to supporting the worldwide food sovereignty movements, this book demonstrates that nonviolent action continues to play a vital role in creating social justice and real change.

Originally published in the Morning Star.


The 51 Day War

“The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza” – Max Blumenthal

There can be no doubt that the Israeli military onslaught on Gaza in 2014 was a crime against humanity. This widespread, systematic and prolonged assault killed more than 2,100 people and wounded over 10,500. Shamefully it also merely marked a continuation of the relentless, almost ritualistic, violent collective punishment against the Gazans.

At times this is a jarring account of the massacre of innocent people. Blumenthal does not shrink from documenting the obscenity of the Israeli attack, interviewing survivors and graphically cataloguing many of the atrocities which stained 51 days of intense violence that left no-one in Gaza unscathed. The two day barrage that obliterated most of Shejaiya and killed over 120 of its residents, an hour long artillery bombardment that eradicated Beit Hanoun, the destruction of Rafah, murder of 121 of its civilians and the systematic execution of Hebrew speaking Palestinians, are among the horrific examples of countless shocking Israeli military actions.

This valuable book also highlights incidents and events that seemingly escaped the mainstream narrative of the conflict, including the Hamas / Islamic Jihad pre-invasion peace proposals, promoting a 10 year truce with Israel and a request for international troops at borders, seaports and airports that were rejected by US Secretary of State Kerry and Egyptian President Sisi. Similarly unreported was the intense hand-to-hand fighting that followed the invasion of Shejaiya, when the Israeli forces suffered reverses.

Operation Protective Edge was not a war of armed force against armed force. Where it was Israel was beaten, but aerial bombardment and the resultant civilian massacre did not bring it success either. Despite pitiful official international support for Gaza, the most closely surveilled and intensely controlled area on earth, displayed no signs of submission. After 51 days of military onslaught there were even Gazan victory parades that celebrated its steadfastness.

As Blumenthal concludes, Israel cannot ensure long-term security until its neighbours are also able to live with freedom and dignity. The majority of Gazans are under 18 years old, growing up with little experience of anything more than the abject misery of military occupation, cyclical aerial bombardment and uninterrupted siege. A sense of global abandonment might have consumed Gaza but it also ignited the flames of rage and spreading radicalisation. This ghetto of children can perhaps be excused for setting the stage of the next conflict almost as soon as the curtains had closed on the last.

Originally published at The Morning Star

Another World Is Possible

“Another World Is Possible” – William F Fisher and Thomas Ponniah

The World Social Forum is an international gathering of diverse social movements, activists, campaigners and non-governmental organisations whose shared enemy is neoliberal globalisation. It attempts to create practical alternatives to an economic system that has repeatedly proven itself incompatible with sustainability and social justice and does not shy away from highly politicised conclusions. It meets annually, as a direct antidote to the World Economic Forum’s shindigs in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, but its members are on the frontline in the daily struggle against capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy.

Rising to mainstream prominence after its first meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001, which attracted over 10,000 participants, the World Social Forum placed people firmly before profit in its search for a more just, sustainable and democratic world. Instead of being dazzled by the promised land of globalisation it has established a resolute opposition to a system that produces a society at the service of multinational corporations and governments or institutions working for them.

The Forum’s alternative to globalisation is fundamentally based upon a co-operative internationalism formed at grassroots level, backed up by a radical form of participatory democracy and responding to the needs of the majority. Unlike those whose activism starts and finishes with elections, the World Social Forum understands that a true democracy demands a revolutionary change in the way we do economics, ethics and politics. Unlike the Labour Party leadership, it also recognises the value of trade unions and sees socialism as offering a real hope for a better future.

Originally published in 2003 this book offers an exhaustive analysis and critical overview of the World Social Forum’s initial gatherings that successfully challenged the mainstream story of neoliberalism. Anyone fighting the evils of TTIP, corporate power’s corrupting influence on governments, austerity, GMOs, militarism and all forms of discrimination will find a willing ally in the World Social Forum.

Originally published at The Morning Star