Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Beyond Violence and Non-Violence:
Resistance as a Culture
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 20, 2010
Resistance is not a band of armed men hell-bent on wreaking
havoc. It is not a cell of terrorists scheming ways to detonate buildings.
True resistance is a culture.
It is a collective retort
Understanding the real nature of resistance,
however, is not easy. No newsbyte could be thorough enough to explain why
people, as a people, resist. Even if such an arduous task was possible,
the news might not want to convey it, as it would directly clash with
mainstream interpretations of violence and non-violent resistance. The
Afghanistan story must remain committed to the same language: al-Qaeda and
the Taliban. Lebanon must be represented in terms of a menacing
Iran-backed Hizbullah. Palestine’s Hamas must be forever shown as a
militant group sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. Any attempt
at offering an alternative reading is tantamount to sympathizing with
terrorists and justifying violence.
The deliberate conflation and
misuse of terminology has made it almost impossible to understand, and
thus to actually resolve bloody conflicts.
Even those who purport
to sympathize with resisting nations often contribute to the confusion.
Activists from Western countries tend to follow an academic comprehension
of what is happening in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Thus
certain ideas are perpetuated: suicide bombings bad, non-violent
resistance good; Hamas rockets bad, slingshots good; armed resistance bad,
vigils in front of Red Cross offices good. Many activists will quote
Martin Luther King Jr., but not Malcolm X. They will infuse a selective
understanding of Gandhi, but never of Guevara. This supposedly ‘strategic’
discourse has robbed many of what could be a precious understanding of
resistance – as both concept and culture.
Between the reductionst
mainstream understanding of resistance as violent and terrorist and the
‘alternative’ defacing of an inspiring and compelling cultural experience,
resistance as a culture is lost. The two overriding definitions offer no
more than narrow depictions. Both render those attempting to relay the
viewpoint of the resisting culture as almost always on the defensive. Thus
we repeatedly hear the same statements: no, we are not terrorists; no, we
are not violent, we actually have a rich culture of non-violent
resistance; no, Hamas is not affiliated with al-Qaeda; no, Hizbullah is
not an Iranian agent. Ironically, Israeli writers, intellectuals and
academicians own up to much less than their Palestinian counterparts,
although the former tend to defend aggression and the latter defend, or at
least try to explain their resistance to aggression. Also ironic is the
fact that instead of seeking to understand why people resist, many wish to
debate about how to suppress their resistance.
By resistance as a
culture, I am referencing Edward Said’s elucidation of “culture (as) a way
of fighting against extinction and obliteration.” When cultures resist,
they don’t scheme and play politics. Nor do they sadistically brutalize.
Their decisions as to whether to engage in armed struggle or to employ
non-violent methods, whether to target civilians or not, whether to
conspire with foreign elements or not are all purely strategic. They are
hardly of direct relevance to the concept or resistance itself. Mixing
between the two suggests is manipulative or plain ignorant.
resistance is “the action of opposing something that you disapprove or
disagree with”, then a culture of resistance is what occurs when an entire
culture reaches this collective decision to oppose that disagreeable
element - often a foreign occupation. The decision is not a calculated
one. It is engendered through a long process in which self-awareness,
self-assertion, tradition, collective experiences, symbols and many more
factors interact in specific ways. This might be new to the wealth of that
culture’s past experiences, but it is very much an internal process.
It’s almost like a chemical reaction, but even more complex since
it isn’t always easy to separate its elements. Thus it is also not easy to
fully comprehend, and, in the case of an invading army, it is not easily
suppressed. This is how I tried to explain the first Palestinian uprising
of 1987, which I lived in its entirely in Gaza:
“It’s not easy to
isolate specific dates and events that spark popular revolutions. Genuine
collective rebellion cannot be rationalized though a coherent line of
logic that elapses time and space; its rather a culmination of experiences
that unite the individual to the collective, their conscious and
subconscious, their relationships with their immediate surroundings and
with that which is not so immediate, all colliding and exploding into a
fury that cannot be suppressed.” (My Father Was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s
Foreign occupiers tend to fight popular resistance
through several means. One includes a varied amount of violence aiming to
disorient, destroy and rebuild a nation to any desired image (read Naomi
Klein’s The Shock Doctrine). Another strategy is to weaken the very
components that give a culture its unique identity and inner strengths –
and thus defuse the culture’s ability to resist. The former requires
firepower, while the latter can be achieved through soft means of control.
Many ‘third world’ nations that boast of their sovereignty and
independence might in fact be very much occupied, but due to their
fragmented and overpowered cultures – through globalization, for example -
they are unable to comprehend the extent of their tragedy and dependency.
Others, who might effectively be occupied, often possess a culture of
resistance that makes it impossible for their occupiers to achieve any of
their desired objectives.
In Gaza, Palestine, while the media
speaks endlessly of rockets and Israeli security, and debates who is
really responsible for holding Palestinians in the strip hostage, no heed
is paid to the little children living in tents by the ruins of homes they
lost in the latest Israeli onslaught. These kids participate in the same
culture of resistance that Gaza has witnessed over the course of six
decades. In their notebooks they draw fighters with guns, kids with
slingshots, women with flags, as well as menacing Israeli tanks and
warplanes, graves dotted with the word ‘martyr’, and destroyed homes.
Throughout, the word ‘victory’ is persistently used.
When I was
in Iraq, I witnessed a local version of these kids’ drawings. And while I
have yet to see Afghani children’s scrapbooks, I can easily imagine their
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), now available on