Effective, Nonviolent Expression of Solidarity

Originally Published at The Pakistani Spectator By Dan Tow:

As I have viewed recent events in Pakistan from the safety of my home in the US, I have been at a loss for what to say. My past articles have been kindly received by my generous Pakistani friends, but would I simply be wasting your time, to produce yet another article on general political theory and history, when you are in the midst of such turbulent times? I could try to comment on your own current events, which would at least be more immediately relevant, but I feel as unqualified as ever to say anything really specific about your local situation, since I lack your own detailed understanding of that situation you find yourselves in. Thus, although I want to at least share my concern and best wishes, I was stuck for a topic, and even undecided whether to write at all before things had sorted themselves out somewhat. Reading Yahoo news, I just got unstuck, and I hope you find this relevant:

I saw an article about mass arrests of lawyers in Pakistan by Robin McDowell for the Associated Press, on Yahoo, at Thousand arrested at Pakistan protests. According to the article, it appears that some lawyers were rounded up simply on the basis of their “uniform,” the black suit and tie that is apparently almost always worn by lawyers in Pakistan. I was instantly reminded of a moving story I had heard from World War II. The story, I have just learned, is actually false, but is nevertheless a beautiful story and is relevant to the current lawyers’ situation: The story goes that early in the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the Nazis ordered all Jews to wear a yellow Star of David at all times, so that they could be identified for deportation to concentration camps. In response, King Christian X (who was of course not Jewish) wore a yellow Star of David, himself, on his morning horseback ride through the city. Inspired by his courage, the Danish people almost instantly and universally followed his example, and sewed yellow stars onto their own clothes. Since nearly everyone was wearing the stars, and they were clearly not interested in betraying their Jewish neighbors, the Nazis, so the story goes, backed down, and mainly left the Jews of Denmark in peace. The facts, apparently, are these: After the occupation of Denmark, what remained of the Danish government apparently advised the Nazis (who already required Jews to wear the yellow Star of David pretty much everywhere else they controlled) against requiring Danish Jews to wear the star, and, surprisingly, the Nazis complied – the star was never required in Denmark, so there was never even occasion for the king to make such a wonderful gesture. The Danish citizens did apparently do a wonderful and courageous job of hiding their Jewish neighbors, and Denmark was the safest place for Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

So, how is the legendary (but non-factual) story of King Christian X’s response to the Nazis relevant to Pakistan, today? It occurred to me that it is possible a large majority of Pakistanis might like to demonstrate solidarity with the lawyers being arrested, and might like a non-violent way to demonstrate their support for orderly rule of law as implemented by an independent Judicial Branch of government. (You have a better idea than I whether this is true – comments?) If this is true, imagine the following story, which could come true!: In response to government arrests of lawyers identified by their black suits and ties, Pakistani citizens everywhere began wearing their own black suits and ties, if they had them, or at the least (for the majority who likely have no black suits or ties) they wore whatever black clothing they could find that most closely approximated that “lawyers’ uniform.” Within a few days, street scenes would show a sea of citizens in black, a dramatic, non-violent expression of the will of the people that would be impossible for the government or the world press to ignore. Lawyers and judges would know they had the support of the people (and they would be harder to identify by their way of dressing!), and the people, themselves, would silently, peacefully confirm to each other that their wishes are widely shared.

One aspect of the story of Denmark that would be so inspirational (if it were only true!) is that the first few people wearing Stars of David would have to show extraordinary courage – if their example was not widely followed, the Nazis (compared to which the Pakistani government is a government of angels!) likely would have been utterly ruthless in punishing those sympathizers of the Jews. Fortunately, for something like this story to happen in Pakistan involves vastly less risk: On any given day, lots of non-lawyers will wear black, anyway, so if the idea does not “catch on,” the few people wearing black to deliver a message will fail to deliver that message, but they will not stand out from the crowd or place themselves at risk. On the other hand, if the idea does catch on, even a government as bad as the Nazis couldn’t arrest 90% of the population!

Now, if you like this idea, here is where comments are needed: I really don’t know a thing about typical Pakistani dress, so I don’t know how common it is for a particular item of clothing (pants for example) to be black on any given day, nor how common it is for someone in Pakistan to own a black item of clothing of that type. Ideally, a useful item of clothing for this purpose would be something everyone owns in black, but does not usually wear, so everyone can take part, and the effect would be noticed. If almost all men wear black pants almost every day, no one will notice wearing of black pants, or, on the other hand, if almost no one owns black pants, they won’t work for that reason. With your knowledge of Pakistani clothing, you might, if you like this idea, suggest a combination of clothing that almost every owns, but that is not simply typical daily clothing, that would be effective, for the non-lawyer majority who presumably do not own black suits and ties. The more consistent the outfits are for this sort of silent, non-violent demonstration, the more noticeable the demonstration would be, and comments to this blog could work out a suggested combination of clothing. If a consensus appeared, word of mouth and the press could very rapidly spread the idea.

If black clothing is too common to stand out as a protest gesture, there is an alternative that takes a page from past protests around the world: Black armbands, bands of cloth worn around the upper arm (usually the right arm) are used as a token of mourning in much of the world, and have also been adopted as a token of protest for people who are “in mourning” for the decency of their own government. These were popular for anti-war protests in America during the Vietnam war, and the US Supreme court established that schools could not prevent students from wearing these as a demonstration of their feelings about the war. (It was already clear that adults could not be prevented from wearing black armbands, based on freedom of speech, but some restrictions to speech in a school setting have historically been allowed.) Black armbands (symbolically, a little piece of the lawyers’ uniform) would have the advantage of being more obvious, if black clothing is too common to be noticed, although they would also have the disadvantage of being somewhat risky, since the wearer could not just pretend it was simply normal clothing, if not very many people followed the protest.

Pardon me, if the idea of mimicking lawyers’ suits or wearing armbands in protest of recent actions is already being widely considered – it would not surprise me if hundreds of people are already working on this, and my voice is just one of many!

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