published in The Friday Times on June 4th, 2010

Jehan Naseem highlights the strength of non-violent protests

In history we have seen many acts of non-violent protests, and such a resistance can be a very powerful thing, with exceptional outcomes.

The very first non-violent protest took place in China BCE 470-391. This was conducted by the followers of Mohism. The Mohist philosophical school did not approve of war. The reason may be because they lived in a time of warring polities. Hence, they cultivated the science of fortification.

In 1919-1922, the “Egyptian Revolution of 1919”, Egyptians from all walks of life carried out a countrywide non-violent revolution in the wake of the British ordered exile of the revolutionary leader Saad Zaghul and other members of the Wafd Party in 1919. This event led to Egyptian independence in 1922 and the implementation of a new constitution in 1923.

Let’s not forget a series of nationwide people’s movements of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience, led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi) and the Indian National Congress, in (then) British India. The Non-Cooperation Movement in 1920-1922 helped improve the status of Untouchables in Indian society. Almost a decade later in 1930-1934, the Civil Disobedience Movement was marked by rejecting British imposed taxes, boycotting British manufactured products and mass strikes. A decade later, in 1942, the Quit India Movement (Bharat Chhodo Andolan or the August Movement) was in response to Gandhi’s call for immediate independence. This movement led to the end of British rule.

The African American Civil Rights Movement in the United States of America, lasted for more then a decade, from 1955 to 1968. The tactics of non-violent resistance, such as bus boycotts, freedom rides, sit-ins and mass demonstrations were used during the African American Civil Rights Movement. This succeeded in bringing about legislative change, and making separate seats, drinking fountains and schools for African Americans illegal.

There were worldwide protests led mostly by students in 1968. Around the world, campuses became the frontline battle grounds for social change. While opposition to the Vietnam War dominated the protests, students also protested in favour of civil liberties, against racism, for feminism, and the beginnings of the ecological movement can be traced to the protests against nuclear and biological weapons during this year.

Recent protests, some of which are still ongoing, in regards to Palestine from 1919 to date, during which Palestinian groups have worked with Israelis and foreign citizens to organize civilian monitors of Israeli military activity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Peace camps and strategic non-violent resistance to Israeli construction of Jewish settlements and of the West Bank Barrier have also been consistently adopted as tactics by Palestinians. Citizens of the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour also engaged in a tax strike during the First Intifada Movement.

On May 19, 2010, Pakistan decided to follow many others in history. The “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” contest drew an angry reaction. This event was to be held on Facebook on May 20, 2010. It is widely considered offensive to visually depict the Muslim Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h). A number of hadith, or interpretations of the Islamic holy book, forbid figural representations. Many people decided to boycott the use of Facebook that day. The Lahore High Court ordered Facebook to be blocked until May 31 – after the date of the contest – when a longer hearing is expected. Hence, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority had to comply with this hearing. Later on sites such as YouTube along with more than 450 links on the internet containing derogatory and sacrilegious material have been blocked.

After the whole New York Time Square bombing ruse, of which the suspect was Faisal Shahzad (of Pakistani origin and an apparent employee of the Taliban), a non-violent protest seemed to be the most sensible thing to do. This would not only calm the moderate and the staunch followers of Islam, but it would also give way to some of the major factors of Islam’s practices: peace, tolerance, charity, goodwill and of course non-violence. Islam and the Quran are against the use of violence in any action where violence could have been substituted for non-violent actions.

We all know that a non-violent resistance is a protest which does not employ violence as a way of getting the message across. Some means of achieving this could be petitions, lobbying through emails, letters or media outlets, or carrying out boycotts. Demonstrations and marches can also be a form of non-violent protest, but often become violent as they progress.

Most pacifists would agree this was the right thing do. Since we all know if further rioting had started in Karachi, things would have gone from bad to worse and you can’t make a right with two wrongs. However, a few questions still do arise: How effective was the message of the ban? Before the non-violent protest had taken place, how well was the reasoning communicated to the masses? Will Pakistan be looked upon as a peaceful Islamic nation with the support of its people?

Freedom of speech without intelligence or wisdom is worthless. No one has the right to be purposely disrespectful to another person or people, regardless whether they disagree with someone’s beliefs. This whole scenario clearly strengthens the theory that, education and literacy are two separate things. Let us just be hopeful that after all the turmoil that has been caused, sanity prevails.