Somalia as a Military Target

The east African nation of Somalia is being mentioned with increasing frequency as a possible next target in the U.S.-led war against international terrorism. Somalia is a failed state–with what passes for the central government controlling little more than a section of the national capital of Mogadishu, a separatist government in the north, and rival warlords and clan leaders controlling most the remainder of the country. U.S. officials believe that cells of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network may have taken advantage of the absence of governmental authority to set up operation.

Before the U.S. attacks that impoverished country, however, it is important to recognize how Somalia became a possible haven for the followers of Osama bin Laden and what might result if America goes to war.

A Cold War Pawn

As one of the most homogeneous countries in Africa, many would have not predicted the chronic instability and violent divisions that have gripped Somalia in recent years. During the early 1970s, Somalia was a client of the Soviet Union, even allowing the Soviets to establish a naval base at Berbera on the strategic north coast near the entrance to the Red Sea. Somali dictator Siad Barre established this relationship in response to the large-scale American military support of Somalia’s historic rival Ethiopia, then under the rule of the feudal emperor Haile Selassie. When a military coup by leftist Ethiopian officers toppled the monarchy in 1974 and declared the country a Marxist-Leninist state the following year, the superpowers switched their allegiances–with the Soviet Union backing Ethiopia and the United States siding with the Barre regime in Somalia.

In 1977, Somalia attacked the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia in an effort to incorporate the area’s ethnic Somali population. The Ethiopians were eventually able to repel the attack with large-scale Soviet military support and 20,000 Cuban troops. Zbigniew Brzezinski, then-National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter, has since claimed that the conflict in this remote desert region was what sparked the end of detente with the Soviet Union and the renewal of the cold war.

From the late 1970s until just before his overthrow in early 1991, the U.S. sent hundreds of millions of dollars of arms to the Barre regime in return for the use of military facilities that had been originally constructed for the Soviets. These bases were to be used to support U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. The U.S. government ignored warnings throughout the 1980s by Africa specialists, human rights groups, and humanitarian organizations that continued U.S. support of the dictatorial Barre government would eventually plunge Somalia into chaos.

These predictions proved tragically accurate. During the nearly fifteen years of support by the U.S. and Italy, thousands of civilians were massacred at the hands of Barre’s increasingly authoritarian regime. Full-scale civil war erupted in 1988 and the repression increased still further, with clan leaders in the northern third of the country declaring independence to escape the persecution. In greatly centralizing his government’s control, Barre severely weakened traditional structures in Somali society that had kept civil order for many years. To help maintain his grip on power, Barre played different Somali clans against each other, sowing the seeds of the fratricidal chaos and mass starvation to come.

Meanwhile, by eliminating all potential rivals with a national following, a power vacuum was created that could not be filled when the regime was finally overthrown in January 1991, barely noticed outside the country as world attention was focused upon the start of the Gulf War. With the end of the cold war and with the U.S. granted new bases in the Persian Gulf countries, Somalia fell off the radar screen of U.S. foreign policy.

There is widespread understanding among those familiar with Somalia that had the U.S. government not supported the Barre regime with large amounts of military aid, he would have been forced to step down long before his misrule splintered the country. Prior to the dictator’s downfall, former U.S. Representative Howard Wolpe, then-chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, called on the State Department to encourage Barre to step down. His pleas were rejected. “What you are seeing,” observed the congressman and former professor of African politics, “is a general indifference to a disaster that we played a role in creating.”

A U.S. diplomat who had been stationed in the Somali capital of Mogadishu acknowledged, “It’s easy to blame us for all this.” But, he argued, “This is a sovereign country we’re taking about. They have chosen to spend [U.S. military aid] that way, to hurt people and destroy their own economy.”

As the U.S. poured in more than $50 million of arms annually to prop up the Barre regime, there was virtually no assistance offered that could help build a self-sustaining economy that could feed Somalia’s people. In addition, the U.S. pushed a structural adjustment program through the International Monetary Fund that severely weakened the local agricultural economy. Combined with the breakdown of the central government, drought conditions, and rival militias disrupting food supplies, there was famine on a massive scale, resulting in the deaths of more than 300,000 Somalis, mostly children.

Humanitarian Mission Goes Awry

In November 1992, the outgoing Bush administration sent 30,000 U.S. troops–primarily Marines and Army Rangers–to Somalia, in what was described as a humanitarian mission to assist in the distribution of relief supplies that were being intercepted by armed militias without reaching the civilian populations in need. The United Nations Security Council endorsed the initiative the following month.

