The truly great documentary How to Start a Revolution screens again this weekend at SFIndie’s Docfest. This isn’t some abstract exploration of modern life; it’s an example of revolutions get made in places like Egypt. Give a damn about American politics, economic justice, Occupy Wall Street? I suggest you track this film down, or see it at Docfest if you can, and/or read Sharp’s classic text on non-violent revolution, From Dictatorship to Democracy.
(The film screens at the Roxie in San Francisco next Saturday, October 22 and Wednesday, October 26, both at 7:15pm.)
How to Start a Revolution (Dir: Ruaridh Arrow, 2011) explores the world of Gene Sharp, an American Nobel Peace Prize nominee and author of the influential book From Dictatorship to Democracy, which helped guide the leaders of revolutions in spots as far-flung as Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Burma, Thailand, Bosnia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Sharp’s seminal book is considered contraband anywhere that violent dictators quake in terror at the power of nonviolent protestors. Sharp has been called the “godfather” of nonviolent revolution, and many leaders of nonviolent movements have traveled to visit him.
…In these days of everybody-gets-a-say, too many U.S. citizens see the Arab world in terms of black and white. Fanatic, anti-American Islamists are bad. American allies are good. But viewed from outside the American bubble, too many American allies are just as evil as their anti-American counterparts.
The crowds that burned U.S. flags in Iran in 1979 didn’t burn them for the same reasons that Al Qaeda attacked the U.S.S. Cole, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon. They burned U.S. flags because the U.S. supported the Shah.
Every time anti-American Islamic fundamentalism and fanaticism triumph politically, it’s not a victory for Islamists or a defeat for the United States. It’s a disaster for democracy, pluralism, and freedom.
But if the alternative for the Egyptians (or the Pakistanis, or the Tunisians) is an anti-democratic, repressive, and corrupt dictatorship, how the hell does the U.S. expect to win and keep the hearts and minds of anybody — even its own citizens?