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First and foremost is the fact that it can serve to re-silence and re-victimize those who have already experienced violence firsthand, and thus by default serves to exclude such innocent victims from any effective movement for social change.
An abuser's greatest allies are the passivity and silence of their victims. On that basis alone, I find it inconceivable that anyone with such life experiences would wish to embrace a political or social ideology that offers them no recourse for self-protection or even the right to honestly verbalize objection over how they are being treated, yet insists they walk right into extremely risky or threatening situations under such restrictions.
When defining 'violence' such philosophies tend to view specific acts in isolation and ignore the broader context in which they occur. When using the term 'violence' to these ideologies refer to any deliberate, forceful physical (or verbal) engagement with people or other living beings (or even inanimate objects of property), or is the reference to those acts that are intended to acquire power over people and other living beings; such acts that may leave one with no apparent alternative but to protect their own lives and those of others as best they can by whatever means come to hand?
Does the use of the word 'violence' refer to the complex, pervasive, insidious manipulation of humans (not to mention other living beings) by which means this societal construct maintains itself, no matter what the cost to the vast majority of us? Or does it refer to the actions of those indomitable free spirits who finally say 'enough!' and are prepared to put their asses on the line in a determined struggle for liberation on their own terms?
The answers to these questions have yet to be made clear.
It is not my wish to criticize how specific communities choose to conduct their struggles, or to pass judgment on an approach that at times will find legitimate strategic or tactical application within a broad kaleidoscope of possibilities. When it becomes seriously problematic is when (as applies to anything else) an inflexible attitude of 'my way or the highway' is adopted by movement leaders, or the very real needs of specific individuals are not taken into account.
When any community of people shows broad consensus for adopting a non-violent approach, their wishes are to be respected. Period. Be it Indigenous communities in Canada or Palestinian villages in the Middle East, the right of communities to reach their own conclusions about precisely how they will approach the task of achieving their own liberation is beyond negotiation.
But looking at the flip side, it is equally true that no one has the right to arbitrarily impose any kind of tactical/strategic restrictions upon a body of people when many are not comfortable with such an approach, for whatever personal reasons they may have. In my opinion, doing so is itself an act of violence. Peer pressure that plays on peoples' fear of being excluded or ostracized, or that lays a guilt-trip on the masses for not believing in a particular strategy or philosophy is enormously coercive and has no place in our movements.
I have also heard the notion expressed that people will carry over the tactics of struggle they employ into how they interact with others in the normal course of their lives; and that such justifies embracing a strictly 'non-violent' approach. To my mind this is an extremely simplistic, negative and cynical appraisal of human ability.
I am of the opinion that people are capable of creative, flexible, diverse responses to an incredible range of circumstances, with no carry-over at all of approaches that are unsuitable in other situations no matter how rapidly the dynamics may shift. The notion that someone who is left with no choice but to engage in desperate physical conflict in defense of themselves, their family or community will automatically revert to similar measures in situations that pose no threat is ludicrous.
The irony is that an enforced philosophy of 'non-violence' itself can have the effect of creating such rigidly inappropriate responses, in this case to situations where the ordinary and expected reaction would be to act in defense of individual or collective safety; if not by active physical engagement then by at least getting one's self and others who feel the need out of harm's way.
Initiating force of any kind against anyone who poses no clear threat is wrong. By the same token, it is the natural, inalienable, sacred right of all living beings (including humankind) to protect themselves, their communities and their resources from harm or exploitation. No one should be under any obligation to accept having violence done to them without being able or permitted to respond. The consequences of such situations need to become the oppressor's - not the victim's - burden to bear.
The ultimate goal needs to be finding some form of acceptable reconciliation between all of these seemingly divergent realities - not imposing a single restrictive philosophy on everyone who commits to struggling for liberation.
Submitted by Graeme on