Some new ideas on how to address the crisis in Syria from Eli S. McCarthy, professor of Justice and Peace Studies at Georgetown University:

Is increasing violence, civil war, and covert support for armed revolution the only options left in Syria? Many analysts respond affirmatively. However, from a justpeace lens I offer the following recommendations for us to consider as key elements toward a transformational political settlement. These can be taken together or separately. They do not represent a full plan, but rather potential key elements to a justpeace plan.

1. Send a team of 500-1000 international unarmed peacekeepers. Initially negotiate with Al-Assad for their entry, or work with civil society groups like religious leaders/organizations and the National Coordinating Committee to invite them into Syria. (UPDATE: Nicholas Noe offers an example of what the negotiation could look like and also supports a "robust and competent contingent" of monitors.)

If need be, exercise the Responsibility to Protect principle to justify this move. They would be charged primarily with monitoring, documenting, reporting and training local civil society leaders, such as religious leaders, to participate as monitors. They could also provide protective accompaniment to human rights activists and army deserters who agree to put down their weapons.

2. Advocate clearly, strongly and consistently for implementing small-scale restorative justice practices now to attend to key social wounds toward stimulating initial levels of healing and transforming the interactions of hostility. Some of these wounds include distrust, fear, bitterness and vengefulness. Restorative practices could include family conferencing, peacemaking circles in neighborhoods, including relatives of security forces if not members of such forces themselves. There may be local versions of restorative practices that could be highlighted and encouraged. Supporting local civil society members in facilitating these practices would be best. These small-scale efforts today would provide the groundwork for larger-scale efforts later after the violence subsides. (UPDATE: see Noe's proposal for a national reconciliation conference.)

3. Many in the Syrian resistance have been incredibly courageous in risking or giving their lives, and truly creative in their tactics. In a spirit of humble solidarity, this recommendation is offered. Advocate for returning to nonviolent resistance but encourage even more diversification of tactics beyond protests, marches, general strikes, etc. For instance, include more of the recommendations listed in Gene Sharp's 198 methods such as non-cooperation efforts like slow-downs, boycotting certain goods, short strikes, withdrawal of bank deposits, etc. Through various communication channels, provide materials from Gene Sharp and about Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who was a Muslim leader in nonviolent resistance during the 1900s from what is today the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region.

4. Since violence has entered into the resistance movement, consider Gandhi's example in India by encouraging a shifting of resistance energy into constructive programs by at least some of the resistors. As Gandhi explained during his time when violence erupted, the "people have awakened to their power, but they have yet to control their desires." If a transition happens with this influx of violence in the resistance movement, then the ongoing residue of bitterness, resentment, hostility and habits of violence will have seriously damaged their character and chances for a sustainable democracy, as one can see by studies of authoritarian power transitions over the last 35 years. Instead, the new resistance would focus on social uplift by caring for the marginalized, poor and wounded in the community, as well as creating alternative/parallel institutions, such as schools, clinics and media outlets. Caring for the marginalized could include direct service, but would also help to improve relationships with the many minority groups that fear Al-Assad losing power because he appears to protect them.

Constructive programs would also work to directly and indirectly address the fragmentation of the resistance movement, illustrated in part by the Syrian National Council and National Coordination Committee. I suspect that these practices will build a stronger unity for resistance, and thus increase the pressure on Al-Assad in a more sustainable and effective way. The people engaged in constructive programs will also grow even more in compassion, which will likely defuse the tendency to get caught up in interactions of humiliation (from put downs to killing) that hinder a resistance movement. Overall, this will build a stronger unity for resistance, allow space for reflection in all actors, defuse the interactions of hostility and more likely lead to a transformational, sustainable justpeace.

Eli S. McCarthy

Comments

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/25/2012 - 11:11am
I am encouraged that someone is at least talking about nonviolent resistence and this article is certainly an ambitious endeavor to show how it could work.

Yesterday Pope Benedict referred to Nonviolence in a meeting with some priests.  The link to the address is HERE, - quoting from that:

"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".

- Pope Benedict XVI
24 February 2012

I think it is important, when speaking of Nonviolence, to remember that it cannot be undertaken with the ideal of effecting a particular outcome.  Peace movements identify too much with particular political groups and ideologies. Any actions taken must communicate liberating possibilities to all involved in the conflict. The message that the opponent will also be “free-ed” has to be clear. A way out of the “we-they” standoff.

Merton says it best:

“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing … an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end … it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything …  (Merton letter to Jim Forrest, February 1962)
J Cosgrove | 2/26/2012 - 10:09am
Apparently this has nothing to do with Syria.  Just like Poland and Belgium in past European wars were a place of battle, Syria is where two large movements for control of Islam are going at each other.  It is the Shia vs. the Sunnis with the Shia backed by Iran and the Sunnis backed by the Muslim Brotherhood mainly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.


Then the West is the third major player in the scenario who is hated by both the two other players.  So it is a 3 dimensional chess game or war.   The West may use the R2P doctrine to invade Syria mabye as early as a month away but probably before the end of the summer and use Turkey which is part of Nato.


This game is being played out in lots of places besides Syria such as Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and in Egypt itself and of course Israel.  So to focus on Syria and Assad with non violence intervention is to miss the point of what is going on.  With two sides willing to die readily for their cause I am not so sure that non violence will mean anything.  We may also have Christian against Christian in this as the Christians of Lebanon are siding with the Sunnis and the Christians of Syria have traditionally allied with Assad as they fear the wrath of the Sunnis.


Interesting but not so nice times may be ahead.
J Cosgrove | 2/25/2012 - 9:38am
Couple comments:

Assad is a puppet. I would concentrate my efforts on Tehran and Moscow where the strings are being pulled.


Maybe we should get Hans Blick again to go in and find the WMD's as part of the effort.