Nonviolence in Iraq

If the Iraqis want us out of their country, they should mount a nonviolent campaign against the occupation. This campaign would accomplish two goals. First, it would make our continuing occupation of Iraq much less attractive to the citizens of the US. Second, it would demonstrate that the Iraqis have the wherewithal to carry out a nonviolent campaign of resistance, which probably means that they’d do all right once we withdrew.

Right now, it doesn’t look as though Iraqis are capable of conducting a campaign of nonviolent resistance. Violent resistance is just too popular, and the Iraqis’ allies (such as Saudis) are supporting violent resistance. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, their violence just makes us angry. Roadside bombings make Iraq look like the sort of mess that we can’t afford to leave alone. Violence is an inefficient means for persuading us to leave. Sure, bombings and kidnappings worked with Spain and the Philippines, but the US has more riding on Iraq than either of those countries.

With the Palestinians, it’s the same thing. A campaign of nonviolent resistance on the part of Palestinians would turn the US public off of Israel in a hurry. The US is liberal enough to love an underdog. Nonviolence wouldn’t win over the apocalyptic fundamentalists, but it would turn them into a shrill minority.

Do the Iraqi people have the wherewithal to conduct a campaign of nonviolent resistance? Is there something about Islam that makes Muslims less suited to nonviolence than Christians? Mohammed led soldiers into battle; Jesus was executed by soldiers. Does that make a difference? What about Islam compared to Hinduism, Gandhi’s religion? One could make the case that Islam is less suited to nonviolence than Christianity or Hinduism, but one could make a case that the reverse is true. Ultimately, the only people who can answer that question are the Muslims themselves.

December 2004