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
“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
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
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.
Want to receive News from Amsterdam?
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’
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