Loved this opinion piece by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in today’s New York Times, and not because it expanded upon my own views about violent and non-violent protest.
Well, maybe just a bit. But the best thing is Mr. Velasquez-Manoff added research results to support my view. (I bolded a bit.)
“I would want to punch a Nazi in the nose, too,” Maria Stephan, a program director at the United States Institute of Peace, told me. “But there’s a difference between a therapeutic and strategic response.”
The problem, she said, is that violence is simply bad strategy.
Violence directed at white nationalists only fuels their narrative of victimhood — of a hounded, soon-to-be-minority who can’t exercise their rights to free speech without getting pummeled. It also probably helps them recruit. And more broadly, if violence against minorities is what you find repugnant in neo-Nazi rhetoric, then “you are using the very force you’re trying to overcome,” Michael Nagler, the founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the University of California, Berkeley, told me.
Most important perhaps, violence is just not as effective as nonviolence. In their 2011 book, “Why Civil Resistance Works,” Dr. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth examined how struggles are won. They found that in over 320 conflicts between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance was more than twice as effective as violent resistance in achieving change. And nonviolent struggles were resolved much sooner than violent ones.
The main reason, Dr. Stephan explained to me, was that nonviolent struggles attracted more allies more quickly. Violent struggles, on the other hand, often repelled people and dragged on for years.
Their findings highlight what we probably already intuit about protest: It’s a performance not just for the people you may be protesting against but also for everyone else who may be persuaded to join your side.
Which I sensed, of course, and am delighted to see expert opinion backing up my personal feelings.
But I haven’t given you the terrific beginning of this piece, about how German communities deal with Nazi displays and marches: they make fun of ’em.
Ah yes, satire. Imagine our own neo-Nazis being mocked, not attacked. Reduce them to what Gene Lyons initially described before he got serious, when he wrote about Charlottesville, his own college town:
Watching the Charlottesville spectacle from halfway across the country, I confess that my first instinct was to raillery. Vanilla ISIS, somebody called this mob of would-be Nazis. A parade of love-deprived nerds marching bravely out of their parents’ basements carrying tiki torches from Home Depot.
The odor of citronella must have been overpowering. Was this an attack on the campus left or on mosquitoes?
“Blood and soil!” they chanted. “Jews will not replace us!”
Jews? Had Jews somehow prevented these dorks from getting laid?
Although I have gone on marches, I don’t have the courage to confront Nazis physically, to put myself in potential danger. So I love the application of satire.
For that at least I have the courage .