Resisting the Cult of Non-Violence

Check out this letter from comrades in Cairo. What a relief to see Egyptians speaking out in English against the ICNC spin, as one after another "leader" of the Egyptian revolution is trotted out to represent Nonviolent Egyptian Youth in "solidarity" with Occupy Wall Street protesters, with their neutered Gandhis and MLKs (no anti-imperialism/anti-capitalism here) and "turn-the-other-cheek" blather. Regardless of who is actually behind this letter (it is signed "Comrades from Cairo"), it speaks some very important truths about what happened in Egypt. Here's a quote:

We faced such direct and indirect violence, and continue to face it. Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government’s own admission; 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party’s offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.

Counteracting the cult of non-violence is important on a number of levels. First, the international non-violence racket is intimately tied to so-called "non-violent communication," which is Harmony Ideology at its most dangerous. Just to be clear, some of the techniques of NVC can be useful, for example, in trying to work out intimate relationship issues. Sometimes. But even then, they are potentially a silencing technique. Where entrenched power differentials exist, sticks and stones will still break your bones. And there's no honor in that. Really, there isn't. Try telling Mubarak, "when your police sodomized me, it made me feel sad." Or telling Obama, "when you take all those corporate donations, it makes me feel disenfranchized." Or telling Pepe Lobo, "What I hear you saying is that you care about human rights, and that makes me feel confused."

Confrontation is productive. And political violence is productive. Sometimes it produces misery, and sometimes it produces liberation (which is always reversible—you can't institutionalize freedom through representative democracy, obligatory speech patterns, or anything else). What violence produces depends on the kind of violence, who's enacting it, how, and why. And silencing people, which non-violent communication does, is violent. Try it- try going to a meeting in, let's say, Santa Cruz, and passionately arguing your point to a room full of non-violent communicators. It's like not knowing Robert's Rules in a union hall. If you can't speak their language, you don't get to speak. There's something very Orwellian about the whole enterprise.

The same non-violence non-profits who take CIA money when they can get it (I'm not talking about ICNC, which just shares an accountant, has parallel goals, and whose president used to work there; ICNC has enough junk bond money to operate on its own) also give non-violent communication trainings and are inserting themselves wherever they can in the OWS movement. In DC, this is particularly worrisome, since the think-tank/lobbying/pro-USG logic is so hegemonic. And I've received four email invitations this week to attend think tank and right-wing academic seminars on What the Occupy Wall Street Movement Means and Why it Should Matter to Me. Framing is everything. Who gets to speak, what they get to say, whether their whole movement can be invalidated because somebody got justifiably angry and threw a rock. We don't need to be tackling the rock-thrower. People throwing rocks doesn't explain or justify the police violence I saw and felt in Oakland last Tuesday. We need to be tackling the derivative Christian logic of non-violence (but lacking the possibilities of liberation theology) that chastises the oppressed for rising up against the oppressor, using fictitious narratives about Egypt's and Eastern European countries' "revolutions" as legitimation. And when people come to town claiming to speak for a revolution and making their way into lefty media with the same bland lies, we need to be asking who is paying for their plane ticket, and why the hell are they not back at home, where their "revolution" is not in great shape at all.