<Interview with DR. Brian Martin دوشنبه ۱ اسفند ۸۴
Due to an email contact that I had with Dr. Brian Martin writer in nonviolence, and associate professor in Science, Technology and Society at the University of Wollongong, he kindly accepted my invitation for an interview. I’ve sent him the questions through email, as he preferred written interview. With the time and efforts he put into it, the result is both informative and interesting, especially for Iranian readers. I’ll publish the interview in two parts; first part is more theoretical, while the second part is more about Iran.
A short introduction about Dr. Brian Martin:
He has got his PhD degree in Theoretical Physics in 1976, he has been associate professor, and senior lecturer, in Science, Technology & Society at the University of Wollongong.He has written 10 books and over 150 major papers and chapters, some of his books on nonviolent movements include: Technology for Nonviolent Struggle, Nonviolence versus Capitalism, Social defence – Social Change (you can download the PDF version of these books in our nonviolence library or from his webpage). For a list of his books and publications you can see his webpage.
He has given some more information about himself and the way he started research in the field of nonviolence in answer to my second question.
After publishing the second part of this interview tomorrow, I’ll also add a PDF version of the whole interview in English and Persian in our Nonviolence Library.
In the beginning I’d like to thank you, Brian for accepting to do this interview and share your opinions with us.
Question: Let me start from the basics and as the first questions ask you as a thinker and writer in nonviolent movements to give us your definition of nonviolence?
Dr. Martin: Nonviolent action includes methods such as petitions, rallies, boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, fasts and setting up alternative political structures. It's often more informative to give examples of nonviolent action than present a formal definition. These and other such methods avoid physical violence against others, though nonviolent activists themselves may be assaulted or arrested. Nonviolent action is action that goes beyond conventional politics, so it doesn't include lobbying or voting.
Nonviolence can also be something broader, including personal behaviour that avoids oppression and efforts to promote ways of living together that are based on freedom, justice, equality and ecological sustainability.
Question: I know that you are originally a physicist, as I’m in the field of natural science myself; as the next question I’d like to ask you how you got into research and studies in the field of nonviolence? Can you please explain your starting ambitions for research and studies in this field?
Dr. Martin: In about 1977 I first read about nonviolence. The idea meshed with my beliefs about how society ought to operate, namely people taking action on their own behalf in a way that is compatible with the goal: nonviolence is the method and nonviolence is the goal. At that time I was involved in the environmental movement, especially the campaign against nuclear power. One of the key issues concerning nuclear power was the link to proliferation of nuclear weapons, so that got me thinking about peace issues. In 1979 I helped set up a peace group in Canberra (Australia's national capital), as there wasn't one at the time. We soon started promoting social defence, which is nonviolent community resistance to aggression as an alternative to military defence, and I started writing about these issues.
I don't think being a physicist was an important factor in my interest in nonviolence. But with physics training I felt more confident arguing issues about nuclear accidents, nuclear weapons and so forth.
It was only many years later that I thought about the connections between science, technology and nonviolence. Nearly all the writings about nonviolence focus on social and psychological factors — such as unity, commitment and strategy — because they are most important. But science and technology are important too. There's definitely a need for more scientists and engineers to be involved in researching and promoting nonviolence.
Question: As you know there are two general groups of nonviolent activists; those who choose nonviolence as a way of life and those who believe in it as a way of dissolving conflicts. May I ask you how do you see nonviolence?
Dr. Martin: I think both these orientations to nonviolence are important, and they overlap too. Where there is a supportive culture or tradition, such as religious belief, then nonviolence as a way of life makes sense. But in many places this is seen as peculiar and it makes more sense to promote nonviolence as a pragmatic alternative to violence. In Western social movements, nonviolent action is mostly used pragmatically, but some activists have personal commitments to nonviolence. As nonviolence becomes more recognised, I expect that more people will move from a pragmatic to a principled orientation.
Nonviolence has several advantages over violence: it causes less suffering, it wins over more people (bystanders and sometimes even opponents), and it is less likely to lead to a new system of oppression. There might be some times when violence is more effective, at least in the short term, but once violence is used, it opens the door to even more violence and this soon undermines the effectiveness of nonviolence. So for maximum effectiveness, it’s probably better for more people to have a principled commitment to nonviolence.
Personally, I always say that I don’t know whether nonviolence is always superior to violence, because nonviolence hasn’t yet been tried enough. Militaries have spent billions of dollars and trained millions of soldiers. The amount of money and effort put into nonviolence is only a tiny fraction of this. Nonviolence deserves full-scale funding and testing over a period of decades. Until this happens, it is premature to say it doesn’t work.
