This week, Nonviolence Radio welcomes Sarah Eskandari, Iranian activist and PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah speaks with Stephanie and Michael about the ongoing nonviolent protests in Iran and the brutal actions taken by the current regime in response to them. The interview goes on to explore the possibility of nurturing a strong, foundational commitment to nonviolence amongst the Iranian people. Sarah speaks about the long history of nonviolent resistance in Iran.
“Historically speaking,” she explains, “we haven’t had violent protests or movements after the Islamic revolution of 1979. Almost all protests, all movements were peaceful…Iranians have been able to shake the pillars of the Islamic regime with a peaceful demonstration. Looking at the history of the resistance, it is very encouraging to appreciate what they have been doing.”
This realistic and hopeful discussion is followed by the Nonviolence Report where Michael reviews expressions of nonviolence at play today, including a candid conversation with Amos Oluwatoye – speaker, philosopher and nonviolent activist – on the promising activities of Nigeria’s Obi-dient movement and its attempt to ensure fair and just elections.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here with my co-host and news anchor from the Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler.
On this episode of Nonviolence Radio, we speak with Sarah Eskandari. She is the head of an organization called Philly Iran, and they’re working to advocate and educate about the situation of people within Iran and the brutality of the Iranian regime, and to help support nonviolent change within the country.
It’s an interesting interview because as a member of the diaspora, she feels more free to be able to criticize and critique what’s taking place than some of our friends within the country itself.
Sarah: My name is Sarah Eskandari. And I am a PhD candidate in history at the University of Pennsylvania. And I’m interested in the social and cultural history of the modern Middle East, especially Iran.
So, about the organization that we have right now, two days, actually, after Mahsa Amini’s death with some of my friends, we started organizing events – vigil, demonstrations, rallies.
Michael: How would you state and maybe amplify on the mission? What are you trying to accomplish?
Sarah: Obviously, we want to push this revolution forward. And the very first thing that we want to do is to raise awareness, to amplify Iranian’s voices inside Iran, to educate people, to learn about the Islamic Republic’s brutality, what they have been doing to us. Our main goal is to just keep the spirit of this revolution alive.
Michael: Now, so I’m glad to hear that this is way beyond protests because often movements don’t know what to do once they’re finished protesting. A pet idea that I have, Sarah, is that there should be a wide-ranging consultation among different sectors of Iranian society, in the country and in the diaspora, as to what kind of regime you want if you have the ideal future that you dream of.
First of all, do you think there’d be much consensus among the people that you are in contact with? And what do you think would be the main outlines of that future Iran?
Sarah: Actually, I’m pretty sure that most Iranians want a secular system, you know, where religion is a private matter. And the country is run by a direct and permanent involvement of people. We want a secular system in a country where women are not beaten up, and are not harassed for their choices. And religious and ethnic minorities are not discriminated against for years.
I think it’s more than obvious that the extent to which the Islamic regime brutally suppressed Iranian’s protests. No matter if you’re a Kurd, or you’re a Baloch, or Azeri. It really doesn’t matter to them. You’re a kid. You are like an old woman, you know. I’m sure you know already that what’s going on in Iran today and over the past 3 months, what they have been doing to schoolgirls and poisoning them, beating women for their protests against poisoning their children.
I think this is something that is not hidden. And it’s more than really obvious how the Islamic regime has been treating peaceful demonstrations. Especially among students, especially schoolgirls.
Michael: Yeah. Well, if we could see a transition to a secular regime, inshallah, would that automatically solve most of these problems? I mean the reason I ask is that often prejudices against women and prejudices in and among minority ethnicities are often part of the social fabric, part of people’s psychology, and you have to dig deeper than the political arrangements to resolve them.
Sarah: Yeah. So, that’s a good question. We have both an institutionalized patriarchy and cultural patriarchy. But I personally believe that even cultural or social patriarchy are part of institutionalized patriarchy.
Why I’m saying so is because I think oppression against women, discrimination against different marginalized groups, have been educated by the political system. So, the main response for all of this is the – at the political system, the government. They have been educating people. They have been trying to internalize all these misogynist concepts.
