On Martyrdom, Evil, and the Value of Ideas

Libya rises up. A Libyan diplomat, Ahmad Jibreel, remarked on Gaddafi’s extensive use of violence — live ammunition, bomber runs, paid thugs — to battle protesters:

“Gaddafi’s guards started shooting people in the second day and they shot two people only,” he said.

“We had on that day in Al Bayda city only 300 protesters. When they killed two people, we had more than 5,000 at their funeral, and when they killed 15 people the next day, we had more than 50,000 the following day.

“This means that the more Gaddafi kills people, the more people go into the streets.”

There’s been a lot of discussion of nonviolent resistance and the sympathetic capital of martyrdom across the last half century. Examples of its successful implementation abound: the Civil Rights movement, Ghandi in India, Jesus in the Roman Empire, (to some extent) the Vietnam War, various defections from Soviet Bloc countries, more recently the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Less successful implementations involve suicide bombers and hostage situations, such as might be seen in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the campaigns of Iraqi insurgents.

I cannot say it enough: we live in an astonishing age in human history. Mere centuries ago, the idea that combatants who refused to engage their foe in combat might be able to topple governments and change the tide of history across whole continents, even the world itself, would be unthinkable. I submit the paradigm of warfare has shifted; that, somewhere along the course of human history, war stopped being about killing.

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