By Tom H. Hastings
As John Kerry prepares to start arming violent insurgents trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, we on the nonviolent side wonder if this is just one of those wars with no chance for nonviolent solutions. Isn’t it a bit like the communists shooting at dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in the 1970s and 80s? Isn’t it something along the lines of the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic slaughtering civilians as the armed Kosovo Liberation Army fought back hopelessly in the late 1990s? Couldn’t we say that this is just one of those times that is similar to the civil war in Liberia, with “Christian” dictator Charles Taylor in a death match with the violent warlords in a coalition charmingly calling themselves the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) in the early 2000s?
Oh, that’s right. All these wars were stopped and resolved by nonviolent people power.
In 1989 a civil war began in Liberia, led by Charles Taylor, who had strong relationships to both Moammer Qaddafi and evangelist Pat Robertson. Can you say, “Odd bedfellows?” Both helped fund Taylor’s war, Qaddafi by diverting oil funds from Libya and Robertson by purchasing rights to diamond mines in Liberia. Taylor and Samuel Doe and Prince Johnson were among the squabbling leadership and eventually Taylor came out on top, only to find his presidency attacked by a new crop of warlords.
Finally, in 2003, after suffering massacres, rapes, abductions, child soldiering, and the impoverishment of war long enough, the women of Liberian united and stopped that war. They were the ones. They not only brought all parties to the table in Accra, Ghana, they forced them to stop dallying and then they made sure the warlords in the transitional post-Taylor government gave way to the first African woman head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Leymah Gbowee and Johnson Sirleaf received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize (along with amazing Yemeni Arab Spring organizer Tawakkol Karman) for this remarkable achievement.
Syrian women could end their civil war and topple the Assad regime. Syrian civil society could use nonviolence in a number of ways to finish this horrific war and overthrow this bloody murderous ruling party. Learning from others in similar situations, we can devise our own ways to win without war, to stop wars in their blood-soaked tracks, and to bring peace and justice to our world.
John Kerry should return to his antiwar years and start a new US era of helping nonviolent civil society, not arming those who commit mirror atrocities to the dictators they fight and then establish new dictatorships once they take power.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Director of PeaceVoice.