And they have been trying to make people believe that this is a culture, to make it look normal, to normalize violence.
So, I do believe that, despite the fact that we definitely can, in theory, distinguish cultural, social patriarchy with institutionalized patriarchy, I do believe that at the end, all are directed to the political system, the government.
Michael: Personally, we here at Metta have reason to believe that there’s a hunger for a learning about nonviolence in Iran, which, I hope, is not just the hope to get a clever strategy or technique, but a whole different worldview that really is embedded in the idea of nonviolence. Is that also your impression?
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely. Historically speaking, we haven’t had violent protests or movements after the Islamic revolution of 1979. And almost all protests, all movements were peaceful. Definitely in each protest you will see some people, you know, they use some violent mechanisms. Their resistance is not really nonviolent.
But I’m talking about the majority. Historically speaking, we haven’t had, honestly, a violent resistance after the revolution. But I also want to emphasize that in a place where, as you see, women are beaten, women are harassed – let me not just emphasize women – Iranians, in general, have been harassed, have been killed for their peaceful – for their very basic rights.
Now it’s very difficult to understand, maybe for some people, a nonviolent approach. Let me give you an example. I was talking maybe an hour ago with one of my good friends. She’s American, and I was talking about violent and nonviolent resistance. And she said that in America, here, if someone attacks your kid, you would attack him. You know, so it is difficult to put yourself – like just if you put yourself in that position, in that place, you will see that you’re attacked. You can just look at the attacker, you know what I’m saying? You have to defend yourself. Your loved one is being attacked, so you have to defend yourself.
And at that moment, I think this is a difference between theory and practice, and I just don’t want to talk in a way that, like, especially because I lived in Iran, you know, I grew up there. It is very difficult. Yeah.
Michael: Well, my response to that has always been that there’s a kind of very weak logic going on, where people immediately think of the most extreme example, and you have to behave in a certain way. And then they generalize that to the whole principle. And I mean, when I was applying to be a conscientious objector in New York, many years ago, but who’s counting? There was a question they would always ask, which is if somebody were attacking your grandmother, would you just stand by and let them do it?
And it was kind of a trap until finally, one of my colleagues, one of my friends said, “Well, no, I would try to protect my grandmother, but I wouldn’t then turn around and go and attack his grandmother.”
I guess this is moving me towards a question about the exposure of people to nonviolence, and especially the possibility of nonviolence more than just a technique, but you know, an approach to the human community.
I guess there are two questions here, Sarah, are Iranians very much aware of that? And secondly, if they aren’t, would they be receptive?
Sarah: The idea of nonviolent resistance, you mean?
Michael: Yes. And I mean that, again, partly just as a technique, the strategy, “Okay, you know, I hate you. I’m going to stop you from what you’re doing, but I’m not going to shoot you.” Versus a deeply committed sense that all life is interconnected, and you must solve a social injustice, but you don’t want to injure anyone in the process, if you can help it.
Sarah: Yeah. So, I do believe that Iranians have proven that they are very receptive. And the only exception is like when you are attacked – when someone is going to attack you, your loved ones, and then you have to defend yourself. You know what I’m saying?
So, in that case, I don’t want – personally, I don’t believe that, you know, somebody comes to and says that, like, “Hey, you know, if I’m attacked or if I see that my kid is attacked,” so I wouldn’t react. It’s impossible. Almost impossible, right? Other than this, that, you know, we have to defend ourselves, I do believe that the Iranians are very receptive.
Especially look at today. They started poisoning children over the past – like three months ago. And the Iranians, they’re like these kids’ parents, including my sister, they peacefully demonstrated in front of their children’s school. And they were threatened. My niece’s school was poisoned. Students were poisoned.
And so, my niece was so lucky she wasn’t poisoned, but her classmates became unconscious in front of her eyes, and they were, you know, finally, were hospitalized. So, what the parents did, they just demonstrated in front of schools. But after – like the day after – I heard this yesterday. My sister said that they were threatened.
And they have been threatened over the past like three months that if you don’t speak about poisoning your children, don’t talk about it. So, still with all of these atrocities, it is extremely difficult not to be angry at this situation. But still, Iranians are demonstrating peacefully.
Look at the videos that are circulating in social media. You will see that parents are in front of their children’s school, peacefully demonstrating and demanding the government to find those who are responsible. But on the other hand, you will see officials – they’re beating women. And some of these videos are viral you can easily see them on YouTube.
Michael: Some of the behaviors that you’re talking about are both shocking to the sensibilities of ordinary people and probably in violation of international law. You know, I’m sitting here finding myself shocked at what you’re saying. And outraged.
So, I want to cycle back to your very encouraging assessment, Sarah, that Iranian people in general and organizations, perhaps, and more particularly, would be receptive to learning about nonviolence. How could we follow up on that? How could we take advantage of that opening and get it better understood?
Sarah: Like you mean how we can teach nonviolence resistance among Iranian people?
Sarah: I do think that – holding panels, publishing papers, releasing some statements – I do believe that the very first part of all this, like in a panel or in a piece of writing, we should emphasize that we already know that Iranians have been very nonviolent in resisting the Islamic regime. That they’re far too brutal, but they have proven this.
Sometimes I just think to myself that, okay, we are sitting here in a safe country, you know, in America, and we are talking about nonviolent resistance. We are not there. We are not in their place. So, it’s very easy to talk about all these things, but we also need to, I think, really appreciate Iranians for what they have been doing to fight all these atrocities, for their very basic rights that sometimes look very ridiculous here.
When my American friends hear about why Iranians have been protesting, sometimes they don’t believe. They don’t believe that, even to leave our country, a woman needs her husband’s permission. Or schoolgirls, like from the age of seven, they have to wear a headscarf.
Michael: That is pretty bizarre. I think it would be very helpful for people to realize that nonviolence actually grows in efficacy the more brutal and oppressive the opponent is. So, it really is not correct to say, “Oh, nonviolence wouldn’t work because those people, they’re not human.” They wouldn’t respond.
In fact, the term ‘jujitsu’ is used in the old literature, that the more violent an oppressor is, the easier it is, actually, to turn that violence against him or her. Not in the sense that you inflict violence, but you make it more obvious that the position that they’re taking is illegitimate.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree with you. And as you see, Iranians have been able to shake the pillars of the Islamic regime with a peaceful demonstration. Looking at the history of the resistance, it is very encouraging to appreciate what they have been doing.
It’s a heated topic of discussion among Iranians that sometimes some Iranians – I mean not just among Iranians, among Americans, based on what I have heard from my American friends – maybe nonviolent resistance takes much longer, you know. People have different ideas about this, but the fact that nonviolent resistance is always the best choice. No doubt about it.
Michael: You know, what we know now that we didn’t know even ten years ago, thanks to the studies of Erica Chenoweth at Harvard and others, a violent insurrection typically takes about nine years to work and a nonviolent one typically takes about three years.
So, actually, it’s not just that it’s more moral or anything abstract like that, but it actually is usually more efficient. And of course, it happens with far less collateral damage.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Particularly because we really don’t want to be them. We don’t want to be like them. What they did right after the Islamic revolution, they killed 1 in 7000 Iranians in the first five years of the revolution. Why? It’s because of their political beliefs, because of their religious beliefs. We just don’t want to be like them, to just oppress those who don’t think like us.
Michael: Gandhi had a famous aphorism that he liked to repeat, which is that violent revolution will bring violent regime. And conversely, a successful nonviolent revolution – and this is, again, just science. This is statistics. It’s much more likely to lead to a democratic situation at the end.
I think one thing that we need to be careful about, and maybe we could start educating people about right now, is that often a nonviolent revolution, if it succeeds, it can lose everything it has struggled for by, what we call, triumphalism. I mean one of the worst cases – and this is not a nonviolent revolution – was one of the worst cases was Cuba, where after the Batista dictatorship was overthrown, the Cuban people expressed their anger by taking people out who had been part of the regime, the apparatus – you know, the apparatchiks and assassinating them. Just executing them, to use the more accurate term.
And that led to a very tormented, very fearful, very paranoid society. So, there’s a critical moment there when it looks like you might succeed, to start educating people not to take out all of their anger on the regime people because you were saying, you don’t want to become like the people that you’re trying to replace.