Many Somalis and some relief organizations were grateful for the American role. Many others expressed skepticism, noting that the famine had actually peaked that summer and the security situation was also gradually improving. As U.S. troops began arriving, the chaos limiting food shipments was constrained to a small area, with most other parts of the country functioning as relatively peaceful fiefdoms. Most food was getting through and the loss from theft was only slightly higher than elsewhere in Africa. In some cases, U.S. forces essentially dumped food on local markets, hurting indigenous farmers and creating greater food shortages over the longer term. In any case, few Somalis were involved in the decisions during this crucial period.

Most importantly for the U.S., large numbers of Somalis saw the American forces as representatives of the government that had been the major outside supporter of the hated former dictatorship. Such a foreign presence in a country that had been free from colonial rule for only a little more than three decades led to growing resentment. Contributing to these concerns was the fact that the U.S. troops arriving in Somalia were elite combat forces, and were not trained for such humanitarian missions. (Author and journalist David Halberstrom quotes the U.S. Defense Secretary telling an associate, “We’re sending the Rangers to Somalia. We are not going to be able to control them. They are like overtrained pit bulls. No one controls them.”) Shootings at U.S. military roadblocks became increasingly commonplace, and Somalis witnessed scenes of mostly white American forces harassing and shooting black countrymen.

In addition, the U.S. role escalated to include attempts at disarming some of the warlords, resulting in armed engagements, often in crowded urban neighborhoods. This “mission creep” resulted in American casualties, creating growing dissent at home in what had originally been a widely supported foreign policy initiative. The thousands of M-16 rifles sent, courtesy of the American taxpayer, to Barre’s armed forces were now in the hands of rival militiamen who had not only used them to kill their fellow countrymen and to disrupt the distribution of relief supplies, but were now using them against American troops. Within the U.S. ranks, soldiers were heard repeating the slogan, “The only good Somali is a dead Somali.” It had become apparent that the U.S. had badly underestimated the resistance.

In May 1993, the U.S. transferred the failing mission to the UN. This was the first time the world body had combined peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and humanitarian assistance, as well as the first time the UN had intervened without a formal invitation by a host government (because there wasn’t any.) Within Somalia there was little trust of the United Nations, particularly since the UN Secretary General at that time was Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a major supporter of Barre when he led Egypt’s foreign ministry.

Even though the UN was technically in control, U.S. forces went on increasingly aggressive forays, including a major battle in Mogadishu that resulted in the deaths of 18 Marines and hundreds of Somali civilians, dramatized in the highly fictionalized thriller Black Hawk Down. The U.S.-led UN forces had become yet another faction in the multisided conflict. Largely retreating to fixed position, the primary American mission soon became protecting its own forces. With mounting criticism on Capitol Hill from both the left and the right, President Bill Clinton withdrew American troops in March 1994. The UN took its last peacekeeping forces out one year later.

The U.S. intervention in Somalia is now widely considered to have been a fiasco. It is largely responsible for the subsequent U.S. hesitation around such so-called humanitarian intervention (outside of high-altitude bombing.) It was the major factor in the tragic U.S. refusal to intervene–either unilaterally or through the UN–to prevent the genocide in Rwanda during the spring of 1994.

The Coming Debacle

Most likely, the Somalia intervention was an another ill-advised assertion of well-meaning liberal internationalism in U.S. foreign policy. But there may have been other factors prompting the American decision to intervene as well: perhaps as a rationalization for increased military spending despite the end of the cold war, perhaps as an effort to mollify the Islamic world for American overkill in the war against Iraq and the inaction against the massacres of Muslims in Bosnia, and/or perhaps as a preemptive operation against possible Islamic extremists rising out of the chaos. If the latter was the goal, it may have backfired. Islamic radicals were able to find some willing recruits among the Somalis, already upset by the U.S. support for Barre, now with additional anger at the impact of direct U.S. military intervention in their country.

In subsequent years, there has been only marginal progress toward establishing any kind of widely recognized national government. Somalia is still divided into fiefdoms run by clan leaders and warlords, though there is rarely any serious fighting. Some officials in the current Bush administration believe that Al-Qaeda has established an important network or cells within this factious country.

If this is indeed the case, it begs the question as to how the U.S. should respond. It is possible that U.S. forces could obtain highly accurate intelligence that would allow them to pinpoint and take out the cells without once again becoming embroiled in messy urban counterinsurgency warfare, like that of 1993-94, or relying on air strikes in heavily populated areas, resulting in large-scale civilian casualties. Based on recent history, however, this is rather doubtful. The result of renewed U.S. military intervention in Somalia, then, could be yet another debacle that would only encourage the extremist forces America is trying to destroy.

