Having observed several revolutions unfold around the world throughout the years, there seems to be a constant trend. That is during and after a peaceful revolution or protest, there are always instigators who will sow chaos and violence to discredit the peaceful revolutionaries or protesters. A peaceful revolution is a potent weapon that could quickly shift public opinion and raise awareness. The best way to discredit them is if the public perceive them as just violent thugs who are just troublemakers. So the common modus operandi (M.O.) of these instigators is to foment violence and try to pit one group against the other.
Violence in the Midst of Revolution
Humans are easily manipulated into being divided along religious, cultural or ethnic & racial line. Incidence in some part of the world have shown that a simple rumour attributing a violence or killing of a person from one ethnicity or religion to another group could easily spark a riot and tit-for-tat retribution, quickly spiraling out of control. Egypt have seen its share of such kind of instigation with Christian church being bombed. Tunisia have incidence of Synagogue being bombed.
During the onset of Tahrir revolution, the violent thug M.O. almost succeeded with simultaneous violence breaking out on different protest sites across Egypt immediately following Mubarak’s speech. But fortunately this time, it did not work. The power of connected people giving instant update from the ground overwhelmed the attempts by the State to stage a scripted justification for violent crackdown. If it is not for technology that allows real-time update from large amount of people on the ground, we might have easily been fooled into thinking that protesters have resulted to violence. Hence they deserve what they get – a common excuse for being apathetic.
After Mubarak’s announcement of not running again, Voice of America immediately release news saying Egyptian’s were applauding Mubarak’s decision. BBC says people will likely accept this decision. But direct reporting from people on the ground indicate that is not the case. Imagine if few main stream media, who nowadays tend to recycle news from one source, simply repeated the false news. That would severely alter our public opinion and could have led us to think that things are winding down. And the remaining protesters are just hardliners and stubborn.
Mubarak’s attempts were well orchestrated. Simultaneous, widespread, all forms of violence from acid, stone and molotov cocktail being thrown, and sniper fire killing protesters. This would normally create panic and cause the protesters to disperse. The dispersal of crowd would have created the impression that the protest have dwindled following Mubarak’s convincing speech. Or at least that’s how the script was supposed to be. But what makes it different this time was the grassroots journalism – made possible by the new technology of the information age. This have created thousands to millions of independent eye witness disputing the lies, contradicting what the State and its allies / cronies are trying to propagate. There is also no shortage of hard evidence through thousands of cellphones equipped with video cameras.
This is not to say the technology is fool-proof. Some authoritarian in the future could use the technology to spread misinformation also. It won’t be surprising if some political parties in democratic institutions already do, through staffing their marketing and campaign facilities with people who post and spread their speaking points on various discussion forum on the web. As Nazi’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbel have said:
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
If Tunisia and Egypt ever get past the revolution stage and started forming their democracy, they should look into history again to see how groups with interest to see them fail could try to sabotage their gain. Same tactic could again be used. Bombing and sabotage to create sense of chaos and losing of control, including staged assassination. Violence to try to provoke ethnic and religious tension. This have been employed repeatedly in some new democracies. In one instance, sniper fired into protesters to blame it on the new government. It then create chaos and the new government popularity suffers. Coup is then staged pretending to be saviour of the people. Such tactic of violence to undermine government have been used repeatedly, it must have been on some authoritarian textbook somewhere.
The best counter for such tactic is to educate people not to fall into hate and retaliation so easily. Tunisia and Egypt offers such hope. The protesters in both countries consist of large number of educated youth who don’t easily fall for such manipulation. The determination of Egyptians to remain peaceful in the face of all sorts of violence directed against them ensure public opinion and world opinion / sympathy remain solidly behind them. Their reputation have not been tainted. That’s why when report of pipeline blast came out, suspicion did not fall on the protesters. Instead murmur start to spread that it might have been orchestrated by the government, to reinforce western government’s stereotype and fear that a post-Mubarak regime might fall into chaos. The government later came out and said it was an accident and not sabotage.
Remaining peaceful like Gandhi had done, and the Egyptian’s are doing now, ensure the line between the oppressed and the oppressor is not muddled. However, that is easier said than done. It takes extraordinary courage and willingness to sacrifice oneself to withstand such onslaught of severe violence, intimidation and threat to life.
The Egyptian’s revolution is still ongoing with a ruthless government unafraid to use force and commit murder, which are repeatedly being caught in video cameras from hand-held devices. A government that is ready for war of attrition while at the same time employing the State TV to sow fear and paranoia. The number of people who are still falling for the government propaganda shows that we still have some way to go to learn to think independently and to let rationale thought conquer fear, hatred and paranoia. We should learn not to simply take the word of a man in power or be blinded by personality worship without independent verification and giving the benefit of the doubt.
A quote from Sri Chinmoy Ghose remain relevant to this day:
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will truly know peace.