Sarah: So true. And we also have been working on concepts on words. Like I know that like these days Iranians in our slogans, we use the word like, Death to Khamenei.’ ‘Death to the Islamic regime.’
But we have been working to replace it with ‘Down’ because the word death was first used by Khomeini, by the Islamic fundamentalists in the very first days of the revolution. And this is a very violent concept, and we have been working to make sure that people know why language matters, why concepts matter.
Why I personally don’t like to use the word death. First, because it’s – you know, the nature of this word is violent. And second, because it was used by these violent people. And they used it to start, ‘Death to America.’ ‘Death to Israel.’ ‘Death to’ whomever, you know, those who don’t support us. So, we don’t want to even use their words.
Michael: One more thought about death, and then we can go to a happier topic. I’m thinking – and I think I’ve mentioned to you before, Sarah, a statement by Martin Luther King who said that unearned suffering is redemptive. And so, I’m wondering if there’s a way to carry out this psychological shift so that the people who – you mentioned the 500 people who have died. If they could be a kind of martyrdom that leads to a successful change and not just a kind of damage. This may be a kind of abstract question, but I think you know what I mean.
Sarah: What do you mean by psychological shifts?
Michael: Yeah, I can put that much more simply. When people think of someone who has been killed – a child who’s been poisoned – the first reaction is anger, and not just anger, but righteous indignation. They have every right to be angry. But back up a little bit and look at the larger picture and say how can this be used to create change?
Can we get people kind of shocked into awareness of the horror of what they’ve been doing? And now, of course, this applies even more to people who have voluntarily gone on protests and things like that that are risky, knowing that they are running a risk. And I guess, you know, if you try to escape risk, it’s not very effective.
But if you face it, there’s a kind of change in attitude where you don’t want people to die. You’re not glad that they died, but their deaths can be the nourishment of a better, more humane regime.
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Honestly, to answer your question, I want to refer to your own sentence – a very, very useful sentence that you mentioned before. And I really like it. You said that we shouldn’t hate these oppressive people. And we shouldn’t hate people. We should hate their actions.
Like yesterday, I had a horrible day, especially because of my niece – you know. I have a very close relationship with them. It was totally ruining my day. And I was thinking, wow, how angry I am. And I couldn’t focus. And if I, for example, think about that action, and hate that action instead of hating those people, then that helped me.
I think that that was the best – using what you mentioned and it was so enlightening for all of us. I think that is the best answer. Yeah.
Michael: I’m so glad that was helpful. I’m going to take advantage of it then and add one other step. And that is to recognize that anger is energy. And energy can be put to different uses. And it can be put to constructive uses. And emotionally, that’s very satisfying. You don’t have to be brutal and unkind just because you’re angry, but you can take that anger and say, “This situation is intolerable. I’m going to do everything I can to change it.”
One of the things that that does, is it makes you not feel bad about your anger and not to feel helpless. You know, the angrier you are, the more energy you have to put into constructive work.
Sarah: So, true. Yeah. I think we definitely should use our anger and rage as a mechanism to improve the situation, not to worsen the situation by using the same actions.
Michael: As Martin Luther King said, “I refuse to let anyone bring me so low as to make me hate him.”
Sarah: Yeah. Exactly.
Michael: One other – well, two other questions, quickly, Sarah. One is about the networks of people that you mentioned in Iran and in the diaspora, are they pretty well connected on a worldwide basis? So that, if need be, they could act together on a given project?
Sarah: Yes. Actually, we have been doing this over the past couple of months. We have met different coalitions. For example, now in the US, like every city has a board of organizers. And all of them, they have made an alliance. And we have these alliances in Europe, in Canada – especially given social media. We’re living in such a technologically advanced time.
So, it has made it very easy for us to stay connected. Let me give you an example, like the global confederation of Iranian students that you – you know, we were honored to have you the other day. I haven’t seen members of this confederation in person; some of them are in Europe, some of them live in Canada, some of them in the US. But we were able to establish this confederation.
