Violent protesters and Al Qaida terrorists aren't as different as you think
Question: what do the Islamic perpetrators of Thursday’s London subway bombings and those responsible for the violent G-8 protests in Scotland have in common? Answer: quite a bit, actually.
No, they aren’t acting in collusion with one another. But there are more similarities between the two than one would believe, and they circle primarily around the intentional use of violence to achieve their goals.
Both claim they’re fighting against oppression – to end the tyranny of the current patriarchy by any means necessary. Both would happily replace the current patriarchy with one of their own, and it is this that makes them all the more dangerous.
One can point to groups such as Al Qaida and see a face that is not all that different from organizations such as the Black Bloc, or (to a much lesser extent) the Earth Liberation Front – a face that threatens violence from behind a mask of anonymity. The point of it all, of course, is not violence, but fear. Fear which is to be used as a motivator in support of a political cause. It is violence under threat of further violence. As one (unnamed) anarchist promised: “This is just the start of it. Nobody wants to get arrested ahead of Wednesday. We've got a lot more planned.”
For these people, the use of violence serves a number of purposes. It is a badge of honor. It is a symbol of dedication. It is a political shortcut. More than any of this, however, it is a demonstration of defiance. And, of course, defiance breeds defiance.
There is an old saying: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. While there is an air of naivete surrounding this parable, there is an equivalency when it comes to political activism. That is, peaceful demonstrations generally get a better response (both from the police and the public eye) than violent ones. “We want to allow the peaceful protest of the majority to take place unhindered by any rogue elements who are set on disruption and confrontation,” says Constable John Vine, speaking to press after Tuesday’s violent demonstrations in Edinburgh. “Make no bones about it, if we encounter people who are prepared to use violence to achieve their aims ... we will take robust action.”
Of course, there is always the fact that violent protests get more attention. And while one can argue that these events do more to hinder their cause than to help it, it is also true that there is no such thing as bad publicity. This is unfortunate, because it will always draw the intentions of belligerents toward violence.
Of course, some times the system does fail. The case of peaceful protesters in Vancouver who were assaulted by RCMP officers under orders from then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien comes to mind. Some times, even peaceful activists place themselves at risk of attack.
All this aside, even more so than any of these similarities, there is one other that is just as important to remember: each group is actually a minority amongst the larger groups that it claims to represent. Despite the alarmist assertations of fear mongers, the majority of Moslems are not terrorists. Furthermore, as much as political and economic conservatives would have one believe, the majority of protesters protest peacefully. To these people, a simple message must be extended: stay the course. To those who understand the power of dissent and the value of peace, keep doing as you have. There are those who appreciate what you do, for all the right reasons.
And as much as some people may want to have us believe other wise, terrorists are generally appreciated only for the wrong reasons. Ultimately, that makes all the difference.