Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dustin Ells Howes

Dustin Ells Howes's new book is Freedom Without Violence.

From his Q & A with Sean Illing at Salon:

As a pacifist, how do you respond to questions about Nazism or ISIS or terror campaigns more generally? Force, I’d argue, is the only relevant currency against this brand of nihilism. Such extreme cases, if nothing else, seem to mark the limits of nonviolence.

Your question makes reference to two very different movements and time periods. They may share in common a tendency toward nihilism but I am not sure nihilism explains the core features of either. Unfortunately, liberalism and democracy are also susceptible to nihilism.

The rise of Nazi Germany is among the most frequent examples put forth to suggest nonviolence has its limits. A complete answer to this hard case requires an extensive discussion, which I provide in my first book. I also recommend Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke. In this space, I will just note a few things. The Nazis were experts at violence. They were much better at it than the Allies. They killed millions more people. But they lost. How is this possible? Because they ran out of power, that is, people willing to join with them in common cause. Along these lines there are dramatic examples of people resisting Nazi occupation with nonviolence and having success, from teachers in Denmark refusing to implement a curriculum of propaganda to the Bulgarians who refused to round up fellow Jewish citizens. Yet power exercised with violence is what ultimately stopped the Nazi movement. To really know whether or not nonviolence could have stopped them would require us to run back time and mount an effort of equal coordination, effort, and sacrifice to what the Allies used. Imagining such a scenario, I think nonviolence might have worked and perhaps been faster and less destructive.

The current situation in the Middle East is equally, if not more, complex. The horrific violence of ISIS would seem to make them quite unappealing. Indeed, judging by the millions fleeing the region, to many they are. Yet they have gained considerable power and understanding why requires looking at the alternatives. We tend to think of the states in the region as our allies in the struggle against ISIS but it is precisely authoritarian governments and foreign intervention that make terrorism appealing to some. You mentioned the “currency of force.” Terrorists and authoritarian regimes may appear to be opposed to one another but in fact they fuel each other. Repression drives terrorism and acts of terror legitimate further repression. What distinguishes ISIS from Al Qaeda is their organizational capacity and planning skills, much of which is drawn from former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The great tragedy of Syria is that the extraordinary nonviolent uprising that took its inspiration from Tunisia and Egypt was specifically and intentionally derailed by Assad. We know through internal memos and his actions, such as releasing dangerous prisoners, that he wanted to transform the threat into a violent uprising. This seems counterintuitive until one realizes...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue