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Social movement controversy over violence

15 June 2007 - Globalisation activists should renounce violence and distance themselves from the Internationale Socialisten (IS), writes Koen Vink in the magazine of Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth). But we do reject violence, says René Danen of the Dutch Social Forum (NSF), who calls the article ‘a conspiracy theory built on lies’.

Vink works for Milieudefensie, but wrote the article in a personal capacity. He focuses mainly on the IS, claiming that this organisation is sympathetic to violence and to conservative Islamists. “I have got a bad feeling about my club and that organisation sitting at the same table”.

The IS form an active organisation. Activities in Amsterdam it has been involved in include a demonstration at the Mercatorplein after a policeman had killed a neighbourhood resident; a demonstration against Israel’s actions against Lebanon and a March against Oppression held in April in de Bijlmer.

Both the IS and Milieudefensie are affiliated to the NSF. Vink believes that the NSF should follow the example of the WSF and include a rejection of violence in its charter. “Groups and individual persons who do not reject violence, such as the IS, can then be excluded from the organisation of alterglobalist protests”.

In a response, Danen of the NSF says that Vink does not know what he is talking about. “The NSF does not propagate violence, nor has violence ever been used during the NSF’s actions. We don't want anything to do with that”.

Incidentally, the NSF’s charter already states that organisations that want to participate must subscribe to the charter of the WSF. “In that case I made a mistake”, responds Vink, who adds that this does not affect his criticism of the IS.

His criticism focuses among other things on the IS’ involvement in a memorial meeting after the death of Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin. An IS spokesperson would have said on that occasion that resistance against the Israeli occupation is legitimate and deserves to be supported.

“In that context, saying such a thing amounts to legitimising suicide attacks on innocent citizens, which are even more reprehensible than Israeli state violence”, Vink finds.

Pepijn Brandon of the IS finds this point of view bizarre. “Yassin was killed illegally. He was bombed from the air, in an attack that killed innocent citizens as well. That is what we protested against. Anyone should be against that”.

Brandon says that he is not against violence per se. “People who face repression have a right to resist. There may be circumstances under which you have no choice but to resort to violence. Think of the resistance against the South African Apartheid regime. Or come to think of it, think of the Netherlands during the Second World War”.

At present, circumstances are different. “At the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, we engaged in peaceful mass protest by blocking a road. The police then used excessive violence to remove us. But under these circumstances, this appeared to me to be an effective and appropriate way to protest”.

Vink says that he too is not against violence per se, but the question is where you draw the line. “The IS say that the Netherlands is not a real democracy, they call Bush a terrorist and they call minister Bot a mass murderer. In fact, they do not clearly distinguish between resistance against Israel and resistance against the Netherlands”.

He further claims that the IS are part of a global tendency of left-wing organisations to seek collaboration with Islamists. In the Netherlands, he believes them to have fuelled social polarisation after the Theo van Gogh murder through the Together Against Racism initiative.

Vink acknowledges that this is one of the few social movement organisations in which ethnic minorities and people of Dutch origin collaborate. “That is exactly what is confusing about it. But I found that they were engaged in a witch hunt against Ayaan Hirsi Ali [a critic of Islam who was threatened by the murderer of Van Gogh - Ed.]. There was no recognition whatsoever of the fact that she has also put things on the agenda”.

Both Danen and Brandon wonder what Milieudefensie intended by publishing the article. “It does not seem to help collaboration within the movement. I think that the majority of Milieudefensie staff do not support it either”, Brandon said.

The editors of Milieudefensie Magazine are independent.

Photo: IS signs carried in a demonstration against Israel’s activities in Lebanon, 22 July 2006. See also a response by Koen Vink to the article above.


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What do the charters say?

The charters of the NSF and WSF indicate that these organisations are against state violence as a means of social control and that they want to increase the capacity for non-violent resistance. They do not state that the organisations are against violence. “But the PvdA is not against violence as a matter of principle either”, René Danen responds.

NSF Charter (fragment):
The NSF is organised through open meetings. Any organisation that subscribes to the charter of the World Social Forum, can participate.

Charter of the WSF (fragments):
10. The World Social Forum is opposed to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development and history and to the use of violence as a means of social control by the State. It upholds respect for Human Rights, the practices of real democracy, participatory democracy, peaceful relations, in equality and solidarity, among people, ethnicities, genders and peoples, and condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another.

13. As a context for interrelations, the World Social Forum seeks to strengthen and create new national and international links among organizations and movements of society, that - in both public and private life - will increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance to the process of dehumanization the world is undergoing and to the violence used by the State, and reinforce the humanizing measures being taken by the action of these movements and organizations.


I would like to clarify some issues discussed in the article ‘Social movement controversy over violence’ (15 June).

1. The reader could get the impression that I am no more ‘against violence per se’ than the Internationale Socialisten (as represented by Pepijn Brandon). However, in my conversation with the author of the article (Dirk Kloosterboer) I have made it perfectly clear that, while I am not an absolute pacifist, I loathe the forms of violent resistance that the IS, as evidenced by their attitude towards Hamas and Hezbollah, finds acceptable. That is exactly what my opinion article in Milieudefensie Magazine is about: if the Dutch Social Forum (NSF), as coordinator René Danen says in the article, does not want to be associated with violence, it should stay clear of clubs that visit a memorial meeting for Terror Sheikh Yassin and a conference of the ‘Lebanese resistance’ at the invitation of Hezbollah.

2. Further, it is a matter for discussion how clear the NSF’s charter is about non-violent resistance. Strictly speaking, organisations at the NSF website only subscribe to the NSF’s charter (which makes no explicit mention of non-violent resistance) and not the WSF’s charter (which states that it is about non-violent resistance). And under the heading ‘About the Social Forum’, it says at the website: “All organisations that subscribe to the NSF’s charter can participate”. Very well, Dirk Kloosterboer correctly notes that one should perhaps read it as saying that whoever subscribes to the NSF charter, also subscribes to the WSF charter. Even if I wrongly did not do so, it is interesting to note that at the end of my opinion article, I call on the NSF to take the WSF charter seriously and use the article on non-violent resistance to exclude clubs such as the IS.
I also draw attention to article 9 of the WSF charter, which says that political parties are not part of the forum. Because the IS is a (crypto) party, this article can also be used to put them on notice.

Koen Vink

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