The Principal Challenge We Face

03/18/2011 10:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Recently, I traveled to the UK and Glasgow, Scotland, in connection with a tour promoting my recent book, Behind the Dream -- The Making of The Speech That Transformed A Nation. My lecture at Oxford University, "Nonviolent Conflict Resolution -- Dr. King's Challenge To The 21st Century," included snippets of earlier remarks at The British Library. This became the subsequent theme of my speeches at Book Fair signings in Bristol, and Glasgow, Scotland.

To my pleasant surprise, it were as if I was "preaching to the choir." So, so many people saw the universal transnational appeal and relevance of the legacy of Dr. King's commitment to non-violence to the various protests movements taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.

Thus, at the risk of sounding platitudinous, it has now become clearer to me than ever before that the challenge, confronting the world and the United States, is to find innovative forms of verbal and written communication to enable us to resolve personal, national and international disputes nonviolently.

Violence is a manifestation of power, domination and control by persons or nations who chose it to resolve disputes. Among other things, it is predicated on fear. The continued pursuit of violence to resolve conflict in the 21st century, as an optional choice, of personal or nation state behavior, is a form of weakness, not strength.

The propensity for violence lies like molten lava beneath the surface of societies just waiting to erupt.

When will it stop? How can we stop it?

This challenge, domestically and internationally, is inextricably linked to a growing belief system of political and proprietary entitlement. Peoples throughout the world are demanding participation and representation in their governments' exercise of political power over them. Concomitantly, they are demanding a greater share and participation in the economic opportunities comprising the proprietary wealth in their respective countries.

We saw this dramatically in Egypt and Tunisia. We are continuing to witness this political and social phenomenon in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Libya.

Either this apparent increasing quest for participation and representation in political governance and proprietary wealth will be achieved peacefully and nonviolently; or will be sought after violently.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, March 9, 2011, Erica Chenoweth, an assistant professor at Wesleyan University, titled "Give Peaceful Resistance a Chance," shared the results of the historical likelihood or probability for effecting political change, nonviolently by peaceful organized protest, versus the pursuit of armed violence to achieve the same objectives.

In a study conducted with Ms Maria J, Stephan, a strategic planner at the State Department, Professor Chenoweth "compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 200." Their study found that "over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25% of the violent insurgencies."

These results are instructive, and sobering.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a seminal article on "Nonviolence and Racial Justice" in the Christian Century, a Protestant Journal, in February of 1957 and delivered at speech in June of the same year at the University of California at Berkeley, he did not have the benefit of Professor Chenoweth and Ms Stephan's research results. He did have, however, his knowledge of Mahatma Gandhi and his own abiding faith in his Christian religion's scriptures and concept of "brotherly love."

This formed the foundation of his 20th century leadership based on an unshakable commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience as the most effective and successful form of protest for social, political and economic change.

These "earthquakes" of political turmoil occurring in the Middle East and Africa present the United States with unprecedented challenges and opportunities for developing a new foreign policy paradigm or "playbook," especially in the Middle East.

We can either, openly or clandestinely, align ourselves with regimes of the status quo, or publicly with those movements and leaders demanding greater participation in the political governance and ownership of the proprietary wealth in their respective countries.

The suggested new foreign policy paradigm is unavoidably and inextricably linked to our addicted dependence on oil, our historic relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and our current policy toward Iran. Our ability to pursue and develop a new foreign policy, however, is also unavoidably limited by our ability to fund any such policy. In short, a foreign policy limited by the reality of the resource constraints associated with our national debt and annual deficits.

Are we really going to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, funds for education, development of alternative energy, cancer and stem cell research, space exploration, repair and rebuilding our domestic infrastructures, in order to provide appropriations to sustain the new political leadership of changed regimes in the Middle East?

Are we going to continue or increase our annual appropriations in support of Israel, unconditionally, without reference to a more timely negotiated agreement with the Palestinians based on geographically meaningful land boundaries for an independent Palestinian State; and, at the same time tell the Palestinians, to cut the bulls--t, stop equivocating: publicly acknowledge Israel as a "Jewish State"?

And, when are we going to stop being the principal enabler of the near failed state of Pakistan, which too often appears to be, in turn, the principal enabler staging base for groups seeking to attack and destroy the United States?

And, here in our own country, when are we going start sending an annual bill to Mexico for reimbursement to us, in dollars or in oil, for the domestic costs of educating and medically providing for its illegal immigrants, whose taxes paid, while working here, do not offset such costs; resulting in a continued net drain of our tax dollars?

And, now we have taken the lead in securing a United Nations' resolution imposing a no-fly zone in Libya. A place of U.S. vital national interest, oil; apparently more important than our "national interests" in stopping the violence in the Ivory Coast or in The Republic of the Congo. Will the potential costs of "protecting our national interests" in Libya justify spending the finite and diminished resources needed to reduce the continued millions of unemployed here at home?

Maybe, the new Republican controlled Congress should reinstate the draft and selective service registration for every young man and woman who turns 18, requiring a mandatory two year service in the military. This might provide members of Congress with voter bases in their respective districts more connected to the consequences of their votes in Congress.

Is there a new method of financial accounting being used by the administration different and more effective than that used by most American households? Where is the money and man and woman power going to come from to sustain our additional foreign policy commitments? Eliminating funding for NPR or for a federal recovery program for foreclosed homeowners or reducing funds for alternative energy and renewable fuels won't do it.

Yes, the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear radiation in Japan are legitimate causes for concern, but... as I said earlier: Nonviolent conflict resolution, as the way to improve the quality of life in our country, still remains the principal challenge confronting us in this 21st century.