Michael: Well, that’s encouraging and that’s kind of the situation we all face in the world today, we’re scattered. Even before the pandemic, it was hard to get together.
My other question is a little appealing to you as a history major. It was often said of the Greeks, the ancient Greeks, that they were destroyed by two wars that they won – the Trojan War and the Persian Wars – pardon me for bringing that up. But the fact that they had won in those wars led them to just a kind of knee-jerk reaction that ‘war will solve our problems.’
And exactly the same thing can be said to have happened in this country because the way that the revolution of 1776 was idealized makes people very careless and easy about going to violent solutions. So, I guess what I’m leading up to is the Iranian revolution of ‘79, it had, in a way, a successful outcome but certainly didn’t complete its promise. And it was not a nonviolent revolution.
So, the extent to which that episode is idealized might make it more difficult for people to realize that they now need to take a different approach.
Michael: Well, thank you for letting me answer my own questions. The historical parallel or the historical example that people look to is the revolution of ‘79, which was not a nonviolent one. And going by our own experiences here in America, I am worried about that. And that’s why I raise the idea with you that the shift to nonviolence would be the real revolution.
Sarah: Exactly. Exactly. And actually, we learned our lesson from the 1979 revolution because it was totally brutal. Like Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, he emphasized explicitly that you have power to attack different groups of people. Like a few days after the revolution – a few months after the revolution – people started protesting against what they lost after the revolution.
And what they achieved, hardly before the revolution, and right after that they lost it. And they were brutally attacked. And Khomeini gave them, gave his followers this permission. And we learned that lesson. That’s why, as you mentioned, a right revolution is a revolution without violence. And no doubt about it.
And I’m sure that Iranians, they are well aware of this fact. And that’s why, as you see, Iranians are not weaponized inside Iran. And we, outside Iran, we have been trying to encourage Iranians to keep doing this, to keep peacefully demonstrating and protesting.
Michael: We have to wrap up now, Sarah. So, I’m wondering, do you have anything that you feel you wanted to say that we didn’t get at?
Sarah: I just wanted to emphasize what they did to girls, to more than a thousand girls, they got poisoned, including my niece’s classmates. And I just wanted to emphasize that they killed at least 58 children over the past five months. They don’t even have mercy for children.
I just wanted to emphasize this, that they are really far too brutal.
Michael: Well, again, that will be their downfall.
Sarah: Yeah. Definitely.
Stephanie: We’ve been speaking with Sarah Eskandari. She’s a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is also head of an organization working to help promote the awareness of the brutality of the Iranian regime and how they can help push for nonviolent change, called Philly Iran.
Let’s turn now to other current events with the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler.
Michael: Greetings everyone. Michael Nagler here with the Nonviolence Report.
Before I get into the news with you this week, I would like to give a signal of support to a dear friend and extremely brave colleague who has done a great deal to reduce the danger of nuclear confrontation. And that is Daniel Ellsberg. And Dan, who is now 92 years old, who’s a great friend and supporter of mine, personally, a real inspiration, he has recently been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and probably will not live very long.
Dan has preserved his sense of humor in a long statement that he released. He said how he had been working with his son, Robert Ellsberg, as his editor. And Robert Ellsberg was always asking him to work to deadlines. And he says now he’s working to the final deadline.
So, I just want to give a word of support and encouragement to a dear friend who risked spending his entire life in prison. If he were to do today what he did back then, which is to release the Pentagon Papers, describing the falsehoods that were accompanying the Vietnam War, he probably would have been in prison.
But be that as it may, he took a terrific risk for world peace, and we all owe him a great vote of support.
As a general observation, my sense is that things are intensifying, that both democracy and anti-democratic forces are intensifying. And that means that violence and nonviolence are intensifying. And that’s not only in the United States. And so, all of this in the United States is in the context of an increased military budget that always gets the support of both democratic and republican presidents.
So, moving along now, we have a spokesperson named Shawnee Baldwin commenting on the March 6th episode. “Many folks on March 6th,” she says, “Many folks will give public testimony on various bills regarding safe storage of guns and tightening up ghost gun loopholes.”
