Give Nonviolence a Chance in Syria

by Amitabh Pal

A nonviolent movement survives in Syria. Overshadowed by violence on both sides and ignored by the media, activists are still peacefully defying the Syrian regime.

Pacifism has a long lineage in Syria. One of the foremost philosophers of nonviolence in the Muslim world, Jawdat Said, is Syrian. The octogenarian, sometimes referred to as the “Syrian Gandhi,” is renowned for his attempts to conceptualize Islam as a pacifist religion. Using the parable of Cain and Abel (narrated in the Quran, too), Said urges Muslims to take their lead from the Prophet Muhammad (who cited Abel approvingly a number of times) and embrace “The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam,” the title of his most famous book. Said has been jailed a number of times since his work became publicly known in the 1960s. After spending six months touring the United States and Canada last year, he returned to Syria in an attempt to keep the flame of peace alive in his country.

There are a number of Syrian organizations working in the tradition of Said. Among them is the Syrian Nonviolence Movement. Omar al Assil, a member of the group, has created a map to show the world the many activities — ranging from civil disobedience and flash mobs to graffiti and media campaigns — that proponents of peaceful protest have engaged in Syria in the face of great odds.

“For Omar, the main objective of creating this map is to show the Syrian people and the rest of the world how powerful and widespread nonviolence is within the Syrian uprising,” writes Kristyan Benedict on Amnesty International UK’s blog. “He wanted to document the hundreds of activities involving tens of thousands of people to show a wider perspective of the revolutionary mosaic.”

University of Arkansas Professor Mohja Kahf also corrects a few misperceptions about the Syrian rebellion. “I’m continually shocked by how few people realize that nonviolent resistance started the uprising, and that it is still going on,” she tells World Affairs Journal. “Anyone out there who is not aware of Syria’s nonviolent resistance needs to answer the question, ‘Where have you been?’ ”

In her paper written on nonviolence in Syria, also posted here today, that is a must-read for anyone interested in the issue, Kahf lists the many groups currently engaging in good work there. “Creative nonviolent resistance creates a channel for more widespread participation in the revolution,” she writes. “This is vital because it reconnects people to the original wellspring of the uprising: their newfound sense of empowerment.”

International solidarity activists have been urging the world to keep this in mind when making decisions about Syria. For example, Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire visited Syria in May. She says that “groups that are working on the ground building peace and reconciliation can solve their own problems if their plea for outsiders to remain out of the conflict is honored by the international community.”

At the moment, that plea seems to be falling on deaf ears.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of ‘Islam’ Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today (Praeger). Courtesy of The Progressive, per August 30, 2013.


“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi