Todd May: This is the week of the tenth anniver­sary of September 11th. For the last cou­ple of weeks we’ve been treat­ed to a num­ber of ret­ro­spec­tives. What’s it been like for the last ten years? How has the response been? The US response, Europe’s response. To 9‍/‍11, to the issue of glob­al terrorism. 

And in the course of this response, one of the things that seems to be a com­mon theme, at least among some of the more think­ing jour­nal­ists, is that the US response to 9‍/‍11 over the last ten years has been a dis­mal fail­ure. The US has not suc­ceed­ed in its own pol­i­cy goals. It has­n’t suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing life bet­ter for the peo­ple upon whom its imposed its vio­lence. In short, vio­lence has­n’t worked. And so the ques­tion becomes not sim­ply how ought we to have responded—that’s one ques­tion. But the ques­tion of what ought we to do now. How ought we think about our pol­i­tics in a world where we’re being told that we’re under con­stant siege by ter­ror and ter­ror­ists? How are we think about how to act, how to move, how to relate one coun­try to another. 

What I want to talk about today is going to be on the issue of non­vi­o­lence, and the issue of how it is that we might respond dif­fer­ent­ly from what seems to be the stan­dard response, the response of vio­lence. And to start that, what I would like to do is to read a short sec­tion from Simon Critchley’s recent con­tri­bu­tion to The Stone, again right around 9‍/‍11, in which he sug­gest­ed some­thing that seemed utter­ly dif­fer­ent from the respons­es over the last ten years. So dif­fer­ent that I think peo­ple did­n’t even under­stand the response he was try­ing to make. In the course of the col­umn, Simon writes,

Ask your­self: what if noth­ing had hap­pened after 911? No revenge, no ret­ri­bu­tion, no failed sur­gi­cal strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan bor­der, no poor­ly planned bloody fias­co in Iraq, no surges and no insur­gen­cies to surge against; nothing.

What if the gov­ern­ment had sim­ply decid­ed to turn the oth­er cheek and for­give those who sought to attack it, not sev­en times, but sev­en­ty times sev­en? What if the grief and mourn­ing that fol­lowed 911 were allowed to fos­ter a non­vi­o­lent ethics of com­pas­sion rather than a vio­lent pol­i­tics of revenge and retribution?
The Cycle of Revenge

What Simon Critchley sug­gests seemed so out of bounds with how we have been taught to think about respons­es to ter­ror­ism. But I think it either could be seen as the rav­ings of a mad­man, or the open­ing up of a new frame­work. And I think it is the open­ing up of a frame­work, but not a new frame­work. A frame­work that has a his­to­ry, and that will relate this to some of the I think the best parts of recent polit­i­cal action. 

What Simon’s talk­ing about is not respond­ing to force with force, but respond­ing to force with some­thing else. Something that with­draws the pow­er of the force that one has been up against. That with­draw­al of the pow­er hap­pens not by crush­ing but rather by we could say sap­ping its strength. 


It hap­pens by respond­ing to vio­lence with non­vi­o­lence. And in this sense, I think what Simon has got­ten too is what I would call one half of the pow­er of non­vi­o­lence. And when I say one half of the pow­er of non­vi­o­lence what I mean is that in dar­ing to artic­u­late a frame­work that goes against the frame­work that we’ve been taught, right—violence needs to be respond­ed to with crush­ing violence—he asks us to think in anoth­er way. But in think­ing in that oth­er way, what I think we need to do is not just think about no response but how to respond nonviolently. 

One of the most com­mon mis­con­cep­tions in non­vi­o­lent action is that it is, and this is the term that was often used, pas­sive resis­tance. That it’s a resis­tance that works by not doing things rather than by doing some­thing. And Simon’s sug­ges­tion, which moves us away from vio­lence, I think still opens up the pos­si­bil­i­ty of see­ing non­vi­o­lent action as pas­sive resis­tance. As the kind of resis­tance that was often inter­pret­ed with Tibet. What I think we need to do is dig deep­er into the his­to­ry of non­vi­o­lent resis­tance and to see it not as pas­sive resis­tance but as active non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. And to begin to see it as active non­vi­o­lent resis­tance, we can go back to Gandhi and to the term he used in talk­ing about non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. Coming from the Sanskrit, he used the term satya­gra­ha.” Satyagraha can be trans­lat­ed in English either as soul force” or as truth force.” I’m going to ori­ent the dis­cus­sion more toward truth force than soul force.

In think­ing about truth force, the ques­tion is how is it that we bring the truth out about a sit­u­a­tion that’s unten­able, that’s exploita­tive, that’s oppres­sive. How do we bring out the truth of that sit­u­a­tion. We don’t bring out the truth of that sit­u­a­tion sim­ply by under­go­ing it. We don’t bring out the truth of that sit­u­a­tion by allow­ing it to hap­pen. But we also, and here’s where the turn’s made that Simon’s arti­cle points to, that satya­gra­ha points to. We respond by refram­ing the terms of action. And what non­vi­o­lent resis­tance does, when it’s suc­cess­ful, is cre­ative­ly reframe the terms of action. What non­vi­o­lent resis­tance does is look out­side the frame­work with­in which we have been taught to respond, toward oth­er frame­works of response—of active and cre­ative response. 

I can put the issue this way: If we look at satya­gra­ha as truth force, one way—a more pas­sive way of look­ing at it—would be to see it as a force that sim­ply allows truth to emerge. We point to what’s hap­pen­ing, we allow peo­ple to see what’s hap­pen­ing. The truth emerges, change fol­lows from that. That I think is not how most non­vi­o­lent cam­paigns suc­ceed. They suc­ceed not sim­ply by point­ing out but by active­ly chang­ing the terms to reframe how it is that the sit­u­a­tion’s being seen. 

We might say that a bet­ter trans­la­tion for truth force is not allow­ing the truth to come out but forc­ing the truth. But if we’re forc­ing the truth, that leads to the ques­tion of how does one force the truth non­vi­o­lent­ly. We’ve seen over the last ten years, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the US response to ter­ror­ism and 9‍/‍11, to Afghanistan, to Iraq, the belief that one allows—as it were—the truth to come out sim­ply through vio­lence. Through oppressing—a bet­ter suppressing—what it is that we are strug­gling against. What non­vi­o­lent resis­tance would seek to do is not work by sup­pres­sion but by alter­na­tive means. 

One of the most per­sis­tent and prob­a­bly sub­tlest the­o­rists of non­vi­o­lent resis­tance is Gene Sharp. And Gene Sharp, just for back­ground, is a the­o­rist who wrote a sig­nif­i­cant three-volume work called The Politics of Nonviolent [Action]. And Sharp’s work was used in Serbia to resist the Serbian gov­ern­ment, and then in Tahrir Square in Egypt, where Egyptian activists had clan­des­tine­ly trav­el to Serbia, had learn Sharp’s meth­ods, and brought back those meth­ods to Egypt and they were on full dis­play in Tahrir Square dur­ing the Arab Spring. 

And one of the things that Sharp insists on is that non­vi­o­lent action has to be cre­ative, it has to ren­der one vul­ner­a­ble, and it has to work to reframe the con­text of the sit­u­a­tion. At one point Sharp calls it moral jiu-jitsu.” That you take the pow­er of the ene­my that is sup­press­ing you and turn it back against them. But you turn it back against them not by hav­ing more vio­lent pow­er but by reveal­ing the pow­er for what it is, by using the vio­lence to show the vio­lence of those who are oppress­ing you. 

