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An Urgent Call for Environmental Action
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Political Science Lecture Examines Nonviolent Resistance
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November 2007 Vol. 9 No. 2

Political Science Lecture Examines Nonviolent Resistance

Maria J. Stephan

The Political Science Department sponsored a lecture entitled "Waging Nonviolent Political Struggle: Civil Resistance in the Middle East and Beyond," by Maria J. Stephan, director of the Educational Initiatives at the International Nonviolent Center. Held in West Hall, the lecture focused on the nonviolent resistance movements in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon.

Stephan began by defining nonviolent struggle as the "active prosecution of conflict in non-military methods." The protest can take the form of non-cooperation and non-violent intervention, such as vigils and sit-ins. The functioning of nonviolent movements occurs through "a collective denial of consent and cooperation, and removing the opponents' economic, political, and social pillars of support." Examples of successful nonviolent resistance, Stephan said, include the dismantling of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in 1983.

Stephan is currently conducting research on nonviolent resistance in the Middle East, where she studied the Palestinian territories and the Intifada (1987-90). Usually, she said, a trigger event helps launch a nonviolent struggle. In the case of the Intifada, the event was the Israeli army's killing of four Gaza citizens. The result was a collective defiance by the people and a demand for self-governance; the members of the Intifada were organized and came up with leaflets and follow-up groups to keep the resistance movement momentum going. Despite its organization, however, the movement eventually failed, because of increased division within the groups and the consequent spread of factionalism.

The key principles for the success of any nonviolent resistance movement, Stephan pointed out, include maintaining unity, thorough planning, and remaining loyal to nonviolent disciplines. Furthermore, she stressed that the movement should be able to sustain itself and set up a thorough plan after its potential success, because in the aftermath the movement's mission might be lost and threatened with failure.