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Patronizing talk of “non-violent” Middle East protests

In yesterday's New York Daily News, Stanley Crouch wrote that uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were a "victory for non-violence":

Now that Black History Month is ending and the Middle East has shown a fresh face to the world by removing some formidable dictators, it is important to realize that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned out to be right. Those who laughed at his nonviolent tactics were resoundingly proven wrong.... Just as nonviolence was fundamental to the victory of the civil rights movement, so it will be in the toppling of Middle Eastern dictators.

Crouch's claim that non-violence has won the day in the Middle East comes after many others in the US have praised the supposed non-violence of the protesters. The New York Times recently profiled Gene Sharp, the 83-year old author of From Dictatorship to Democracy, "a 93-page guide for toppling autocrats". Based on Gandhi and other advocates of non-violence, Sharp's writings were used by the US-based International Center on Nonviolent Conflict when they held a workshop in Cairo, according to the Times. And his book was posted on the Muslim Brotherhood's website. Thus, Sharp "inspired dissidents" in Tunisia and Egypt. Really?

These claims of non-violence fly in the face of what we've seen on our TV screens. What about the brave youth of Cairo lining up rocks as ammo on the top of buildings? If they did not beat back, first, the police, then mercenary thugs, and then the army, Mubarak would still be in power. Yes, the protesters across the Middle East have generally not sought violent coups, but their violence in defense has been essential to their success so far.

The idea that the protests are only acceptable because they are non-violent is a patronizing Western assumption. I flinch everytime I hear a media talking head say something like "and what's so wonderful is that it was all done without bloodshed!" In Egypt, about 400 lost their lives in the cause of freedom - that was 400 too many. It's also amazing that American pundits want to say that the ideas behind the uprisings were all down to fellow Americans - whether Martin Luther King, the obscure Gene Sharp or someone else. Another case of narcissism, claiming that what's going on in the Middle East is really all about us.

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