Revolution Is What You Do
It’s a happy day when good ideas—and the people who create them—get their due. Today was one of those days. Thanks in large part to The New York Times‘s feature on the backdrop of the revolution in Egypt, and then a profile devoted to him (which as I write is still #1 on the most-emailed list), interest in the work of Gene Sharp, the foremost living strategist of nonviolent action, has been exploding. Today, as well, I had the opportunity to talk with him, for an interview that just appeared at The Immanent Frame.
In preparation for the phone call, I looked back at the Times‘s previous coverage of him, and noticed that, over the years, whenever some big uprising flares up somewhere, the world seems to rediscover all over again the unusual man who works out of his own home to create the blueprints for transforming the world. I asked him if this time—after successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia—he feels that something truly different is happening, or if it’s just the same thing he’s seen before all over again. “No,” he said. “Maybe some things are being repeated. But this phenomenon, and the interest in it—what they did, the response, and the interest in that, that’s new. That’s quite new.”
Here’s a bit of the interview:
NS: While watching the coverage, many of us were struck by the images of Muslims and Christians protecting each other while praying. Do you think religion was a significant factor?
GS: Not from anything that I have found so far.
NS: Nonviolence and pacifism have often been historically associated with religions, like Jainism and Christian “peace churches”—
GS: Yes, that’s right.
NS: Is religion at all essential to motivating nonviolent movements, or can the ideas transcend their religious origins?
GS: It’s not even a question anymore. They have transcended religious boundaries. If people come from any particular religious group and are inspired to be nonviolent and to resist—not just to be nonviolent and passive—that’s fine. But don’t claim that they have to believe in a certain religion. Historically, for centuries and even millennia, that has not been true. Nonviolent struggle, as I understand it, is not based on what people believe. It’s what they do.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.