We can see this I think very clear­ly in the civ­il rights move­ment in the US. Take what seems to me a great exam­ple of moral jiu-jitsu using non­vi­o­lence. And that’s…we could pick the Freedom Rides, but I think we can pick the lunch counter sit-ins as a graph­ic exam­ple. In the lunch counter sit-ins, there was the expec­ta­tion that there might be vio­lence. But that vio­lence was used cre­ative­ly by the peo­ple who want­ed to resist seg­re­ga­tion. How did they use it? People walked into a restau­rant, sat down, sought to order food. They did­n’t seek to over­whelm the peo­ple who were seg­re­ga­tion­ists. Didn’t seek to over­whelm the peo­ple who refused to serve them at the counter. They knew that there would be vio­lence, and they knew that in their response to vio­lence they would be able to reveal some­thing that had­n’t been seen before, or at least had­n’t been seen as clear­ly as it should. So when they received the vio­lence, by main­tain­ing their own dig­ni­ty, by not strik­ing back, but at the same time by being recip­i­ents of vio­lence in a way that every­body could see, they per­formed a moral jiu-jitsu. The vio­lence that was enact­ed against them became in turn some­thing that revealed those who were vio­lent to them­selves, or at least to every­one else. And that became then the cre­ative moment in non­vi­o­lent resistance. 

We can see the itin­er­ary of cre­ative non­vi­o­lence if we look fur­ther down the road. If we look at what hap­pens that leads to the events in Birmingham. During the…I think it was 1962, there were a series of protests in Albany, Georgia. The goal of protests were again to bring out the vio­lence of seg­re­ga­tion. But there was a sher­iff in Albany, Laurie Pritchett. And what Laurie Pritchett did was he saw the tac­tic of non­vi­o­lence, and he saw what it did. So he knew he could­n’t respond with vio­lence. What Laurie Pritchett did was he asked all of the jails in all the towns around Albany to receive the pris­on­ers as they were arrest­ed. He instruct­ed his men not to act vio­lent­ly, to be respect­ful of the pro­tes­tors, and to put them in jail, nev­er abus­ing them. 

The prob­lem this cre­at­ed for the Civil Rights Movement was it was­n’t able to dis­play the non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. The move­ment was­n’t able to cre­ate the kind of dynam­ic that it need­ed to cre­ate. So what hap­pened was in Birmingham there was a sher­iff, Bull Connor, who we could say, to put it mild­ly, was not of the same mold as Laurie Pritchett. Bull Connor believed, as years lat­er George Bush believed, that one resists what one finds offen­sive through vio­lence. Bull Connor no soon­er saw the pro­tes­tors than he turned hoses on the pro­tes­tors, turned the dogs on the pro­tes­tors. And what that allowed to have hap­pen was the rev­e­la­tion again of the vio­lence of the seg­re­ga­tion through the vio­lence of the pro­tec­tion of it. 

And as peo­ple began to see what hap­pened, there was I would say a dynam­ic to have three ele­ments in it. One, was the larg­er pub­lic began to see the vio­lence that was asso­ci­at­ed with seg­re­ga­tion. That it became some­thing that they could­n’t ignore. It became some­thing that revealed its char­ac­ter to them. That was one. 

Second, for those who were will­ing to see—not Bull Connor, but for many oth­ers. For those who were will­ing to see, what hap­pened was they became revealed to them­selves. They thought of them­selves as liv­ing in a civ­i­lized and well-ordered soci­ety. But what hap­pened was they began to be revealed to them­selves as a soci­ety that was under­gird­ed by vio­lence. Undergirded by the sup­pres­sion of peo­ple that they were telling them­selves were bet­ter off in the South than any­where else. 

But the third thing, and this is cen­tral, was that the peo­ple who protest­ed, the peo­ple who were involved, were able to dis­play for oth­ers and for them­selves their own dig­ni­ty. Rather than being seen by oth­ers and by them­selves sim­ply as vic­tims, they began to be seen and to see them­selves as full human beings with a dig­ni­ty that in fact is hard to match except with extra­or­di­nary dis­ci­pline, and with the will­ing­ness to face vio­lence with­out lash­ing out.