Recommended Citation:
Stephen Zunes, “Somalia as a Military Target” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, January 11, 2002)

Nonviolent Resistance in the Islamic World

The tragic events of recent months have only strengthened the stereotype here in the United States of the Islamic world as an area of violent conflict. However, the region also has an impressive and growing tradition of nonviolent resistance and other unarmed challenges to authoritarianism.

The term “nonviolent action” is not highly regarded among those in unarmed Islamic resistance movements, in part because its Arabic translation of the term connotes passivity. Yet while the term understandably may not have widespread acceptance, and while few may explicitly refer to these movements as largely nonviolent campaigns, in practice many such actions fall under the rubric of nonviolent action.

What Is a Jihad?

Despite Western stereotypes to the contrary, the dramatic spread of Islam in the seventh century was not as much through Arab militarism as the absence of formidable opposition. More often than not, the way was open to them. Indeed, the Arabs of that period had little military professionalism, techniques or organization. Their generals tended to be merchants, poets or tribal chieftains. Their culture did not have the militaristic caste tradition of the Spartans, Prussians, Janissaries or Karalis, nor did they build up a military organization comparable to such other empires as those of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines or Persians.

Part of this perception in the West of Islamic militarism is based on confusion over the concept of jihad. Rather than a holy war in the Western sense, jihad refers primarily to one’s internal struggle for righteousness against the temptation to sin. It may also refer to any external struggle of moral significance, including nonviolent action. Thus, jihad is distinct from qital, the fight. When a jihad must take the form of a qital is debatable, but belief in jihad does not presuppose the use of violence in the quest of a just society. It has been said that the term “militant Islam” is redundant, given Islam’s inherent dedication to struggle for justice. Militancy, however, does not necessitate militarism—and struggle does not necessitate violence.

One of the great strengths in Islamic cultures that makes unarmed insurrections possible is the belief in a social contract between a ruler and subject. This was stated explicitly by the Prophet Muhammad’s successor Abu Bakr al-Siddiq when he said, “Obey me as long as I obey God in my rule. If I disobey him, you will owe me no obedience.” Successive caliphsreiterated the pledge; Imam Ali, for instance, said, “No obedience is allowed to any creature in his disobedience of the Creator.” Indeed, most Middle Eastern scholars have firmly supported the right of the people to depose an unjust ruler. The decision to refuse one’s cooperation is a crucial step in building a nonviolent movement.

What follows is a short synopsis of some of the major nonviolent campaigns in the Islamic world in recent decades.

Bringing Down the Shah

Through mass arms transfers from the United States, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi built one of the most powerful armed forces ever seen in the Middle East. His American-trained secret police, the SAVAK, had been thought to have successfully terrorized the population into submission through widespread killings, torture and mass detentions. However, open resistance began in 1977, when exiled opposition leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for strikes, boycotts, tax refusal and other forms of noncooperation with the Shah’s regime.

Such resistance was met by brutal repression from the government. The pace of the resistance accelerated as massacres of civilians were answered by larger demonstrations following the Islamic 40-day mourning period. In October and November of 1978, a series of strikes—strikers included hospital workers and journalists—nearly brought Iran to a standstill. The crisis deepened when oil workers struck at the end of October for the release of political prisoners, costing the government $60 million a day. A general strike on November 6 paralyzed the country.

Under enormous pressure, the oil workers returned to work but continued to stage slowdowns. Later in the month, the Shah’s nightly speeches were interrupted when workers cut off the electricity at precisely the time of his scheduled addresses. Massive protests filled the streets in major cities in December as oil workers walked out again and an ongoing general strike closed the refineries and the central bank. Despite large-scale massacres of unarmed demonstrators by royalist troops, the protesters’ numbers increased. The Shah fled on January 16, 1979, and Khomeini returned from exile two weeks later. He appointed Mehdi Bazargan prime minister, thus establishing a parallel government to challenge the Shah’s appointed prime minister Shapur Bahktiar. With the loyalty of the vast majority clearly with the new Islamic government, Bahktiar resigned February 11.

