Sunday, February 10, 2013

Noviolence vs Violence in Syria

In my blog post this morning, I have decided to cover news that is a little more than a week old, but particularly relevant to the discussions we have been having in our class.  Some days ago, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader, a man named Moaz Khatib, met with representatives from Russia and Iran to begin discussions of a peaceful settlement to end the current civil war.  Many in the SNC were infuriated over this.  To quell the frustration, Khatib insisted that his meetings with these state representatives were “personal” and that he did not represent the interests of the SNC by meeting with them.

As we are learning, there are clear differences between nonviolent and violent political upheaval in a given country.  We have talked about the relatively higher costs of joining a violent opposition group, rather than peacefully protesting in an organized march of thousands.  This morning, I would like to expand on this analysis of nonviolent protest vs. violent rebellion by using this situation in Syria as a case study.

Although rebel groups, such as the SNC, are united by a common cause to overthrow the regime, violent movements tend not to unite their members as much as nonviolent protests do.  When the civil war in Syria began, militants from across the Middle East and North Africa (including fighters from terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda) came to engage in the fight for a future Syria, while moderates who might otherwise participate in a nonviolent movement sought there own protection, without overtly taking a side.

In our class, we have established that violent rebel groups are smaller than their nonviolent counterparts (because individuals who are not willing to fight, women, and children do not participate).  In my opinion, this makes Khatib’s job of unifying the SNC even more difficult.  Many in the SNC fight for a very specific vision for Syria’s future and as the leader, he must represent the diverse interests of his organization.

To wrap this up, I think that nonviolent movements are more unified than violent rebellions.  Nonviolent movements attract larger numbers of moderates who are more likely to compromise on a future government, rather than individuals who shed blood to do so.  Violent rebellions, on the other hand, bring together extremists with dissimilar visions for a future government and–like I mentioned–are less likely to compromise.

If you  would like further information, I encourage you to take a look at these two articles:


  1. I thought this was an interesting take at nonviolent v violent protest. But I thought the fact that in the NPR article shows that a Syrian Opposition leader actually had enough prowess to meet up and talk with Russian and Iran officials kind of shows that this protest is a hybrid in between violent and nonviolent. Which hasn't really been discussed, but maybe that is needed in some areas. Violence has the ability to show a more drastic disapproval of the regime and then that violent can evolve into nonviolent. Kind of get the best of both worlds of revolutions

  2. I don't think these recent negotiations can classify Syria as a hybrid of nonviolent/violent protests. Since March of 2011, it is clear that Syria has been engaged in a very violent struggle (note the BBC link). I am not sure even if today it can still be classified as a "protest movement." In the first week of class we defined Civil War as, "clashes between government and other actors, fighting for concessions." Negotiations are a natural part of any civil war and I believe this just happens to be a unique peaceful event surrounded by lots of bloodshed. As you noted, the SNC seems to be very divided and violence has only increased the tension.