by Rep. Ed Royce (CA)
A silent march; a unifying color; displays of portraits. These are some of the compelling images being broadcast from Iran as supporters of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi protest a very flawed election. Brave Iranians, peaceful so far, no doubt have a fan watching from afar in Boston.
Much has been made about the role of technology - particularly Twitter and other social networking sites - in organizing these protests. But old school tools and tactics are at play too. The upheaval brings to mind a fascinating article I read last fall about the writings of Gene Sharp, who is unknown to Americans, but despised by despots worldwide (Wall Street Journal: "American Revolutionary - Quiet Boston Scholar Inspires Rebels Around the World").
Sharp's handbook - "From Dictatorship to Democracy" - has been translated into over 25 languages. Hugo Chavez has denounced Sharp, Vietnamese activists have been arrested for possessing his writings, and suspicious fires have destroyed bookstores in Russia selling his work. Earlier this year, Iranian state television warned against Sharp - an 80-year old lifelong scholar of peaceful protest who works alongside his dog Caesar. One practitioner of Sharp's methods notes that "You cannot import social change. But the knowledge [of how to foment it] can be transferred."
The methods Sharp recommends are collected from the lessons of the American civil rights movement, Gandhi, and elsewhere in history. He offers nearly 200 methods of nonviolent protest - everything from wearing symbols, petitions and sit-ins, to less conventional mock funerals, skywriting and protest disrobings. When the disrobings start in the streets of Tehran, then the Mullahs will know it's over!
If history is any guide, there will come a tipping point for the theocracy in Tehran. Whether now is that time remains to be seen. But one thing is sure, Tehran and dictatorial regimes around the world will continue to fear Sharp's tactics.