Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Effective non-violence

Malcolm X said that non-violence is fine, so as long as it works. I agree with this sentiment. He is overwhelmingly misquoted as coining the principle of "any means necessary", a term originally paraphrased from Jean-Paul Sartre. There was factionalism in the African-American civil rights movement between those committed to Martin Luther King's pacifism and Malcolm X's justification of defense through physical force. But even Mahatma Gandhi, as I have noted before, advised Indians to take up arms and exert direct action against colonial rule. MLK derived his civil disobedience from Gandhi's; though Gandhi would have perfectly agreed with the sentiments of Malcolm X and Sartre, his non-violence was devotional and strict.

This casual pepper-spraying and beating of completely peaceful, non-resistant student demonstrators has swiftly become an iconic image of the Occupy movement. The footage on the face of it is horrifying. The psychopathic, emotionless riot cops inflict their violence like routine activity. The gas-brandishing officer in question sprays the faces of the evidently dehumanized students, who are occupying and striking against severe education cuts and tuition fee rises, as if doing a spot of gardening, as Russell Brand describes it. But actually watching the video is remarkably inspiring. Their clear intention was the tactic of enticing violence in attempt to discredit and justify state brutality against peaceful protesters. But instead, total non-violence was something they had no idea how to respond to. They retreat in shame and defeat.

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