And I think it’s that dig­ni­ty that removes us from the realm of sim­ply pas­sive resistance—what we can take, into active resis­tance: plac­ing one­self in a posi­tion, act­ing in such a way, as to allow not only the vio­lence of one’s oppres­sor to be review but the dig­ni­ty of one’s response to the oppres­sor. And that I think is the core of non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. Those three ele­ments: what it reveals to the pub­lic, what it reveals about the iden­ti­ty of the oppres­sor, what it reveals about the iden­ti­ty of the oppressed. And in think­ing about non­vi­o­lence, we need to think about how it is to cre­ate those kinds of dynam­ics. And those are the dynam­ics that Gene Sharp talks about, the dynam­ics that give I think that we could say not just the dig­ni­ty but the cre­ativ­i­ty to non­vi­o­lent resistance. 

One more his­tor­i­cal exam­ple then I want to turn back to 9‍/‍11. In Denmark dur­ing the German occu­pa­tion, the Germans decided—as they decid­ed all over Europe—that Jews were going to be wear­ing yel­low stars. Jews would be iden­ti­fied as those who wore a yel­low star. Question is, how do you respond to an oppres­sor of this kind, against whom not only would force be we could say…tactically a bad strat­e­gy, it would be a sui­cide mission. 

What hap­pened in Denmark was that every­one start­ed wear­ing stars. The king of Denmark wore a yel­low star. And so it became impos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish those who were Jews from those weren’t Jews because every­body had a yel­low star. That made every­one vul­ner­a­ble, but at the same time gave every­one the dig­ni­ty of a response that allowed them to see them­selves and allowed oth­ers to see them in a light that chal­lenged the frame­work that was being imposed by the Germans on the Jews. 

But, that’s an exam­ple from World War II. An exam­ple I used before was an exam­ple from the Civil Rights Movement. Now we’re in a sit­u­a­tion years lat­er, post‑9‍/‍11. How is it that we might think about non­vi­o­lence and vio­lence in a post‑9‍/‍11 world, right, ten years after, twen­ty years after.


We could say there are sev­er­al lessons we could take with us from what’s hap­pened in 9‍/‍11 to how we should act now. One, most obvi­ous, but one that we can nev­er for­get, is the fail­ure of vio­lence. The fail­ure of vio­lence not sim­ply in the terms that folks on the left might say vio­lence has failed. But the fail­ure of vio­lence in its own terms. George Bush did not accom­plish what he set out to accom­plish with vio­lence. Even if we find what he want­ed to accom­plish as abhor­rent, even he did­n’t suc­ceed in his own terms. Forget about the suf­fer­ing that he neglect­ed, or that nev­er became an issue for him. The suf­fer­ing that his gen­er­als showed their own cal­lous­ness toward by say­ing, We don’t do body counts.” The pol­i­cy of vio­lence as a response to ter­ror­ism has failed on its own terms. That’s the first lesson. 

The sec­ond les­son, and I think one that fol­lows from this although one that gov­ern­ments seem nev­er to learn, is that the ori­en­ta­tion of gov­ern­ments, and par­tic­u­lar­ly the US gov­ern­ment, is toward vio­lence. This has been con­tin­u­ous between the Bush admin­is­tra­tion and the Obama admin­is­tra­tion. The Obama admin­is­tra­tion has not, we could say, engaged in the same degree of vio­lence. It has­n’t ini­ti­at­ed the wars that George Bush did. But it con­tin­ued them. And it con­tin­ues to engage in a pol­i­cy which con­tin­ues to fail, even on its own terms. 