Despite the bloody image of the revolution and the authoritarianism and militarism of the Islamic Republic that followed, there was a clear commitment to keeping the actual insurrection unarmed. Protestors were told by the leadership of the resistance to try to win over the troops rather than attack them; indeed, thousands of troops deserted, some in the middle of confrontations with crowds. The mobilization of the masses by clandestinely smuggled audio cassette tapes led Abolhassan Sadegh, an official with the Ministry of National Guidance, to note that “tape cassettes are stronger than fighter planes.” Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches, circulated through such covert methods, emphasized the power of unarmed resistance and noncooperation. In one speech, he said, “[T]he clenched fists of freedom fighters can crush the tanks and guns of the oppressors.” There were few of the violent activities normally associated with armed revolutions such as shooting soldiers, setting fires to government buildings or looting. Such incidents that did occur were unorganized and spontaneous and did not have the support of the leadership of the movement.

It was the central value of martyrdom in Shi’ite Islam that made it possible, despite savage repression under the Shah—which led to as many as 20,000 deaths at the hands of his army and secret police—for the opposition to mobilize popular resistance rather than being crushed or forced into a self-defeating armed confrontation against the government’s vast military forces. The emphasis was to “save Islam by our blood.” Indeed, there are interesting parallels between the early Islamic figure Imam Hossein’s emphasis on martyrdom with Gandhian tradition of self-sacrifice.

Once in power, the Islamic regime abandoned the nonviolent methods that had led to its triumph, particularly after its dramatic shift to the right in the spring of 1981. But its clear recognition—while it was still the out-of-power opposition—of the utilitarian advantages of nonviolent methods had made its victory possible.

The Druze of the Golan Heights

When Israel seized the Golan Heights of southwestern Syria in 1967, most of the population was forced to flee. However, five villages populated by Druze (members of an Islamic sect and ethnic group who also live in southern Lebanon and northern Israel) remained. The Israelis sought to gradually annex the territory, and began pressuring the Druze to accept Israeli identification cards. The population resisted.

In December 1981, when the Israelis formally extended direct administration over the territory, they began an attempt to systematically coerce the population into accepting Israeli citizenship. The Druze began a nonviolent campaign that included a general strike, peaceful demonstrations and curfew violations. They systematically ignored military restrictions against public demonstrations and fraternization between villages. Children and adults eagerly sought arrest and many engaged in a “reverse strike,” installing a sewer pipeline that the occupation forces had refused to support.

As many as 15,000 Israeli troops occupied the Golan, imposing a 43-day state of siege, destroying homes, arresting hundreds of people and shooting suspects, but the Israelis finally ended their insistence that the Druze accept Israeli citizenship. Furthermore, they promised not to conscript Golani Druze into the army, to allow them to open economic relations with their fellow Syrians across the armistice line, and to stop interfering with Druze civil, water and land rights. When the Israelis refused to live up to these promises, mass protests and civil disobedience continued.

The resistance forced the Israelis to compromise further. Palestinian attorney Jonathan Kuttab observed, “The [Israeli] soldiers were really being torn apart, because they couldn’t handle that type of nonviolence.” American peace activist Scott Kennedy quoted an Israeli division commander’s complaint that the Golan situation was “ruining some of his best soldiers.”

The successes of this resistance effort inspired Palestinians, also living under Israeli occupation, to rethink their previous reliance on armed struggle by exiled guerilla groups, and to consider the efficacy of unarmed resistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Within a few years, the first intifada had begun.

The Two Intifadas

The still-incomplete struggle for national self-determination for the Palestinians, after little progress during years of armed struggle—including terrorism—against Israel, made significant gains in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The change came about as the result of the shift toward largely nonviolent methods during the first intifada, the uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. For decades, Palestinians had engaged in forms of unarmed resistance, including the general strikes of the 1930s against Zionist immigration; hundreds of such actions and campaigns over the past half-century have been documented by the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence. Thus, many of the tactics of the intifada were not new, but they brought this form of struggle to new heights in terms of its scope and role as a calculated strategy of resistance. Indeed, the Palestine Liberation Organization, after having de-emphasized the armed struggle for a number of years, formally renounced it in 1988.

The first intifada included confrontations by stone-throwing youths against occupation troops and the murder of collaborators, but the bulk of the resistance was nonviolent, consisting primarily of peaceful demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, tax refusal, occupations, blockades and the creation of alternative institutions. A combination of Israeli repression and factionalism within the resistance led to increased violence in the latter part of the six-year uprising, yet virtually no firearms were used by the Palestinian resistance and it remained a primarily nonviolent movement.

