Ever wonder why some public protest movements are peaceful while others are violent?  An Evanston author thinks the answer might lie in how well a movement is organized.

That’s one of the conclusions of Northwestern professor Wendy Pearlman in her new book, “Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement,”  which was recently awarded runner-up status as “Best Book on the Middle East” in the 2011 rankings by Foreign Policy magazine.

Pearlman, the Crown Junior Professor of Middle East Studies and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern, said she examined the Palestinian National Movement throughout history and found times when Palestinians used non-violent protest.

Her discovery led her to offer a theory about political violence that can apply to any movement.

“Movements must be internally cohesive in order to use non-violent protests, because nonviolence requires coordination and collective restraint that only a cohesive movement is able to provide,” Pearlman said. “On the flip side, the more that a movement is fragmented, the more likely that violence occurs.”

Observers often are too quick to attribute political violence to culture, religion, fanaticism, or stark calculations, in Pearlman’s view.

“It’s easy to overlook how the structure of political relationships within a movement also shapes the tactics it uses,” she says. “My book aims to retell the history of the Palestinian movement with a focus on the relationship between internal politics and external strategy,” she adds.

“Violence, Nonviolence, and the Palestinian National Movement” was published in 2011 by Cambridge University Press. It is available from Barnes & Noble in hardcover format for $80.29, or $63.20 for the electronic version.

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds like it’s worth reading

    Though your report is only a cursory view of the book, it does sound interesting.

    The Palestinians are suppressed in such a broad variety of ways by Israel – property rights, freedom to travel, access to natural resources, exporting/importing, to name a few. A group can arise that works on any of these issues alone, but any movement that shows signs of becoming effective will have its leaders removed by one means or another by Israel – in the case of non-violent demos it is usually detention and imprisonment – that makes organization difficult. A classic case of this is that of Bassem Tamimi (Google him) of the town of Nabih Saleh.

    It would be interesting to read about how Israeli groups have arisen in many of these areas of oppression because the Palestinians are so severely limited in what they can do in the way of political/social action. The irony of the situation is that the human rights groups of Isreal are proving to be effective for the Palestinians in ways that they have not been able to be for themselves, though not from a lack of trying. Not only is this a tribute to the moral sense of some Israelis who readily admit they see themselves in the other and act accordingly, but also to the comprehensive suppression of the Palestinians for over 60 years.

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