Mary King Gandhi’s shrewd insight that conflict offers an opportunity to rearrange the ingredients that produced it in the first place has yet to be fully appreciated. Yet as more and more groups and societies across the world are able to know of the successful use of nonviolent tools to achieve political goals, it is possible that universal recognition of the worth and practicality of settling conflict without the insertion of violence may also grow. If anything, the inclination is toward greater use of the technique of collective nonviolent action in the twenty-first century. This Web site is about the power and limits of nonviolent civil resistance through the eyes of one of its practitioner scholars.

The Latest from Mary

Lecture: Behind the Arab Awakening: Dynamics of Civil Resistance

March 1, 2012 | Videos and Radio

Mary King delivered this lecture, “Behind the Arab Awakening: Dynamics of Civil Resistance”, on Monday, January 23, 2012 at Green Templeton College, Oxford in conjunction the Centre for International Studies at Oxford. Mary is a Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford.

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Syrians map their future, post-Assad

February 27, 2012 | Blog Posts

Discussion about changes to a Syrian street name, via The Highest Monkey.

The opposition in Syria is not waiting for Bashar al-Assad to depart before drawing up new maps of their country. According to a recent Washington Post report, activists have been using a Google crowdsourcing program, Map Maker, to rename major streets, bridges and thoroughfares after their own heroes. The purpose has been to erase the remnants of the Assad family’s 40-year rule and to memorialize nonviolent challengers who have died during the course of Syria’s almost year-long uprising. Stefan Geens, author of the Ogle Earth blog, which tracks Google Maps, told the Post that Syria’s is the first rebellion of which he knows where activists have used online mapping programs to rewrite history.

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Anticipating fear

February 19, 2012 | Blog Posts

Ku Klux Klan rally on the Louisiana State Capitol steps in Baton Rouge in the 1960s. State Library of Louisiana Historic Photograph Collection.

Black History Month has many meanings. For me, it is a time to remember the tremendous contribution African Americans have made to the building of the United States—as much as any group, and possibly more. I mean this literally, as in constructing so much of the nation’s material infrastructure, but I also am speaking of another realm.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported 4,733 lynchings between 1882 and 1962, nationwide. Of these, three-quarters of the victims were black, mostly in the Deep South, and we may assume that the incidents were underreported. Among the greatest contributions of the civil rights movement to the United States was its participants’ willingness to confront a culture beset by violent racism and pervasive fear. Random acts of violence could occur at any moment, with no expectation that police would intervene. It is easy to overlook today, especially considering the ways in which insidious racism continues, how great a distance has been traversed.

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Egypt’s revolution began long before 2011

February 6, 2012 | Blog Posts

Egyptian protesters participating in a silent stand on June 6, 2011, at Kasr Al Nil bridge. By Zeinab Mohamed, via Flickr.

The starting point for a movement of mass action usually cannot be pinpointed to a single moment or person. This is true of the 2011 Arab Awakening, despite the temptation to credit Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia or Wael Ghonim’s prowess on Facebook in Egypt; such struggles defy simplistic explanations of origin.

“I don’t want to take much credit; the revolution was leaderless,” Wael told 2.8 million listeners on BBC’s Radio 4 recently. Encircled in a tight studio in London’s Portman Place BBC headquarters, along with Paul Mason, economics editor for the BBC program Newsnight, newscaster Andrew Marr had convened the three of us to discuss the topic of “Revolution.” Egypt’s revolution, our conversation made clear, was far from spontaneous. For years, Egyptian activists were sharing knowledge, organizing and learning to think strategically.

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BBC Start the Week Podcast – Revolution with Wael Ghonim, Paul Mason and Mary King 30th Jan 2012

January 30, 2012 | Videos and Radio

Andrew Marr discusses “revolution” with the Egyptian writer and blogger, Wael Ghonim; Paul Mason, economics journalist and author; and Mary King, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace (an affiliate of the UN)and Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Link to podcast audio file (right click and choose “save as”)

How to learn nonviolent resistance as King did

January 15, 2012 | Blog Posts

Martin Luther King, Jr. beside a picture of Gandhi. © Bob Fitch, all rights reserved.

How does one learn nonviolent resistance? The same way that Martin Luther King Jr. did—by study, reading and interrogating seasoned tutors. King would eventually become the person most responsible for advancing and popularizing Gandhi’s ideas in the United States, by persuading black Americans to adapt the strategies used against British imperialism in India to their own struggles. Yet he was not the first to bring this knowledge from the subcontinent.

