By Theresa de Langis
Thank you for the very timely letter, “Reasons Why Cambodian Protesters Must Remain Nonviolent,” on December 31. It is so unfortunate that only a few days later, on January 3, both protesters and state forces resorted to armed confrontation, leaving 5 dead and many others injured.
The letter stresses the important reasons why protesters must remain nonviolent—namely, that it doubles the chances of success. That success rate is true even under extremely brutal and violent regimes. Indeed, research shows that, however high the temptation or tempers, using armed resistance against illegal state violence, such as disproportionate and extreme use of force, actually hurts rather than advances democracy movements in the immediate and long term.
The question remains, however, as to how to maintain nonviolence in the face of extreme violence. The answer is through practice. Nonviolent practitioners throughout history have shown that skills determine the success of democracy movements, and the greatest skill is that of nonviolent discipline. To acquire that discipline takes preparation and training, rehearsing again and again nonviolent responses to violent provocation. Gene Sharpe, the father of nonviolent strategic action research, draws a direct correlation, stressing that the stronger the nonviolent discipline, the stronger the movement (he also says that the greater the use of governmental forces to quell social unrest, the weaker the state).
It is not easy to wage nonviolence—which is why it is called a discipline, a skill acquired by training, practice and will power.* Outbreaks of violence can spin quickly out of control, but for social justice movements, it is a time to recommit, knowing that success lies with nonviolent strategic action, in stronger skills, better preparation, and greater discipline to reach the goal.
Theresa de Langis, Phnom Penh
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