self-limiting popular politics

In this remarkable video from Italian TV, Iranian motorcycle police attack a group of peaceful protesters. The protesters respond with stones and manage to turn at least one motorcycle into a flaming wreck. You can then see them escort the lightly wounded police officer to safety and give him water. The informal rule that seems to have developed is: Hurt the machines, love the human beings.

This is a great example of what I wrote recently in connection to the Palestinian cause. Social movements must limit themselves or they are likely to spin out of control and destroy their own purposes and their own people. Perfect nonviolence is one example of self-limitation, but it is not the only one. Destroying motorcycles is violent (and could certainly harm the riders), but it can be done in a limited way. As Bhiku Parekh writes in his book Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction (p. 60), “Gandhi’s satyagraha has much to be said for it, but it cannot be a catholicon. Although Gandhi insisted otherwise, violence need not be accompanied by hatred to ill-will or be uncontrolled. Like non-violence it too can be restrained, measured, born out of love for both the victims and perpetrators of injustice, and used to arrest human degradation.” There couldn’t be a better illustration than this video.