In Thomas Schelling’s writings about the dynamics of a conflict between violent and nonviolent opponents:
[The] tyrant and his subjects are in somewhat symmetrical positions. They can deny him most of what he wants – they can, that is, if they have the disciplined organization to refuse collaboration. And he can deny them just about everything they want – he can deny it by using the force at his command…
They can deny him the satisfaction of ruling a disciplined country, he can deny them the satisfaction of ruling themselves…
It is a bargaining situation in which either side, if adequately disciplined and organized, can deny most of what the other wants, and it remains to see who wins.
A lot of debate has been brewing within the opposition on whether “defensive violence” should be used against the Bahrain regime forces that are attacking protesters in their villages every night. And that’s not a debate that I would want to get into right now. However, I am just trying to list a few things that could add something more to think about in the discussion.
The main argument from proponents of “defensive violence” has been that if we’re going out peacefully, then get attacked, chased into our villages and houses, get beaten up, arrested, and suffocated in our own houses; it is our natural right to defend ourselves with any means possible. On the other side of the argument, opponents to the use of any means of violence argue that the use of violence undermines the cause and alienates supporters, both nationally and internationally. And that’s why the Bahrain regime has worked hard at portraying the opposition movement as a violent one at any chance it gets.
We have to learn from history, and in a paper published by Maria J. Stephan & Erica Chenoweth titled “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” (which was expanded into a book in 2011), they did just that as they argued FOR the strategic choice of nonviolent civil resistance. They studied 323 resistance campaigns (violent & nonviolent) from 1900 to 2006, and they found that:
- Nonviolent campaigns achieve success 53% of the time.
- Violent campaigns achieve success only 26% of the time.
- Violent repression of nonviolent campaigns usually backfires on its originators.
- The internal and external costs of repressing nonviolent campaigns are higher than the costs of repressing violent campaigns.
- In the face of regime crackdowns, nonviolent campaigns are more than 6 times likelier to achieve full success than violent campaigns.
- The longer the campaign the more chance it will achieve limited success.
So based on this – and many more findings if you read the paper – the choice of nonviolence seems like a no-brainer and a straightforward one. However, there’s still a twist. Nonviolent campaigns throughout history have used a variety of methods ranging from economic boycotts, labor strikes, political and social noncooperation, and mass mobilization of the public to oppose different policies, to delegitimize adversaries, and to remove or restrict adversaries’ sources of power. The Bahrain opposition is currently not being effective in this regard.
The main source of frustration within the proponents of “defensive violence” in Bahrain has been the lack of an effective roadmap for resistence from the proponents of nonviolence, namely the opposition political societies, which have only been able to organize weekly gatherings that exert no real pressure on the regime except for emphasizing the existence and strength of the opposition.
Although the “Manama Document” produced by 5 opposition political societies is a valuable paper that draws a very balanced view of where Bahrain should be politically and socially, it does not provide for a clear and effective roadmap of nonviolent resistance to achieve it. The only way forward for the opposition is to address the frustrations of the masses by charting a way forward in the struggle against a brutally repressive regime. Otherwise, the streets will descend into chaos by a minority of the opposition, and make no mistake, the Bahrain regime will capitalize on that to frame the entire opposition based on the perceived violence of a few!