By the 1930s and 1940s, via ocean voyages and propeller airplanes, a constant flow of prominent black leaders were traveling to India. College presidents, professors, pastors and journalists journeyed to India to meet Gandhi and study how to forge mass struggle with nonviolent means. Returning to the United States, they wrote articles, preached, lectured and passed key documents from hand to hand for study by other black leaders. Historian Sudarshan Kapur has shown that the ideas of Gandhi were moving vigorously from India to the United States at that time, and the African American news media reported on the Indian independence struggle. Leaders in the black community talked about a “black Gandhi” for the United States. One woman called it “raising up a prophet,” which Kapur used as the title of his book.

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Václav Havel: a life in Truth

December 23, 2011 | Blog Posts

Illustration by Piotr Lesniak, Illustrations Portfolio.

Václav Havel, who died on December 18, epitomized the power of the pen. A playwright and actor, he was born in Prague in 1936, two years before Nazi Germany militarily occupied Czechoslovakia. As I have written elsewhere, the Stalinist effort to destroy internal opposition to the Czechoslovak communist regime and its worsening economic policies led to hundreds of executions and tens of thousands of imprisonments. Millions were left suffering. Rigid communist economic views, bureaucratization of all dimensions of life, and recurring shortages meant that people could survive under communist rule only through venality and by shortcutting regulations. Those who went along with the habitual corruption—including the great proportion of managers and professionals—found themselves subjected to blackmail and entrapped by lies.

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One year on, the roots of success for Tunisia’s revolution

December 14, 2011 | Blog Posts

The news has been filled with contention over Egypt’s November elections, but far less attention is being paid to the voting in Tunisia—also recently liberated from the rule of a dictator. More than 100 political parties participated. Tunisia’s October balloting was designed to elect members of the 217-member assembly that will deliberate and draft a new constitution and form a parliament. On the scene as an international observer, former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter noted, “It appears that everybody wants a good election—the politicians, the military (who are not political), the powerful trade unions, the police, the people—and everything is being done with compromise to make this happen.” Many in the Arab countries now view these elections as a prototype, and they prominently displayed the characteristics celebrated in modern political thought. Clean elections, of course, do not occur spontaneously. So how did this happen?

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The short and the long of creating democracy

December 8, 2011 | Blog Posts

Egypt began its first round of balloting in November, one of the outcomes of the January uprising that ousted the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. This followed the military’s attempt to hold onto power by using draconian measures against renewed protests in Tahrir Square, where military and police killed 40 and injured 2,000. With two more rounds of voting remaining, it is small wonder that many Egyptians are afraid of what is to come. Early indications are that the Muslim Brotherhood will show well in free parliamentary elections, and the more doctrinaire Salafists will claim seats. Debates over the prospects for the Arab Awakening now rage as a result.

After a spellbindingly rapid series of events in the Middle East in the early months of this year, progress seems to have slowed. The liberal spirit that characterized those nonviolent revolutions appears to be dissipating in favor of old rivalries—as well as the specter that new forms of repression will simply replace their predecessors.

What’s happening now in Egypt and Tunisia—to say nothing of Bahrain and Syria—is also bringing back to the fore worn-out arguments claiming that nonviolent struggle works slowly, while violence is quick. Efficient, even.

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Why gender matters for building peace

November 24, 2011 | Blog Posts

Leymah Gbowee, Liberian activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

One of the most extraordinary nonviolent, transnational movements of the modern age was the women’s suffrage movement of the first two decades of the 20th century. New Zealand first extended the franchise in the late 19th century—after two decades of organizing efforts. As the new century began, women’s suffrage movements gained strength in China, Iran, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and Vietnam. Another 20 years and women were enfranchised in countries around the world, from Uruguay to Austria, the Netherlands to Turkey, and Germany to the United States. Few if any of those leading the campaigns for the ballot for women would have identified their approach as one of nonviolent action, nor would they have known its philosophical underpinnings or strategic wisdom. Like most who have turned to civil resistance, they did so because it was a direct method not reliant on representatives or agencies and a practical way to oppose an intolerable situation.

What exactly is the link between the rights of women, gender, nonviolent action, and building peace?

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