5 Feb 2012

Gene Sharp: ‘suicidal’ for Syrians to use weapons

International Editor

Gene Sharp, whose writings have been credited with inspiring those behind the Arab Spring, tells Channel 4 News it is “suicidal” for Syrian protesters to fight the government’s army with weapons.

Gene Sharp’s most famous book From Dictatorship to Democracy contains 198 methods of non-violent resistance.

He advocates people power and peaceful protests as alternatives to the “weapons of tyranny” used by dictators.

Tattered copies of his book have been found on the streets of cities where people protested against their governments. In other countries, where the political scientist is portrayed as a dangerous CIA agent, his writings are banned.

For decades the octogenarian has shunned public attention but a recent film, How to Start a Revolution, has propelled him into the spotlight.

Speaking to Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum, Dr Sharp urged protesters in Syria to shun conventional weapons: “Maintain non-violence, do not organise soldiers to use violence against the remaining army. That is suicidal. That becomes a tool – that is what the government would want you to do.

“Use the mutinous soldiers to persuade the rest of the soldiers also to mutiny – take the army away then the regime will come tumbling down.”

Read Lindsey Hilsum's blog: Gene Sharp - a frail man with powerful ideas
Dr Gene Shap (Getty)

‘Ignore outside powers’

As for foreign intervention in domestic disputes Dr Sharp’s views are blunt: “I tend to ignore the outside powers in my analysis – what they do may be a good thing but it’s not going to do the job for you.”

He added: “It’s Gandhi’s message – ‘don’t depend on outsiders, they’re not going to come and help you and if they do they’re coming for their own objectives and interests not to help you be really free’.”

The writer also argues Gaddafi may have fallen without Nato intervention.

But Dr Sharp denies that he is trying to impose western values on other countries: “The idea that democracy is a Western import is really nonsense.

“People in these other countries, that we might think of as under-developed, they often use very democratic means of determining their policies and organising their societies.

“Western governments have not always been democratic. Some of the worst tyranny in human history has been in western countries so the idea that westerners are always democratic and importing it is utter nonsense.”

Read Lindsey Hilsum's review of Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup

‘Cast-off fear’

But Dr Sharp warns it is “quite possible” that the rapid overthrow of some governments during the Arab Spring is making people think toppling dictators is easier than it really is.

“That’s why I emphasise people learn to understand their society and current situation very well and they should realise that this may be different than what happens next door,” he said.

“Be self-confident if you are ready, if you are strong enough.

“If you can cast-off fear as the people of Egypt and Syria and other countries have done … people all over the world can do that – this has happened in the Arab world to an amazing degree with great difficulty and great sacrifice and (there are) still problems ahead that they recognise they can tackle.”

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