SUN 20 - 9 - 2020
Date: Jun 24, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
Violence flares in Beirut
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine
After a period of disruption due to social distancing, central Beirut is once again witnessing the return of protests against the dire economic situation. Peaceful demonstrations have expressed ambitions related to fighting corruption, ending nepotism and institutionalizing good governance.

However, violence has taken over, with protesters flooding Beirut in some anti-government demonstrations for consecutive nights, blocking roads, throwing stones, smashing storefronts, burning tires and even setting private property on fire to express their anger over Lebanon’s deepening economic woes and the collapse of the national currency.

In recent weeks, the world too has witnessed a wave of violent protests, and extremism has become a growing challenge for those trying to maintain social order. The protest movement sparked by George Floyd’s killing has spread across Europe, reaching France, the UK, Germany and Australia.

In Paris, in a demonstration that turned violent after three hours, protesters chanted “No justice, no peace,” while more than 10,000 people marched peacefully in Zurich. This has come as the world is suffering from a deadly pandemic that has brought about an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression. These upheavals in many stable or unstable countries are difficult for experts to envision.

While most protests have been peaceful, some have turned violent. Regardless of whether in Minneapolis in 2020 or in some other social conflict, upheaval, protest, rebellion or revolution in world history or today, the suppression of a group or the execution of injustice against them produces violent reactions. These acts of violent are often a response to socioeconomic marginalization and unjust frameworks.

The latest movements are patterns that have been seen in different demonstrations around the globe. For instance, in 2019, Hong Kong saw seven months of violent anti-government demonstrations that, for the most part, started as peaceful and wound up progressively violent.

While observing this mass movement pick up pace around the world, an important question arises: What makes people come out into the streets in the first place? Why do some protests turn violent? And how are extremist groups exploiting the recent protests?

Failing to transition, many intervening governments that show up later than expected offer nearly nothing and exit quickly. In a failing global society, feeble, corrupt states set the stage for internal wars and violent extremism with structural and external factors showing an absence of ability to oversee change and manage transition. Subsequently, it is a matter of “what does a country need to do to alleviate hazards in these situations, and what is the cost of doing so?”

There comes a point when individuals who are enduring agony, disappointment and trauma, and being denied their rights and stripped of their humanity realize that they have no other plan of action, they are driven to take matters into their own hands.

It is the experience of relative deprivation – emphasizing someone’s experience of being deprived of something to which they believe themselves to be entitled – that can produce different, contemporary types of violence and violent extremism, including endeavors to challenge the unequal status quo and safeguard a privileged position.

It allows an impartial comparison between the situation of the individual or group and the rest of society. In light of recent research and growing social inequalities, relative deprivation, strongly tied to economic, political or social deprivation, is a key factor driving violence and violent extremism across societies and settings in the 21st century.

At the point when protests turn out to be grisly, threatening to obliterate everything that justifies it, an unstable situation is produced where violent extremism may manifest.

Martin Luther King understood that social and economic deprivation existing in marginalized communities is what leads to increasing riots, and states that “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

Therefore, for what reasons do protests turn violent? It is not only because individuals are distressed. Protracted armed and social conflicts prompting instability, challenging economic conditions, income imparity, ethnic, religious and sectarian segregation, in addition to low levels of satisfaction and absence of effective governance are all preconditions that produce state instabilities which trigger protests that might lead to violent extremism.

An article titled “Many claim extremists are sparking protest violence. But which extremists?” was published in The New York Times on May 31 2020 amid the haste to answer a question regarding the boundless violence and vandalism breaking out in American urban areas.

Research suggests that violence during protests comes from a profound feeling of vulnerability and hopelessness that things will never show signs of change. Along these lines, individuals are bound to adopt violent methods of protest. In such circumstances, individuals think they don't have anything “to lose.” However, the sentiments of hatred and defenselessness do not emerge from a vacuum; they originate from real-world interactions among individuals and groups.

Beirut is definitely the center of Lebanon’s transition while the country is on the precipice of chaos, swinging between order and disorder. It is our future at stake. It is time to address the root causes and not symptoms.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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