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The Monitor's View

After war in Libya, a need to assert nonviolence for Arab Spring

From Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. to Egypt's peaceful revolution, civil resistance has been proven successful. Syrians especially need to stick to nonviolent tactics now after Libya's war.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / August 29, 2011



The timing could not be more perfect. Just as frustrated Arab protesters are feeling tempted to resort to violence, two events should remind them that nonviolent tactics have a winning track record.

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One is the opening of a memorial in Washington this past weekend to Martin Luther King Jr. The granite statue aptly depicts the civil rights leader for his stern, principled commitment to peaceful resistance against racism and other injustices.

The other event is a successful nonviolent movement in India that pushed the government on Saturday to take strong steps against corruption. Parliament was forced to act after throngs of middle-class Indians came out in support of Anna Hazare, an elderly activist who waged a 13-day hunger strike. His tactics evoked those of independence fighter Mohandas Gandhi, the 20th century’s icon of nonviolence.

These events are important because the violent overthrow of Libya’s longtime dictator, Muammar Qaddafi, should not be allowed to eclipse the model set by the largely nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime, some Syrian activists have argued for taking up arms. The Assad regime has so far killed more than 2,000 protesters and jailed tens of thousands. There is a worry that Syria may become like Iran, where pro-democracy dissidents have been suppressed since a 2009 peaceful uprising.

Syria’s cause for freedom would be lost, however, if impatient protesters now take up arms. In practical terms, rifles are no match against the military’s heavy weapons, even if NATO imposes a no-fly zone. And the opposition would also lose moral and political support abroad and, most critically, among many Syrians.

Right now, Syrians are largely united around the idea of liberty – an idea more powerful than guns. In Libya, the initial fight against Mr. Qaddafi was not well united around creating a democracy and it too quickly fell into a battle between tribes of the east and west. When a huge massacre appeared imminent, the United Nations authorized NATO to intervene.

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