This is not, for me, terribly important, but what’s interesting is her comment. “My first thought was how long will we debate safe gun reform? How many kids must die before we offer more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ which is a code for not doing anything. How many kids must be traumatized by lockdown drills in schools before we stop kowtowing to the gun industry, the NRA, and gun lobbyists?”
This is a very heartfelt statement by a mother. It expresses the feelings of millions of us. This is all putting band-aids on the problem. The loophole of storage of guns and so forth. It will save some lives, and that’s all to the good. But the fact is we really have to address the culture of violence that is causing people who have some kind of a minor disagreement – I’m thinking about something that happened in our town here, Santa Rosa, last week.
Just a dispute, you know, a fight that happens between school children. And this one took out a knife and killed somebody else. It’s not even the guns so much, though they’re a big, big problem – it’s the violence. And ultimately, I think, it’s the alienation. It’s the feeling that one person is so separate from another person that their suffering can lead to the benefit of another.
So, on January 6th, there were a lot of lies that were being spread by FOX News. And the senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, stated that this is – that is the ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign, if you will, “This is the worst lie that’s been told in the history of our democracy, as long as I can tell – because it’s eroding faith in the whole enterprise.” Interestingly enough, when I get to talk about Nigeria in a little bit, you’ll be seeing a very similar crisis of faith.
In another issue, United States activists are mobilizing as we speak – mobilizing actions to stop the – what’s called, “Cop City,” which is in Atlanta. It’s a planned tactical urban warfare training center for police.
And these protests have already led to one protester’s death. The militarization of police is a very dismal process that has been going on for quite a while, and I think people are quite right to raise consciousness about it, protest against it. But you know, merely to protest, as we’ve said so many times on this program, is not enough by itself, though it’s an essential beginning.
I want to move on now to a different part of the world where something very similar is happening. You, of course, are probably familiar with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was a member of a large community in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Pashtuns or the Pakhtuns. Recently, they have held a massive demonstration in protest of police harassment and militarization.
So, this increasing militarization of the police is something that should concern all of us. Police forces’ sense of socially or legally permissible levels of violence will be impacting friends and fellow organizers on the front lines and, of course, citizens everywhere.
Of course, the militarization of police is, in a sense, a reaction. It’s a reaction to the militarization in other sectors of society. This is not by any means to excuse it. They are professionals. They are supposed to be able to understand and believe this and know how to de-escalate, but they’re human beings, and it becomes very, very difficult under harassment.
And here I feel that sometimes movements on the left have been, well, disrespectful of police to the extent that it becomes like a personal thing against them as persons rather than as functionaries. And that is always harmful.
I want to just share with you a quote from someone that I think very highly of. And a lot of you probably do also. This is Chris Hedges. He was commenting on the recently passed 10th anniversary of Occupy, which you might think of as the quintessential protest movement. And this is what Chris Hedges said.
“If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.”
Next month – starting next month, from April 13th to May 9th, have been declared as the Global Days of Action on Military Spending. And of course, the acronym for this is GDAMS – kind of an unfortunate acronym, maybe. And it’s a project of something called The Global Commission on Military Spending – GCOMS.
They are going to organize antiwar protests. They’re going to talk about the Pentagon budget, the problems between Russia and Ukraine and wars and militarism, in general. And April 24th will be the main day of action. Now, there’s an organization called SIPRI, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and in their figure for 2022, they’ve been doing this for years now, they have released the new military spending data on that day.
And so, they’re planning to hold press conferences and launch a social media storm. And they’ll be sending instructions for that soon for those who are interested.
Also in the US, Reverend James Lawson has been holding a series of highly recommended workshops, that is, highly recommended by me. And the next one will be on March 29th. You can find it by just looking up his name, I’m sure.
So, more news about the world at large. The Jewish Voice for Peace is holding a series of conversations, as Jim Lawson is. Theirs are called ‘Power Hours for Palestine’. And they’re leading to a lot of actions, including sitting in at the home of representative Schumer, whom we just mentioned.