If gov­ern­ments will per­sist in this. If, in par­tic­u­lar, the US will per­sist in this, and this is a his­to­ry of course not unique to the US, right, this is what empires do. Empires dom­i­nate peo­ple. And when empires are chal­lenged, they respond with vio­lence. If we can expect this, then the first step in non­vi­o­lent resis­tance, non­vi­o­lent sol­i­dar­i­ty, is rec­og­niz­ing that we don’t appeal direct­ly and at first to gov­ern­ments. We have to be able to devel­op move­ments on the ground. Movements of sol­i­dar­i­ty that can in turn devel­op the kind of strength and the kind of cre­ativ­i­ty that can chal­lenge gov­ern­ments, chal­lenge them non­vi­o­lent­ly, rather than ask­ing them to respond non­vi­o­lent­ly. So to take Simon’s ques­tion, it’s not just an issue of what if the US gov­ern­ment had not respond­ed. We can go fur­ther and say how is it that we ought to respond to the fact that the gov­ern­ment did, and we can expect to con­tin­ue to respond vio­lent­ly to chal­lenges to its author­i­ty. And in doing that, how ought we to think about non­vi­o­lent solidarity. 

And the first step, and I would call this the third les­son, is that we think of one anoth­er as equals. We think of one anoth­er not sim­ply as iden­ti­ties of this, or iden­ti­ties of that, but as equals. It seems to me that one of the great fail­ures of the 1990s has been iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics. And iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics failed I think not because it was ill inten­tioned. Not because it was based on noth­ing. I think iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics emerged out of a set of insights, which is that not all strug­gles are the same strug­gle. But what hap­pened was that the iden­ti­ties of those in strug­gle became more sig­nif­i­cant than the equal­i­ty that binds us. And as the iden­ti­ties became more sig­nif­i­cant than the qual­i­ty that binds us, what hap­pened was the strug­gles frac­tured and we began to lose the sense of our com­mon sol­i­dar­i­ty, and we moved into we could say indi­vid­ual pol­i­tics of recognition. 

What we need to do, what the civ­il rights move­ment under­stood, what non­vi­o­lent move­ments have always under­stood, is to see one anoth­er first and fore­most not as par­tic­u­lar iden­ti­ties but as equal human beings. As beings that rec­og­nize one anoth­er as capa­ble of form­ing lives, as we could say oppor­tu­ni­ties for sol­i­dar­i­ty, oppor­tu­ni­ties for respect. When we can begin to see each other—or, not begin, we can con­tin­ue to see each oth­er and deeply see each oth­er as equals first and fore­most, then we’re in a posi­tion to engage in a col­lec­tive strug­gle against the forces of vio­lence that seek to impose them­selves on us and upon those against whom the wars have occurred. Governments have always been the last to fig­ure out how it is to quit oppress­ing folks. What we need to do is pull togeth­er a move­ment that shows itself in a way to reveal the gov­ern­men­t’s vio­lence and to reveal the dig­ni­ty of those who struggle. 

And how do we do that. What we need— It’s not dif­fi­cult to find lev­els of oppres­sion around the world. What we need to do is find the ways in which we can act col­lec­tive­ly to resist that oppres­sion in a way that reveals its char­ac­ter to the wider pub­lic. And one strug­gle— I think it’s a more local strug­gle, but it’s a strug­gle that I think can serve…if not as a mod­el then as an exam­ple of how it is to think about non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. And this is the move— We could call broad­ly the anti-foreclosure move­ment. People whose hous­es have been fore­closed upon, refuse to move out. People in their neigh­bor­hoods sup­port them. And when peo­ple come to move them out they just say, We’re not leav­ing.” They stay in their homes. 

And what does this reveal? It’s not a pas­sive resis­tance. It’s not a resis­tance that says You can take me out of my home, I’m not going to do any­thing about it.” It’s a non­vi­o­lent refusal. But in this non­vi­o­lent refusal, what gets revealed is A, the dig­ni­ty of the peo­ple who stand up for their homes; B, the con­di­tions that peo­ple have been forced to live under such that they fore­close. And this is impor­tant in reveal­ing to the pub­lic because I think there’s a ten­den­cy to see peo­ple whose hous­es have been fore­closed upon sim­ply as peo­ple who’ve made bad deci­sions. They should nev­er have tak­en the loans, they should’ve known they could nev­er afford it. But when you see who it is that’s engaged in the strug­gle against fore­clo­sures to their homes, who do you see? Well you fam­i­lies with kids. Folks strug­gling, who are very much like the folks whose homes have not been fore­closed on, except they find them­selves in a dif­fer­ent set of conditions. 

