Editorial: Nonviolent alternatives

Viable nonviolent alternatives exist in many situations where popular opinion thinks only of armies and violence. And armies tend to be thought of not only as state power but symbols of the state so it is no wonder about their status in most countries. The powers that be are generally incapable of thinking outside of the lack-of-imagination box which constrains the possibilities they perceive. Why did the Irish government’s so-called* Consultative Forum on International Security Policy in 2023 refuse to even refer to or consider aspects of nonviolent civilian defence? Basically because it falls outside of their knowledge set. To them, it simply does not exist. * For reasoning on the use of the term ‘so-called’ see https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/53003786126/in/dateposted/

The recent webinar which INNATE shared with FOR England & Scotland, and Cymdeithas y Cymod in Wales, looked at some of these issues in relation to one particular challenge, the war in Ukraine. The webinar was with Majken Sørensen who shared on her knowledge of nonviolent resistance and on her book “Pacifism Today: A Dialogue about Alternatives to War in Ukraine”. https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2024/04/02/the-possibility-of-nonviolent-resistance-in-the-contemporary-world/ https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/04/01/nonviolent-resistance-to-invasion-occupation-and-coups-detat/

Majken Sørensen emphasised the extent to which our knowledge of the possibilities of nonviolent resistance has increased in recent times and Chenoweth and Stefan’s work shows nonviolent struggle is more likely to succeed than violent struggle. https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/2022/11/03/the-effectiveness-of-violence-and-nonviolence/ While morality is important, Majken said, it can be backed up with statistics today that nonviolent resistance works. And the fact that nonviolent resistance can be effective in tough situations was illustrated by examples from Nazi-occupied Europe in the Second World War.

However Majken also said that there are risks for activists opposing war – and soldiers consider risks normal. However not everyone can take the same risks (because of their personal situations) and it can be problematic if those taking the biggest risks are considered the heroes of nonviolence (when everyone has a part to play). There was much more to the discussion than be covered here though one point was the possibility of prominent figures, such as senior statespersons or church people, going to war situations, protesting and intervening.

A comment made after the webinar was that “Non-violence is important because it restrains escalation and greater polarisation. Violence and the threat of violence encourages polarisation and escalation and often there is no way back. It presents the issues as black and white and demonizes the other. It does not allow for some element of truth in their analysis of the situation and does not allow any doubts that one’s own analysis might be partial. This was evident in the lead up to Russia’s special operation in Ukraine. In contrast, a non-violence approach often starts with recognising the humanity of the other and the willingness to engage with them and consider their perspectives, while making clear one’s own position, principles and values.

And following the law of least contest, it is difficult to move to a lower level of contestation and easy to move to a higher level. Sometimes non-violent activists are seeking a cessation of violence and compromise between warring parties and they can help to achieve that by showing their own awareness of the humanity of both side. Compare that with a power-broker trying to knock the heads together of both sides, often resulting in a settlement which proves unsustainable. Of course non-violent activists are often making demands and are not seeking compromise, but even here, respect for the other is often at the heart of effective non-violence.” These factors are also critical points about nonviolence.

We have a job to do in making the possibilities of nonviolence and nonviolent resistance known in all levels of society and in relation to all levels of society and international affairs. You might think we should be knocking at open doors given the cost of violence and militarism, human and financial. But in fact doors are firmly shut due to adherence to status quo thinking and a lack of imagination.

Perhaps because he is well known in cultural circles (otherwise they might not have published such transgressive thoughts…), the Irish Times published a letter by Gabriel Rosenstock asking simply “Why not abolish the Army? They did it in Costa Rica and they’re doing fine without it.” (25th June 2024). Indeed, why not……….the writer of this letter (and much more besides) is clearly not lacking in imagination.

INNATE is happy to help anyone explore nonviolent possibilities at any level. AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Project, does an excellent job at the personal and interpersonal level in looking at the ‘transforming power’ of what is basically nonviolence. Community groups are often caught up with trying to provide viable paths for young people towards confidence and positive achievement and away from confrontation or crime. Mediation as a methodology has made great strides in civil society but it and its sibling, conciliation (a more general term for work on communication, discussion and understanding in situations of conflict, potential conflict and strife) seem to have been largely forgotten in the international arena. But at every level, interpersonal, societal and international, there is little sign of creative thinking in dealing with issues of security, justice, or the needs of others.

The Natasha O’Brien case in the Republic (a suspended sentence for an off duty soldier badly injuring and beating a woman unconscious who had simply asked him to stop shouting homophobic slurs) shows just how far we have to travel. This was an example of gross interpersonal and sexist violence, and symbolic of a wider malaise. While the state may deal with violent offenders in the armed forces, is there a will to deal with wider issues including machismo and masculine attitudes to violence in general? That is a much larger cultural and societal issue which may be touched on at times in relationship education but is an elephant in the room. (See downloadable Masculinity and Violence poster at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ )

One workshop which INNATE promotes is on exploring nonviolent tactics. This can be facilitated by INNATE but the DIY version is also online at https://innatenonviolence.org/workshops/workshop1.shtml This tries to broaden and deepen an understanding of what it is possible to do with nonviolence before personalising possibilities (what could you do?) and then brainstorming on a particular campaign. It is a straightforward process to arrive at new possibilities for our campaigning on anything.

The world’ seems hell-bent (sic) on pursuing militarist and violent solutions where militarism and violence are part of the problem or even the main part of the problem. And we know well that hell is traditionally portrayed as hot. As mentioned in the webinar with Majken Sørensen, the environment is very much a cost of militarism apart from the fact that hot and armed conflict detracts and distracts from the possibilities of dealing with climate heating which are so urgent – and climate change is itself becoming a major cause of conflict.

There is a steep learning curve or curve about learning to climb. We have the tools to change but it is getting them known and utilised that is a major issue.

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