Question: There is a belief in some nonviolent activists that the time of violent changes/revolutions has come to an end and it’s a start of a new era where changes (changes for good) will be happening by nonviolent movements. Do you agree with such point of view?
Dr. Martin: There is definitely a greater awareness about nonviolence among social activists in many countries. There is more information available and people are sharing their experiences about what works and what doesn't. So it is quite possible that nonviolence will become even more widely used by movements.
But, unfortunately, it is likely that some activists will continue to use violence. The mass media report on violence daily but seldom give any idea of how common or effective nonviolent action can be. Indeed, nonviolent actions are often reported as if they are violent. Governments often actually prefer their opponents to use violence, because then they have greater justification for using violence against these opponents. So some governments try to provoke violence by movements, either indirectly through harsh policies or directly by using disguised police agents who join protest movements and advocate violence.
This means that nonviolent activists need to become more sophisticated in developing new methods and countering government tactics.
Question: Gene Sharp has introduced a “structural approach to human rights”, (at the moment I’m finishing the translation of this article to Persian to be published in lanternblog). He explains that achieving a long term and lasting recognition of human right issues around the world we should basically work on bringing down dictatorships worldwide, i.e. denying human rights violators the power to perpetrate their atrocities. What is your opinion about this framework? If you agree with this point of view why the industrialized and rich countries instead of the huge amount of money they spend daily on their military actions, don’t work more on helping develop new free societies with nonviolent acts? (I prefer free society to the expression of democracy!)
Dr. Martin: Many government leaders say that they oppose repression and aggression but in their policies do the opposite. The most prominent example is the US government. It gives diplomatic recognition to countries where serious human rights violations occur. It produces massive amounts of weapons and sells them to repressive governments. It develops and manufactures technology that can be used for torture and sells it to countries where torture is known to occur. Many other governments do the same.
Furthermore, the US government violates civil liberties itself. Government agencies spy on US citizens and harass dissidents. Torture is used, in foreign prisons like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and in US prisons too.
In most countries, the armed forces are not needed to protect against foreign enemies. Their most important function is protecting the government from challenge. Militaries, and militarised police forces, are far more likely to be used against citizens than against foreign threats.
Governments cannot be relied upon to promote human rights. That's why it is vital for social movements to maintain their efforts.
Question: From your point of view capitalism is not an ideal social system as well as dictatorships, but concerning nonviolent struggle you consider bringing down a dictator the “easy case”. Considering the fact that in capitalist society human rights violations are by far less than totalitarian societies, as a result in the former it is less probable to use violence against nonviolent protestors. Can you please explain why using nonviolent methods against dictators is “the easy case”?
Dr. Martin: In a dictatorship, the human rights abuses are more obvious, and more people know the source of the problems, and they know the solution: get rid of the dictatorship! The problem is easier to recognise and the solution is more obvious.
Economic systems, including capitalism, can cause poverty, alienation and inequality, with damaging secondary effects including higher death rates for the poor. This is especially serious in poor countries being squeezed by neoliberal economic policies and corrupt governments. Large numbers of people may suffer or die, but this is not as dramatic or obvious as imprisonment of dissenters or massacre of protesters.
The challenge for those who support nonviolence is to develop ways to turn poverty and exploitation into big issues just like dictatorship and repression.
Question: Dictatorships and military governments are the biggest violators of human rights but from my personal point of view a dictatorship can also result in destroying the heritage and natural resources of a country as it happened in Afghanistan under the Taliban and was and still is happening in Iran (for example drastic decrease in natural forests, destroying the national heritage and…). What do you think about this point of view?
Dr. Martin: Militarism is definitely linked to destruction of the environment, both in dictatorships and in systems of representative government. Production of weapons, maintaining armed forces and the running of military exercises use large amounts of resources and leave a polluting aftermath. Wars themselves are incredibly damaging to the environment. The military exerts a strong influence on scientific research agendas, often steering towards developments that are bad for the environment, such as the military-inspired nuclear research pointing the way towards civilian nuclear power.
There's a strong connection between peace and environmental movements. Often their concerns overlap, such as in opposition to nuclear technology or wars over resources such as oil. The two movements share experiences in activism, including nonviolent action. There's a fair bit of mutual support in terms of campaigns, though on the other hand sometimes their agendas compete with each other. The environmental movement has had greater success in building organisations and campaigns that last over years or decades, whereas the peace movement tends to surge and fade in response to external events. So peace activists should learn from the environmental movement how to sustain their efforts and organisations over the long term.
To Be continued....