OCTOBER 4 — “Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
The news this week of a teenage protester in Hong Kong being shot in the chest with a “live” round has, well, made the rounds.
It was the first time during the nation-wide protests (which began in February but have since escalated in scale and intensity) in which a protester was injured by the use of “live” ammunition.
Condemnation of the police has, of course, been exploding forth with many protesters already declaring, “War!”
My initial reaction was that the Hong Kong police had gone too far. Tear gas and water cannons are borderline acceptable to control rioting but why shoot an innocent kid at point-blank range? How many days before innocent and peaceful protesters get killed? Is this the beginning of martial law in Hong Kong?
Then I saw the video of the shooting incident and, sigh, everything changed.
I don’t know what everyone else saw in the video, but I saw a group of masked protesters carrying rods and sticks and other kinds of weapons moving in a pack with the objective of stalking and hunting down policemen in order to attack and beat the crap out of them.
They eventually found a (more or less) lone policeman, whom they proceeded to assault. The cop ran, the protesters chased him, the cop couldn’t outrun his pursuers, and eventually fell to the ground.
The mob instantly gathered around the guy, kicking and beating him. Soon, other policemen came to help their colleague.
In the ensuing struggle with the protesters, one of the cops drew a pistol and pointed at the protesters. Then a slow-mo look at the video shows that the cop’s arm was hit by one of the protesters’ baton or stick and that was the moment the 18-year-old kid was shot.
In the light of the video, I found my sympathies for the protesters dropping away. I mean, like, what the hell are you doing moving like a wolf pack and targeting policemen with the clear intention of doing nothing but thrashing the living shit out of them?
Surely the protesters are aware that in their frenzy they can easily end up being cop-killers? Just ask our own authorities what they would do if the Bersih crowd started attacking policemen with hammers?
(In case anyone of you haven’t been watching these Hong Kong videos, yes, the use of hammers is becoming increasingly prevalent. Have you been struck by a hammer before? What do you think can happen if a hammer hits one’s head with full force?) [see note 1]
The importance of non-violence
The bottom line is that a very clear segment of the Hong Kong protesters have gone from “peaceful” to violent and lethal as heck.
At least within this context, my impression of the Hong Kong protests has moved from peaceful candle-lighting hymn-singing placard-carrying protests seeking freedom from the tyranny of Beijing, to murderous hammer-wielding Molotov-cocktail-throwing hit-squad jokers whose main intention is harming policemen.
Someone online told me that I’m a moron to think like this; can’t I see that those Hong Kong teenagers are merely protesting police brutality? I’m like, how wise.
Sure! Let’s “protest” brutality by brutally hammering away at a policeman’s face! Isn’t that like bombing for peace?
Whatever the case, I’m confident and hopeful that a majority of Hong Kong’s protesters will stay on the straight and narrow of ensuring that they do not descend into aggression.
I’m informed by reliable sources that many churches continue holding prayers and “vigils” for the protests.
Maybe I’m naïve, but something tells me that folks who’ve just spent Sunday afternoon praying and singing hymns of peace are NOT going to spend Monday morning throwing fire-bombs at the police.
The importance of non-violence cannot be over-estimated. The ability to resist a powerful authority without using aggression and without seeking to harm may not only work wonders from the perspective of the legitimacy of one’s cause; it also demonstrates that you value your political enemy as a person and in so doing creatively underscore the depths of inhumanity to which your enemy has sunk.
To embrace non-violence in protests is to embrace a vision of how people, even those perpetuating injustice, ought to be treated.
It’s essentially an appeal to those in authority to see their own evil refracted in the vulnerabilities put on display via the protests.
By showing a riot policeman that I care enough about him not to physically assault him (especially if I’m more than able to) I give him an insight into how he (and by extension the law) ought to treat others, too.
Non-violent protests are a rejection of the fury and contempt of others which is so often the cause of hurt and tragedy in personal and political life.
It doesn’t matter if your cause (e.g. anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc.) is noble; if I speak about a “bigot” in a way which shows my bigotry or if I and my posse kicked him while he was down, then I’m really no better than him, am I?
The hatred in my heart would be just the first step towards manifest violence.
I think here of Auntie Bersih who resisted the might of the Federal Reserve Unit with her sheer presence. Or of the brave Iranian women who’ve decided they don’t wish to wear the hijab anymore.
Or, since China is so much in the news these days, the famous “tank man” who stood in front of the row of tanks. Then of course there’s Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
These forms of non-violent protests bear with them a sense of dignity and courage way beyond anything those Hong Kong rioters armed with batons can bring.
They never cursed their opponents (quite the opposite in fact) and would never seek to break their bones and skulls; what they did was to strongly point out the injustice of the status quo whilst firmly reminding their supporters to hold on to peace.
Hong Kong needs a Martin Luther King right now. Let’s hope Malaysia won’t need one too?
Note 1: If your immediate reaction is the police are still at fault because they “started it first” by being violent to the protesters then, congratulations, you’ve missed the whole point.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.