Accessibility links

Nonviolent Movements Struggle in Today's World - 2003-09-22

Bush administration officials have pointed to the September 11 attacks as the catalyst for America's war on terror. Two years after the attacks on New York and Washington, President George Bush again invoked these acts as the reason for America's aggressive stance in the world: “We will never forget the servants of evil who plotted the attacks and those who rejoiced at our grief and our mourning."

President Bush spoke on September 10 at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia: “The forces of global terror cannot be appeased, and they cannot be ignored. They must be hunted, they must be found, and they will be defeated. We will not wait for further attacks on innocent Americans. The best way to protect the American people is to stay on the offensive -- to stay on the offensive at home and to stay on the offensive overseas.”

During his recent visit to Washington, in an interview with the Voice of America, the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet and one of the world's foremost proponents of nonviolence, gave another, perhaps longer term, view of defeating terrorism: “I think the worst kind of violence doesn't come from the sky, not come from machines, but from the heart -- hatred, ill feeling, a sense of revenge. That is the ultimate source of terrorism. Violence comes from motivation. So similarly, the countermeasure ultimately must take serious consideration of change of human emotion, human heart.”

Is the Dalai Lama's message of peace and patience losing out in today's more violent world?

George Rishmawi is a Palestinian living in the West Bank. He is cofounder of the International Solidarity Movement, or ISM, a private organization that uses peaceful tactics to defend Palestinians, many of whom are engaged in armed struggle. His organization enlists international volunteers to carry out nonviolent actions, such as protecting Palestinian olive farmers from attacks by Israeli settlers.

“If we manage to help the farmers to harvest their olives without having to clash with the settlers who always try to assault the farmers, in this way we have succeeded in a short goal which is to minimize friction,” says Mr. Rishmawi. “This will save lots of clashes between the Palestinian farmers and the settlers and, consequently, will save lives.”

But lately the International Solidarity Movement's work is getting more dangerous. This spring, two ISM volunteer activists were shot and badly wounded, and another was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer. Mr. Rishmawi says the Israeli Army is targeting ISM volunteers because it accuses the organization of aiding the latest Palestinian uprising, which started in September 2000: “Whenever the situation escalates, whenever there is an assassination, it becomes harder. Whenever there is a bombing in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, also it becomes harder for ISM.”

Half way around the world in Burma, the nonviolent movement was dealt another blow when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in May after a pro-government mob attacked her supporters in the northern part of the country. She has been held in secret by the Burmese military junta at an undisclosed location for more than three months. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful efforts to bring political change, has criticized Burma's military government for its reluctance to engage in meaningful dialogue with her political party.

In this hostile environment, some Burmese exile groups are becoming more outspoken about the use of armed force to bring political change.

Naw May Oo is communications director of the Free Burma Coalition, which links exiled Burmese democracy activists around the world. She says nonviolent efforts and international pressure are important. But another mainstay of anti-government resistance are fighters along the Thai -Burma border: “This is not a dramatic change. It's just a more open understanding of the situation in our country.”

Does support for armed struggle undermine Aung San Suu Kyi's peaceful efforts inside Burma? Naw May Oo says the two can work together:

“We can see that Aung San Suu Kyi is a nonviolence advocate, but at the same time she is not in a position to actually choose the means and ways of struggle for people. She can only choose for herself, and people follow her to the extent that they can. But for some other people who can not follow her path of nonviolent struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi has not condemned them and does not condemn them.”

While peaceful efforts in places such as the Middle East and Burma may be struggling, analysts say they may be succeeding in the Dalai Lama's Tibet, which was occupied by China in 1951. Since he established his exile government in northern India in 1959, the Dalai Lama has made considerable headway, says Vijay Kranti, a Tibet analyst based in New Delhi, India, and editor of a Hindi-language magazine about Tibet: “I think his nonviolent philosophy has brought more results than if he had converted the entire Tibetan population into an army.”

Mr. Kranti says among the Dalai Lama's achievements are educating Tibetans, reviving Tibetan culture in India and rallying countries in the world to pressure China to enter talks with his exile government. In the past year, Chinese officials have met twice with the Dalai Lama's representatives. “China has in a way recognized that pressure, and they have started talking to the Dalai Lama,” says Mr. Kranti.

If the Dalai Lama succeeds in carving out an independent existence for Tibet as part of China, some analysts believe the lesson will resonate throughout the world. Bhuchang Tsering is director of the International Campaign for Tibet, a private organization here in Washington which promotes human rights and democracy in Tibet.

“It is only because of the Dalai Lama and his consistent commitment to a nonviolent approach that the Tibetan issue has remained peaceful,” says Mr. Tsering. “The Dalai Lama is adopting a unique conflict resolution approach, which if it succeeds, can provide a model for international conflict resolution. Because of the absence of a peaceful approach in the Middle East, things have been going on even today despite so many agreements between the two sides. Whereas in the case of the Tibetan issue, I am quite certain that if a solution is reached within the lifetime of the Dalai Lama, it will be a lasting one.”

It's still too early to say the Dalai Lama has succeeded. Formal talks with the Chinese government have yet to begin, and Tibet remains an oppressed region in the People's Republic of China. But the Dalai Lama's nonviolent efforts to achieve a solution for Tibet stand out in a world where war and violence have considerable momentum.