Within its first year, the intifada forced Jordan to give up its nominal administrative authority over the West Bank and to endorse Palestinian self-determination to an unprecedented degree. It also exerted substantial influence on popular opinion throughout the Arab world that forced some often unresponsive regimes to take the Palestinian question seriously once again. Finally, the intifada forced the Palestine Liberation Organization to take such political initiatives as the declaration of independence of December 1988, which led to a diplomatic successes, including recognition of the PLO as a negotiating partner by Israel and the United States.

The Palestinian population was mobilized and empowered to an unprecedented degree during the intifada, and the Israelis were faced with their most intractable opposition ever. Alternative institutions were set up emphasizing participatory democracy and empowerment of the people against both an occupying army and the existing patriarchal and feudal traditions of Palestinian society.

The 1993 Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority weakened the nonviolent movement as most Palestinian urban areas came under Palestinian self-governance, making it difficult for the population to confront the Israeli occupation directly nonviolently. Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s autocratic rule usurped the grassroots democratic institutions that had grown up as part of the nonviolent struggle of the 1980s, and reactionary Islamic movements committed to violent resistance grew in strength. Ongoing Israeli repression and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the failure of the peace process to provide the Palestinians with a viable state led to the second intifada in September 2000. Armed Palestinian police and security personnel joined irregular forces in battling Israeli occupation forces and settlers, and extremist groups have launched terrorist attacks inside Israel. But, although this new uprising has been far more violent than the first intifada, significant nonviolent forms of resistance continue in the face of brutal repression, often in cooperation with Israeli activists.

The Polisario of Western Sahara

Not only are there many cases of unarmed insurgencies against existing regimes in power, there has also been a case of such a successful movement within a nationalist movement prior to the formal seizure of power. The Polisario Front, the nationalist movement of Western Sahara seeking to reclaim its country from Moroccan occupation, has ruled up to 170,000 Sahrawis (the people of Western Sahara) in refugee camps in the desert of southwestern Algeria since the exodus following the 1975 invasion. While Polisario guerrillas waged an armed struggle against Morocco, the Front set up a sophisticated governmental structure-in-exile independent of Algerian control, calling itself the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and included a network of health care centers, cottage industries, agricultural projects and distribution systems that have won praise from international development agencies. Though Morocco occupies most of the territory, the majority of the people in this sparsely populated country live in the camps under Polisario control.

Despite those impressive structures, which insured a high degree of economic and social democracy, actual political democracy for most of the period was limited. Many Sahrawis felt there was too much domination by one element of the Polisario and that there were serious discrepancies between the movement’s egalitarian line and the political reality. On the political level, the Polisario’s executive committee made most decisions; despite the facade of participatory democracy, many of the local political leaders were hand-picked. There was a series of work stoppages and protests in 1988 as democrats pressed for liberalization. Hardliners resisted, arresting democratic opposition leaders. Still facing stiff opposition from the population through ongoing nonviolent resistance, the SADR went through several governments that autumn, but still failed to satisfy the population. But the democrats won a series of victories in 1990 and ’91 and now essentially hold power. The large June 1991 Polisario Congress, the first to include substantial representation from outside the camps, was dominated by democrats. Among other radical reforms, the executive committee and Politburo were replaced by a national secretariat in which key positions were held by reformers. There is now a new and more democratic constitution and an independent human rights commission.

Undoubtedly the already existing social and economic democracy made possible the transition to political democracy. Yet given the isolation of the camps and the monopoly of the armed forces in the hands of the Polisario elite, a more active repression would have likely been attempted had the leadership thought it would work. Indeed, it may be the first time that such a serious division within a national liberation movement was resolved through nonviolent action, avoiding disintegration into armed factions or establishment of a new rival liberation organization.

From Egypt to Indonesia

There has been a long history of nonviolent resistance throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Islamic parts of Asia. The 1919 revolution in Egypt consisted of months of civil disobedience against the British occupation, centered in Cairo and Alexandria and including strikes by students and lawyers, postal, telegraph, tram and railway workers and, eventually, Egyptian government personnel. The result of this nonviolent movement was the British recognition of limited Egyptian independence.

Recent years have seen successful nonviolent insurrections against military-dominated governments in the predominantly Muslim West African countries of Nigeria, Mali and Niger, restoring those countries to democracy.

