the Martin Luther Kings of the Middle East?
In a land
where millennia-old resentments routinely erupt into violence,
the selective amnesia about the more recent example of Martin
Luther King is striking - it is a part of the world that pretends
as if the non-violence movement never existed.
ago, a survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project on Islamic Extremism
found that 57% of Jordanians, 39% of Lebanese, and 25% of Pakistanis
felt that violence against civilian targets - such as suicide
bombing - was often or sometimes justified. The bittersweet news
was that this represented a decline from 2002. What's worse is
that nearly half of the Muslims in Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco
felt that suicide bombings against Americans and Western civilians
in Iraq were justified. And these are our allies.
of non-violent activists could help create an active alternative
to terrorism on the Arab Street. It could help cut to the heart
of the moral relativism that argues that "one man's freedom
fighter is another man's terrorist."
King said that "a man who won't die for something is not
fit to live. "Suicide bombers believe that a man who won't
kill for something is not fit to live.
King believed that "Every man must decide whether he will
walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive
selfishness." Terrorists' lives are defined by a commitment
to destructive selfishness.
And to those
who get wobbly and weary following the war on terror, Martin Luther
King warned, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved
in it as he who helps perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without
protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
In a region
that seems perpetually caught in a cycle of violence, the power
of non-violent strategy should be self-evident by now. It is not
that there have been no precedents to look toward and learn from.
a shot in anger, Mahatma Gandhi led a popular non-violent protest
that ultimately removed British colonial rule from the second
most populous nation on earth.
by Gandhi's teachings, Martin Luther King helped lead a civil
rights movement one century after the Civil War, which finally
ended the system of racial discrimination and segregation.
century ago, the workers revolt of Solidarity highlighted the
hypocrisy of the Soviet Union and helped hasten its fall by striking
for basic rights in Poland.
One of the
most brutal dictators of the last decade, Slobodan Milosevic of
Serbia, was finally taken out of power not by bombs but by a peaceful
uprising from the people of Belgrade.
In the last
year alone, the peaceful Orange Revolution in the Ukraine ended
an attempted electoral coup, while the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon
after the assassination of Rafik Hariri led to a still-ongoing
shift in the balance of power in the region.
that the Middle East mindset isn't hospitable to nonviolence ends
up sounding like a liberal version of "the white man's burden."
It is more reasonable to assume that the amoral influence of terrorists
and dictators on the region has weeded out high-profile moderates
through intimidation and murder. "They haven't got the guns,"
comments the Hudson Institute president, Herbert London, "and
they haven't got the guts."
DuVall, the president of the International Center on Nonviolent
Conflict, cautions that the absence of charismatic leaders along
the lines of Martin Luther King in the Middle East is not necessarily
a sign of an absence of organized non-violent resistance. "I
think that a lot of these countries are in a phase that is equivalent
to Poland in the late 1970s. Nobody knew who Lech Walesa was at
the time. ... The regime may look powerful and very much in place
while dissident movements are organizing. The fact that we don't
see high-profile leaders doesn't mean there isn't work going on."
more peaceful revolutions against Middle East dictatorships during
the war on terror, we need to encourage coverage of those who
would lead strategic non-violent movements.
of one who understands this sits in a jail cell in Iran - the
journalist Akhbar Ganji. Imprisoned almost continuously since
the summer of 2000 on charges of "spreading propaganda against
the Islamic system," Mr. Ganji has embarked on several extended
hunger strikes while penning two "Letters to the People of
the Free World" from his prison cell. In the first, he wrote,
"In authoritarian systems, lying turns from a vice to a virtue."
In the second, he wrote that dissidents' "only weapon is
moral courage in exposing the violations of human rights and the
tyranny of the rulers ... This candle is about to die out, but
this voice will raise louder voices in its wake."
other examples in other Middle Eastern countries of dissidents
beginning to stand up to terrorist violence and dictatorship armed
only with moral courage. The Internet can be a powerful tool to
help spread their name and influence, uniting a diverse people
to stand up against the cycle of violence that empowers dictators
around the world. As Martin Luther King said, "Non-violence
is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and
ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals."
Avlon is a columnist for the New
York Sun and the author