In March 2013, a coup took place in the Central African Republic (CAR). Following a rebel attack on the capital of CAR, the president fled, and rebels took control of the government. The situation in the capital became dismal, with rebels “looting, abducting, raping and killing — even breaking into an orphanage to steal whatever they could, according to Amnesty International”. In response to the precarious situation, the United Nations prepared to evacuate its non-essential staff members.
In the course of 2013, the UN redeployed its staff members. Redeployment has, according to the president of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), not resulted in effective operations. In an open letter to the United Nations, the president of MSF complained of the “unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system in the Central African Republic”. He argued that the UN produces “extremely risk-averse analyses.” Continue reading
I’d like to direct readers’ attention to an upcoming special issue of American Behavioral Scientist, focusing on historical and contemporary issues relating to dispossession, violence, and colonialism against indigenous peoples in the Americas. For interested readers, there are some preliminary articles from this issue that are now available online. The violent dispossession of indigenous peoples was a predominant feature of American territorial expansion, and created enduring settler-colonial institutions and relations that continue to structure indigenous-U.S. politics (Steinman 2012). This violence was perhaps most pronounced and systematic in mid-19th century California. Here state and local officials explicitly sanctioned numerous collective efforts by militias and settler groups to decimate indigenous peoples, and passed numerous laws and statutes that relegated indigenous peoples to extreme social and political marginality (Almaguer 1994; Madley 2008, 2009). Although basic facts of this violent colonization and settlement are relatively well-known, it is only recently that historians have begun to systematically document and explore the state’s violent past. Continue reading
Last month, the New York Times posted a video of a summary execution of Syrian soldiers, which was carried out by Syrian insurgents. The article that accompanied the video emphasized the ferociousness of the act. The author suggested that this type of behavior poses a dilemma for leaders of countries who consider support for insurgents. The depth of that dilemma partly depends on the extent to which these actions represent the behavior of the Syrian insurgency at large. If the video is indeed representative of the Syrian insurgency, what can we expect from Syrian insurgents when they get the upper hand in the conflict? How will the insurgents treat Syrian citizens? And will they implement the social and political changes that activists called for in the streets of Damascus and other cities in the spring of 2011? Continue reading
Two recent books are quite valuable in thinking about the relationship between terrorism and Islamic mobilization. Collecting the largest data on suicide terrorism around the globe (database available in the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism website), Robert Pape and James Feldman make a compelling argument to demonstrate strong impact of foreign occupation on suicide terrorism.
For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.
One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements. Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading
I know you’d never bomb, commit arson, or destroy property, even if it is for a good cause. It’s not that you don’t feel deeply about social justice, you’d just never even consider using violence. (I’m making an obvious assumption here that underground members of the Earth Liberation Front, Animal Liberation Front, KKK, or even al-Qaeda are not regular readers of this blog.) So, violence is far from your reality. But is it really? Could you do it?
Who are these people setting fire to SUVs, releasing animals from fur farms, and bombing research labs? How could Timothy McVeigh be so callous? What kind of person would do such a thing?
When I am contacted by reporters to comment on protests and movements, one of the most common questions asked is whether violence is going to be part of the movement’s tactics or if there has been violence, how bad is it going to get? Although I’m not particularly fond of being cornered into predicting the future, my usual responses is something like “well, it depends on the cops.” When protest turns violent, it is much more often the behavior of the police or other social control authorities that is the central defining element of the action that changes the trajectory of the confrontation. One of the most infamous riots in U.S. history, the Watts riot of 1965, may never have happened if the police hadn’t attempted to root out an anonymous spitter in the crowd that was watching them arrest a drunk driver!
So when asked if Occupy Wall Street would become violent, Continue reading