Students delve into the philosophy of nonviolence in Idea Factory session

High-school, undergraduate, and graduate students explored the philosophy, meaning, and merits of nonviolence in an Idea Factory session held on Saturday, September 15, 2018, at Birzeit University. 

The session, entitled “The Meaning and Merits of Nonviolence,” was led by Ziad Izzat, a professor of physics at Birzeit University, who prefaced the session with general remarks on the usual comments people make when discussing nonviolence. 

Izzat noted that people usually claim nonviolence is at odds with human nature. “Most people say that violence is an innate human behavior; others argue that nonviolence is a Western concept that naturalizes capitulation; and others still claim that nonviolence is an ineffective measure, especially when used to counter an occupation,” he said. 

Nonviolence, contradicted Izzat, is a lifestyle choice that emphasizes justice and giving voice to the voiceless. He opined that conflict, for instance, is wholly accepted by the nonviolence doctrine, as it is regarded as a way to confront injustice and unfairness. 

Izzat pointed to differences in environment and nurture as evidence to their impact on how humans choose to deal with and address violence, citing such differences as proof that violence is not intrinsic to humans.   

He also commented that aggression is a natural part of human psychology, clarifying that nonviolence “attempts to address aggression in ways other than violence, such that it creates healthy outlets for aggression.” 

Healthy outlets notwithstanding, Izzat argued that nonviolence is not at odds with rebellion against injustice or struggles for freedom. In fact, he stressed, nonviolence encourages such actions, as they level the playing field for future negotiations.

Izzat also refuted the claims that nonviolence and violence are equal if they achieve the same results. “Even if your cause is just and righteous, violence can never be used as means to an end. It is true that violence can be used to counter the tyranny of the others, but it can’t be used to counter tyranny of the self,” he contended.  

At the end of his introduction, Izzat and the participating students debated the merits of nonviolence and explored how such a doctrine could be integrated into the dominant culture of the Arab world.