Here’s a quotation from JVP. “The horrors of the Israeli government and military know no bounds. We must continue coming together in shared rage and resolve to renew our commitment to take action until Palestinians and all people can live in safety and dignity.” Let me repeat that. “Until Palestinians and all people can live in safety and dignity.” Because I have long thought that if we could reach a nonviolent resolution to this conflict, it would radiate out into conflicts everywhere. I’m not sure why, but it seems to be a focal point.
But let me comment on this phrase, “Shared rage and resolve.” Obviously, rage is an appropriate reaction. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have it, but it’s extremely important to know what to do with it. It surprises people sometimes to learn that anger and rage play an important place in nonviolence. But they do. They are a crude energy which we transform into creative action.
So, if instead of railing at people, we take action against injustices that we see, there seems to be an automatic process where that rage within us is transformed into creative energy. The important thing, as always, is not to be against the person, but against the institution.
Last month I neglected to mention this, but I think it’s important, and I would like to say something about it. And that is something that took place in Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistanis flooded the streets for a peace march which was against both terrorism and the state violence. They were against violence wherever it’s coming from – against violence on both sides.
And they strongly urge all factions to halt the escalating conflict that is killing citizens there. That conflict reminds me a little bit of the Shining Path Insurrection in Peru, which became expert at killing people but never demonstrated any capacity to build anything institutionally and the Peruvian people eventually saw through them and refused to support them – which does not mean that things are peaceful today in Peru, where in fact, again, we’re seeing an episode or a locus of extreme police repression.
Now in Western Europe, there has been a long-term struggle between the companies that want to develop more coal mines and the people who want to support the natural environment which has to be destroyed in order to get at that coal. And recently, it’s come to a crisis of acute proportions around a village called Lützerath, which is in north central Germany.
The protesters wanted to protect that village and they lost. The entire village was obliterated for the pursuit of coal. And at the moment, I have no idea what kind of compensation will be offered to the former residents of Lützerath.
Now, our friend Rivera has written something about this which, I think is, again, a useful general comment. “Persistence is required along with the strength to rise to the struggle, even when we’re in despair.” So, that’s the other hand of rage, is despair. And both of them have to be regarded as motivators rather than as end points.
I learned recently from CODEPINK something I did not know, that there is a highly active peace movement in Europe against the war in Ukraine. The US Senate Armed Services Committee is now holding hearings on how to sell more – an escalated war to the public, which is becoming increasingly skeptical of this. Not always for the right reasons. The governments in Europe are actually facing a wave of anti-war protests. This has been going on all winter.
On the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it was just past a year ago now, there was a Europe-wide weekend of action. There were banners raised up that said, “Helmets today. Tanks tomorrow. The day after, your sons.” That was in reference to Germany’s coalition government, which first sent 5000 helmets to Ukraine and then recently agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks.
In the UK, in England, the Stop the War Coalition organized protests in London while Italian citizens in Rome, Florence, Milan, and Genoa, they marched against the transfer of weapons to Ukraine. Some of them actually chanting, “Exit Italy from NATO”. Although, this will be a NEXIT instead of the BREXIT. And got this information from Lisa Clark and Reiner Braun, both of the International Peace Bureau, who will be giving a webcast very soon.
Unfortunately, the US is now poking the tiger, so to speak, in China, just as we did in Russia. It was a disaster when we did it to Russia and I cannot foresee anything more successful in China without encircling the country with allies of our own, potentially hostile to China, which provokes exactly the same reaction, I’m afraid, that Russia had in its apparent encirclement with Ukraine being one of the final links.
The struggle between democracy and violence that I cited earlier is happening not only here. It’s particularly acute right now in Guatemala. A woman named Thelma Cabrera, who is an Indigenous leader, sort of in the tradition of Rigoberta Menchu. She and her running mate were just prohibited by the constitutional court from running in the upcoming presidential election.
I have a similar comment here that I had in regard to the protests that I was talking about earlier, which is what next? I just came off a meeting, actually, of people who are proposing to get through the UN a binding resolution that all nations would reduce their military budget by 1%. And I made various comments at this meeting that I’m sure you’re terrifically interested in.
But one of them was, “What do we do if it fails?” Very often campaigns need to have a specific goal, and they do this very good. But you need to have a backup plan. What will you do when you succeed? Sometimes that’s actually a problem. And an equally big problem, if not bigger, is what will you do if you fail?
