Violence in Protest
By A.D. Freudenheim

23 July 2001

"I reject the isolationism and protectionism that dominates those who will try to disrupt the meetings."
- President George W. Bush, on the protests surrounding the G8 meeting in Genoa, Italy.

There is a not-so-subtle connection between the recent protests by some anti-globalization forces in Genoa (and their precursor protests in Seattle and Quebec) and the Palestinian Intifada movement: both seek to disrupt what they see as the dominant ruling architecture. They believe that these structures are sustaining or enforcing governments and societies that inhibit or oppress the poor and dispossessed, through a variety of obvious and obscured means: everything from outright occupation to prejudicial financial policies, and from corporate favoritism to behind-the-scenes support for noxious politicians or political movements.

The secondary (but more disturbing) thread that unites them is their use of violence. In the case of the Palestinians, this is not a new development; by comparison to some other nationalist movements (such as the Indian resistance that caused the evacuation of the British), the violent factions among Palestinian liberationists seem to have maintained a dominant role in the region since the establishment of Israel in 1948, and particularly since the Israeli capture of additional territory in 1967. In the current Intifada, protesters not only gather to demonstrate against the Israeli occupation, but they throw rocks at soldiers, taunting a response, and this is to say nothing of the outright acts of terrorism that have taken place. Yet given the current state of affairs in the Middle East - with more than 500 Palestinians killed since October 2000 - it would be hard to say that this violence has been as effective as the Palestinians might have hoped. More than thirty years later, Israel still occupies the West Bank and Gaza strip, and for every step towards Palestinian independence there appear to be equal steps in the other direction.

The anti-globalization groups would like to see themselves as different. Although it is true that there are respectable numbers of well-organized, peaceful protesters, who have employed a range of passive resistance techniques at events in Seattle, Quebec, and Genoa (among other places), increasing numbers of self-proclaimed anarchists have been involving themselves in these protests. While in some cases it is merely the presence of protesters - of any stripe - that provokes forceful and violent reactions from the police, the anarchists have more actively confronted the armed forces, explicitly seeking to trigger a violent confrontation. And as with the Palestinians, the results of their efforts are out of balance with the energy that has been expended; the ends have not justified the means. The heads of the "G8" countries, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and others all continue to hold meetings (though with significant increases in security), and have not stopped making policy decisions or otherwise been put out of business.

This is, in reality, a shameful and pathetic situation - and one tainted with the worst sort of irony. The anti-globalization movement and the Palestinian resistance both claim to be acting on behalf of populations suffering from forces beyond their control. Whether they are impoverished laborers in Columbia or Gaza, Indonesia or the West Bank, these people are the victims of violence in many aspects of their daily lives: in the overt sense of having severely curtailed personal freedoms, and living under the threat of live ammunition, or in the more covert sense of enduring poverty, hunger, or homelessness caused in part by low wages and enslaving working conditions. That the protesters and terrorists may be hailed as heroes only highlights the desperation of those populations - and not the successful achievements by those who would defend them.

There have been some benefits from these activities. Writ large, the anti-globalization movement is having an impact - and President Bush's comments notwithstanding, these activists have brought much needed attention, from the public and the media, to the dangers and downsides of our increasingly global economic policies. Similarly, the plight of the Palestinians continues to be a concern for countries outside of the Middle East, and efforts to intercede on their behalf periodically gain momentum, as with the recent discussion among the U.S. and its European allies about imposing third-party security forces. But imagine how much further both groups might get in achieving their aims if they stuck more rigorously to non-violent forms of rebellion, where they could never be accused of inflicting harm or endangering lives. The victorious independence campaign in India, and the civil rights movement of the United States, should offer powerful examples to both groups of the strength that can be found in the combination of pacifism and protest. Violence is not the answer.

Copyright 2001, by A.D. Freudenheim. May not be used in whole or part without written permission. However, you may link to this page as desired! Contact A. D. Freudenheim for further information.
This page is part of: The Truth As I See It.