The repressive sixteen-year rule of Jafaar Nimeiry in Sudan was ended during the spring of 1985 following two weeks of largely nonviolent demonstrations in the capital of Khartoum and the neighboring city of Omdurman. A general strike called by trade unions and professional organizations paralyzed the country; the democracy movement received active support from cross-section of the population, including the business community. Despite thousands of arrests and scores of shootings, the protests continued. While there was some rioting, most of the protests were peaceful. By April 5, even the judiciary had joined what was referred to as a “civil rebellion.” Radio stations were shut down and the airport was closed to prevent Nimeiry, who had been visiting the United States (a major supporter of the regime), from returning home. The military then seized power in a bloodless coup on April 6, but popular demands soon led to the establishment of a civilian government followed by democratic elections, which resulted in a popularly elected government that remained in power for another four years before being toppled by a military coup backed by hardline Islamists.

Despite a history of repressive colonialism and military rule, Pakistan has witnessed impressive examples of nonviolent resistance. The Pushtuns of the Northwest Frontier—who are today the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan—were among the most effective participants in the nonviolent anti-colonial struggle against the British; Mohandas Gandhi referred to them as his best “nonviolent soldiers.” Khan Abdul Ghaffir Khan, known as the “frontier Gandhi,” organized a group called Khudai Khidmatgar, or “Servants of God,” that grew into the thousands and played an integral part in the independence movement, particularly in the early 1930s.

In more recent years, Pakistanis engaged in one of the largest nonviolent action campaigns in modern history in a 1983 uprising against the hard-line Islamic dictatorship of Zia al-Huq. Though this rebellion was savagely suppressed, sporadic nonviolent action campaigns persisted until the dictatorship was overthrown in 1988, resulting in the election of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister in the Islamic world.

A massive nonviolent uprising toppled Bangladesh’s Islamic dictatorship in 1991 and resulted in the establishment of one the strongest democracies in Asia, led by Hasina Wazed, a progressive activist and daughter of the country’s founder, Mujibar Rahman.

General Suharto’s 33-year rule in Indonesia was one of the most brutal in modern history. As many as half a million Indonesian leftists were massacred in his rise to power in the mid-1960s, and more than 200,000 East Timorese were slaughtered in the wake of Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor. However, in the spring of 1999, a massive and largely unarmed uprising succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorship. The country’s first democratic elections were held that fall.

The predominantly Muslim ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo/a engaged in a nine-year unarmed resistance against Serbian minority rule during the 1990s, establishing perhaps the most elaborate network of parallel institutions in the history of nonviolent struggle. Though eventually eclipsed by the rise of the hard-line nationalist Kosovo Liberation Army, which prompted increased Serbian repression and NATO military intervention in 1999, the party of pacifist leader Ibrahim Rugova—who led the nonviolent campaign for independence from Yugoslavia and opposed the NATO bombing campaign—has subsequently become the leading political force of the quasi- independent republic.

West-East Solidarity

There are thousands of other cases of smaller-scale nonviolent campaigns, such as the Lebanese Muslim women who joined their Christian counterparts in demonstrations demanding an end to the country’s sectarian violence; of thousands of Palestinian Muslims joining hands with Jews and Christians encircling the entire Old City of Jerusalem for the cause of self-determination and security for both Israelis and Palestinians; and the Saudi women who drove cars through the streets of Riyadh in open defiance of the kingdom’s ban on female drivers.

Even among pacifists and other peace activists in the West, little is known about these and other nonviolent struggles. (Even this year’s War Resisters League calendar, which consists of 52 case histories of successful nonviolent movements from around the world, has only two examples by Muslims and none from anywhere in the Arab world.) It is incumbent upon nonviolent activists in the United States to familiar ourselves further with this impressive and ongoing history of nonviolent resistance by Muslims, who constitute a full one-fifth of the world’s population, and offer our solidarity. As the United States continues to make war against Muslim peoples and nations, those resisting such violence must know that their nonviolent struggles will no longer be ignored. Solidarity with Muslim peoples will help them resist the temptation to resort to violence and will help free all of us from the threats of terrorism, fundamentalism, repression, militarism and imperialism.

With the United States pouring billions of dollars worth of sophisticated armaments into the region, bombing Muslim nations and providing repressive governments and occupying armies with military economic aid, it is a mistake to blame the militarism and authoritarianism of the Islamic world on cultural or religious factors. Indeed, the need for nonviolent action in the Islamic world is no less than the need for nonviolent action in the United States to oppose those U.S. policies that help sustain the region’s violent and undemocratic status quo.

Redefining Security in the Face of Terrorism (PDF)

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have created unprecedented challenges for those who traditionally have been critical of U.S. military intervention and have allied themselves with the peace movement. For the first time in the lives of most Americans, the United States has found i tself under attack….

For a PDF of the entire document, click here.