So, I want to turn now to the Nigerian election. Unfortunately, in a scenario that we have seen elsewhere, the election was contested. It did not go the way that the party in power wanted it to go, and so elections become a site of contestation and frequently a site of violence.
In the case of Nigeria, there was actually violence during the election in the sense that polling places were threatened, as we’ve seen elsewhere in the world. Armed militia actually stormed some polling places and ran away with the ballot boxes.
So, this provides an opportunity, if you will, for whoever didn’t win the election to say it was not valid. And that is always a point of extreme tension. There have been nonviolent episodes, nonviolent forces in Nigeria that developed around the oil exploitation – especially among the Ogoni people. And one hopes that they left enough of a tradition, a residue, that that can be picked up on and developed. And the worst violence can be averted.
I might also say that this is an ideal opportunity for some international groups to intervene, just as they are doing in the Ukraine, for example, by surrounding and trying to protect the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant – taking a great personal risk, of course, in doing so.
So, regarding that election, although Mr. Bola Tinubu won it, it has not gone uncontested. And the contestation has not always been free from violence. But we are going to turn to our correspondent on the ground, Amos Oluwatoye, to tell us about nonviolent actions that he is aware of in that setting.
Amos: In the wake of the election result, there are various nonviolent methods used by political parties and ordinary citizens of Nigeria to seek justice about the results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
There has been a series of protest demonstrations across the country. People clamoring that due to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, they were not accredited and they were disenfranchised. And also, the technology on the IReV, the INEC Result Viewing Portal – which was not totally functioning during the election.
The accreditation officer was supposed to transmit the election results from the polling units to the INEC Result Viewing Center, which was not done as when the election was going on. So, that raised several suspicions among Nigeria and the political parties, which led to protests across the country.
There was a walkout during the National Coalition of the 2023 presidential election in Abuja. The National Coalition agent for the Peoples Democratic Party – the PDP, and the Labour Party, the LP, and other political parties, they staged a walkout of the Coalition Center at the International Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, where the election result was to be announced.
This definitely raised the consciousness of the Nigerian people. It helped to amplify the voices of ethnic Nigerians that actually wanted to vote, but didn’t have the advantage to vote. And the other Nigerians that felt that the election didn’t pass through a genuine democratic process.
The Labour Party has decided to take the case to court. And according to them, they are very sure that they are going to recover their mandate. According to the presidential candidates of the Labour Party, he said – and I quote – he said, “We won the election. And we will prove it to Nigerians. We will explore all legal and peaceful options to reclaim our mandate. Your support will not be in vain,” said Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, with a series of petitions against the Independent National Electoral Commission, calling for the INEC chairman to resign. And with a series and public declarations and speeches from civil society organizations, concerned citizens, activists, and other political parties also, undermining the result of the election.
The Obi-dient movement has spoken within the Nigerian political space. Since the Fourth Republic, we used to have two major political parties contesting in a general election like this. But when the Obi-dient movement on that, the Labour Party came up. There was a mass mobilization of young Nigerians. And we can see the result, that effect.
The Labour Party has won some of the seats in the House of Representatives, and also the Senate. And the people who won these elections, some of them are people that they never thought they can actually be in the Nigerian political landscape.
So, the Obi-dient movement, under the Labour Party, opened the Nigerian political space for ordinary Nigerians to contest the election and win without having to know any ruthless or selfish political godfathers. So, the movement also sees that, in opening the Nigerian political space for a greater future.
That has been the Nonviolence Report for this biweekly episode, ladies and gentlemen. I really look forward to bringing you better and more news in following programs.
You can be an important part of all this, listeners, if you have any nonviolent tips, if you have any awareness of nonviolent episodes that do not make it into the mainstream media, please let us know. We would be happy to do them the best justice that we can.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank Sarah Eskandari for joining us as our guest. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, and all the Nonviolence Radio team. Thanks again to Bryan Farrell for helping to syndicate the show. To all of our listeners out there on the Pacifica Network, thanks so much. And to everybody out there, until the next time, please take care of one another.