History has shown how many a times, the use of force to suppress dissent has been counter-productive. Some interesting examples that support this statement can be taken from all over the world. If Saddam Hussein in Iraq used chemical weapons to suppress the Kurds, then it did in a way lead to his ouster! Similar examples can be taken from Vietnam, the Korean war, Ethiopia, Ireland, and even South Africa (during the Apartheid regime). In all these cases it has been proved that use of force by a powerful organisation have failed to suppress dissent by a community or group of politically and ideologically motivated people! The recent stories about the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army against “rebels” around Damascus bodes ill for the ruling regime!
It seems as if the use of force to suppress discontent is an option that should be used as a last option, especially when all other means, democratic or otherwise have failed! This is an option that has been misused by governments all over the world. The idea of restraint, dialogue,mediation, and referendums have often been overlooked leading to dire consequences! An interesting example can be taken from Ethiopia, where a powerful army that had an impressive weaponry couldn’t prevent the Eritrean Liberation Front warriors and the Tigray Liberation Front warriors from marching into Addis Ababa in the early nineteen nineties. The Apartheid regime under Botha couldn’t prevent A.N.C. from coming into power. The Apartheid regime incidentally had better equipment which it used for curbing mass demonstrations, and even armed rebellion! In Vietnam, the less equipped Vietcong regime couldn’t be held back by the world’s most powerful and well equipped army. A rather happier ending to the IRA versus British army conflict was however resolved through dialogue with the Sinn Fein and the British Government laying down weapons in order to settle differences through dialogue.
What is it then that makes dissenters so resilient? It is the sense of oneness of purpose that is fueled by use of force by powerful regimes? The use of force to decimate opposition might in fact have the opposite effect. You might kill a large number of people, but this doesn’t mean that you are able to kill the people fighting for their rights, which in many cases are genuine rights. The use of force to suppress opposition might in fact be the fuel for even greater opposition! It is the fuel that feeds a fire that cannot be extinguished, it is a fire that feeds on violence, aggression, and force! Gandhi in India, knew very well that confronting the colonial rulers with aggression would be counter-productive, so he experimented with the tools of non-cooperation and civil disobedience in Champaran with great success during the Indian National Movement. The Landlords in Champaran had to bow down in spite of the fact that they had the backing of a powerful regime. The Landlords in Champaran were confronted by peasants who were poor, uneducated and yet emerged victorious in the end!
The past has repeatedly shown us that you cannot subdue the spirit of a people by using force against them! The spirit of an oppressed people or community is more resilient than all the weapons that can be used against it! You might kill or maim a person but not his spirit. Saddam was not able to subdue the spirit of the Kurds, a minority community in Iraq, then how can modern regimes continue to do so with the belief that they can subdue dissent effectively through force? The recent alleged use of chemical weapons against so called rebels around Damascus can only foment greater dissent, garnering greater support for a popular movement against what they think is a dictatorial regime. Tyrants and dictators in the past might have won a decisive battles, but then what followed this decisive battle was invariably a series of small battles that often whittled away their hold on power leading to their defeat in a long drawn battle of attrition!
What then is the message to all dictators, dictatorial regimes, and governments that seek means to curb rebellion and dissent? It is clear that use of power is a strict no, no! Dialogue, discussions,referendums, restraint, and other democratic strategies are the best option today. Giving appropriate opportunities for ventilation of grievances, debates, and opportunities to voice differing opinions is very important! It is very important for responsible Government organisations to identify safety mechanisms for venting such grievances. The voice of minority communities should never be ignored, and these communities should be given the chance of a hearing during parliament sessions! The curbing of Freedom of speech and Freedom of expression might have the effect of encouraging dissent. The rights to Freedom of determination, freedom to practice one’s religion and freedom to dissent from the accepted and so called popular beliefs should be tolerated. In many cases, conformism is a blanket term that seeks to force allegiance to the accepted beliefs of the majority, which in essence might not be shared by everyone.
Excessive use of force by the government in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011 and a similarly excessive use of force to quell demonstrations in Taksim square in Turkey recently, have led to a situation that led to the ouster of the regime in Egypt and the shaking of the very foundations of the government in Turkey. In many cases, the Democratic system of government which provides sufficient representation to all communities is the best mechanism for handling dissent! Excessive use of power by Governments to quell dissent have often led to an aggravation of the situation which might have been based on a simple voicing of displeasure against the conversion of a people’s park into a site for government offices and commercial complexes!
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