Andrew Sullivan (via Hilzoy) posts a hilarious Iranian 3D-animation propaganda video from last year that depicts the international conspiracy to promote Western liberal democracy holding a secret meeting in the White House. Present are “senior White House official” John McCain, George Soros, and…a guy named Gene Sharp whose name most Americans won’t recognize.
Gene Sharp is a political scientist who has written extensively on the dynamics of nonviolent protest movements. His writing isn’t just descriptive and analytical — it’s advocacy-oriented. Until last week, to my shame, I didn’t know who Sharp was either. Then Vietnamese police arrested lawyer Le Cong Dinh, who had defended some pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. And on the website of the official police newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan (“People’s Police”), they posted photos of the arrest, along with some images of things they’d discovered in Dinh’s office which they apparently considered evidence against him. Included was a photo of a Vietnamese-language translation of Gene Sharp’s book “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, originally written as a guide for Burmese exile activists in Thailand in 1993, and widely read by the Serbian “Otpor” activists who brought down Milosevic in 2000 and by subsequent “color revolution” organizers.
I continue to find it amazing that authoritarian regimes, faced over the past 20 years with the prospect of nonviolent movements to kick them out of power, have tried to demonize the concept of nonviolent political change as some kind of sinister conspiracy. How do you make Gandhi and Havel into badguys? How ridiculous do regimes sound when they mutter darkly of “peaceful evolution” and “velvet revolutions” and expect people to agree that these are bad things? Can they possibly not recognize that if their regime is vulnerable to a “velvet revolution”, that indicates that their regime sucks? There seems to be some characteristic turn of the phobic authoritarian mind that allows such people, once a force has been identified as “enemy”, to stop reasoning about why it’s an enemy. What kind of intelligence can look at a crowd of unarmed citizens holding signs facing a phalanx of kevlar-clad, truncheon- and gun-wielding security forces and conclude that the demonstrators are them and the people with the truncheons are us?
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