And what this reveals is the— We could it— I sup­pose we could—a cliché. It reveals a com­mon human­i­ty between those who are strug­gling and those who see the strug­gle. And then, in doing that it reveals the vio­lence of the oppres­sor. In this case the banks who encour­age peo­ple to take the loans in the first place, who mis­led peo­ple about the terms of the loans, who mis­led them about what was going to hap­pen. And then seeks to turn them out of their homes and turn those homes around. It seems to me that the strug­gle against fore­clo­sures shows us a way in which non­vi­o­lent resis­tance can reveal again the three ele­ments, right: the dig­ni­ty of the oppressed; can take the vio­lence of the oppres­sor, turn it back upon them; and can reveal to the pub­lic the char­ac­ter of the strug­gle and the char­ac­ter of the oppression. 

The ques­tion comes up: If this is the case; if non­vi­o­lent strug­gle can do this; if the anti-foreclosure move­ment is doing this, why isn’t it hap­pen­ing more? Why is it in a sit­u­a­tion where so many peo­ple are oppressed in so many places, where the poli­cies of neolib­er­al­ism have impov­er­ished more peo­ple over the last thir­ty years than were impov­er­ished before the poli­cies began, why is it that there’s so lit­tle resis­tance to these poli­cies, to their appli­ca­tions, to the peo­ple behind let’s say the war machine? Why is there so lit­tle resistance? 

When I talk about this, one of the answers that I get—and I think it’s an ade­quate one—is that peo­ple are apa­thet­ic. People are tied to their machines. They’re tied to their iPads. They’re tied to the Internet. They’re tied to their email. And they are iso­lat­ed from one anoth­er and don’t care what’s going on. And that’s why they don’t resist. 

I think in fact that misiden­ti­fies the symp­tom for the dis­ease. What looks like apa­thy seems to me just to be a symp­tom. The dis­ease I would say is hope­less­ness. People feel as though they can’t make a change. They feel as though what­ev­er they do, they’re one iso­lat­ed indi­vid­ual, one iso­lat­ed group. And although iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics I think has con­tributed to this, the rea­sons lie deep­er. They lie in the kinds of indi­vid­u­al­ized move­ments that neolib­er­al­ism has imposed. You’re all on your own, you’re all entre­pre­neurs, you’re not get­ting any sup­port, good luck. In our equal­i­ty, we seek to con­front those who would treat us and treat oth­ers as less than equal. There’s going to be no sub­sti­tute for the cre­ation of strate­gies that reveal this, of strate­gies that will even­tu­al­ly con­front not just banks but full gov­ern­ments. But there’s no clean and easy path. 


We see one anoth­er as equals. We see the prob­lems that con­front us. We form strate­gies. We form sol­i­dar­i­ties to con­front them. The for spe­cif­ic strate­gies will be respon­sive to spe­cif­ic con­di­tions. You can’t dic­tate them from above, you can’t dic­tate them from theory.


It will be peo­ple in their dig­ni­ty, in their sol­i­dar­i­ty, that decide togeth­er how it is to con­front par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions in par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances. Are we capa­ble of form­ing this we?” Are we capa­ble of form­ing the sol­i­dar­i­ty that will offer, or will open out to cre­ative strate­gies of non­vi­o­lence? Are we capa­ble of refus­ing to mir­ror the vio­lence that has become the over­rid­ing theme of 9‍/‍11 and its after­math? Are we capa­ble of this? It’s up to us. We have to decide it. It won’t be decid­ed for us. We as indi­vid­u­als and as col­lec­tives will decide whether in a peri­od in which we are told vio­lence has to be met with vio­lence and we as the peo­ple have no part of this, we will decide whether or not to refuse those terms in favor of oth­er and more cre­ative terms. 


