I was watching this documentary on Al Jazeera’s People & Power about a group of Egyptian activists who have been preparing for nonviolent protest months before the February revolution:
Of course, I couldn’t help but compare their situation to Iran, when actions of this sort would never be possible. (Ahmed would have been imprisoned and tortured for attending the workshops, for “treason and attempting to topple the Islamic Republic of Iran” long before he could put what he learned to use).
But the very interesting methods they employ during protest: they set up first aid centers, they give out food, they prepare eye drops for the tear gas, they hug militias, they have a functional group which stands strong even when one or two of them are taken into custody, etc, etc, … none of this would ever be barely imaginable in Iran or in any place where the state killing machine is leagues more lethal and vicious.
You see, it’s not just the protesters who were nonviolent, the militias stopped attacking during prayer. Fighting, like shopping in a bazaar or a first date, is a social negotiation first and foremost where conflicting worldviews translate to physical maneuvers.
This isn’t to say that outright violence is going to get anyone anywhere. But rather, quite the opposite, in what sort of setting does nonviolence as a strategy even make sense? Does it in the case of Iran?
I can’t help but think of Arundhati Roy’s hunting words in conversation with Avi Lewis.
The Gandhian ethos is a very frightening ethos in the forest.
Avi Lewis is questioning her about her support for the Naxalite-Maoist insurgency, aka “terrorists and India’s greatest internal security threat”. “This is a country that gave us Gandhi” he asks. “Why can’t the Maoists employ nonviolent techniques instead?”
She responds by saying:
The Gandhian ethos is an ethos that requires an audience. And in the forest, there is no audience. In a society that does not belong to the rest of society, how do hungry people go on hunger strike? How do people who have no money not pay their taxes? Or engage in civil disobedience? No one cares. No one is watching. The Gandhian ethos is a very frightening ethos in the forest.
This is certainly not the case in Iran. The opposition groups are certainly not without an audience, or starving in the forest.
But this is a system that is willing to kill, steal bodies, crash funerals, torture, rape and kill children, and not only that actually manipulate a part of its population in going along. In the media and in the mind of this population, it has repeatedly not only slain the opposition when necessary, but erased it from memory, (or, as demonstrated recently, kidnapped its dead, lifeless body to create an entirely new memory all together).
Certainly violence will never be a viable answer, as the moral quandaries aside, they are leagues stronger than the protesters and have all militaristic means to crush them even more violently then they already have. But if your brother was not only killed, but his body, his identity and his soul stolen, would nonviolence even have meaning anymore?
Put another way: does it even make sense?
The Ghandian ethos is not only frightening in the forest … but in the streets of Tehran.