One aspect of the con­tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tion which we haven’t chal­lenged are the images that are pre­sent­ed to us of those who are pre­sent­ed to us as oth­ers. Those who are pre­sent­ed to us as oth­ers are pre­sent­ed as, we could say, irre­me­di­a­bly dif­fer­ent. Unable to be reached by the kind of dis­course that we could say those of us who are told that we are a we” engage in. How do we chal­lenge that? How do we think about that? 

One cru­cial ele­ment in think­ing about it is to rec­og­nize that that image of the oth­er is rein­forced always by appeal, nascent or overt, to ter­ror­ism. Those oth­ers always at best one step from vio­lence. And we need first to rec­og­nize the fal­si­ty of that image. In trav­el­ing through the Middle East, in trav­el­ing through North Africa, I real­ized that there were times when I was cap­tured by that image. I was sur­prised to find that when I talked to my guide— I had a guide who took me through part of the Sahara, and asked what my back­ground was, I said that I’m not reli­gious but my back­ground was Jewish. 

His response was, Oh.” It was­n’t sig­nif­i­cant for him. It was­n’t an ele­ment that was impor­tant for him. For most peo­ple in the coun­tries that we like to char­ac­ter­ize as vio­lent or whose pop­u­la­tions we like to char­ac­ter­ize as at best one step from vio­lence, one of the things we need to see is that most peo­ple are try­ing to con­duct their lives and to be able to cre­ate some­thing mean­ing[ful] for them­selves in the same way that we are. And this real­ly came out in Tahrir Square, and in a num­ber of move­ments in the Arab Spring. But I don’t think we’ve learned the lessons of that yet. 

This does not mean that all of the val­ues shared, let’s say my pro­gres­sive folks in the US, will be shared in oth­er pop­u­la­tions. So for instance, there are gen­der issues that are in the Arab world in we could say a stark­er and some­times more vio­lent way than in some quar­ters of the Western world. How do folks in the West, how do pro­gres­sives in the West, think about this. One thing we need to do is rec­og­nize that the attempt to free the women from above through coer­cion is going to be a rep­e­ti­tion of the same prob­lem that we have seen in oppos­ing vio­lence. The link has to be not from above but across, as equals. The ques­tion for us then is how do we see not sim­ply the women who are oppressed, but men who are oppress­ing them, as equals even if they’re engaged in prac­tices that we find either immoral, abhor­rent, what­ev­er adjec­tive you like to use. In doing that it seems to me that there are sev­er­al kinds of strate­gies that could be involved. There is sol­i­dar­i­ty with wom­en’s strug­gles. When for instance women who are sub­ject to cli­toridec­to­ry come over to the States seek­ing asy­lum we have to make sure that they get it in a pub­lic anoth­er way that folks under­stand where we stand on issues of oppres­sion of women. That’s one. 

Second, there can be edu­ca­tion for folks right in coun­tries where women are oppressed. Education not sim­ply of women but edu­ca­tion of men. When women have seen open­ings, and we’ve seen this in Saudi Arabia, we’ve seen this else­where, they try to take it. Our job is not to tell them where their truth lies, but to look for the open­ing for sol­i­dar­i­ty, and look for ways of engag­ing with pop­u­la­tions, let’s say with male pop­u­la­tions, that are on the one hand from our view edu­ca­tion­al but on the oth­er hand not oppres­sive. In Arab coun­tries peo­ple have heard enough about what the—we could say, the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the West. They don’t need more lessons on supe­ri­or­i­ty. The ques­tion will be how is it that we think of strate­gies of sol­i­dar­i­ty with women in strug­gle on the one hand, of engage­ment with men who are in prac­tices that we reject on the oth­er, with­out impos­ing our will in a way that sim­ply repeats the problem.


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