I’ve been protesting the War in Iraq for a long time now, and someone who has seen me out there with my sign, asked what I thought about Libya.

I think I surprised him when I said if ever there is a time and place to intervene this is it.

I don’t have any particular expertise but in my humble opinion Qaddafi is a psychopath who will not hesitate to kill millions of his own people. And he needs to be stopped.

Despite the rhetoric of our generals and politicians, all the wars we have fought since World War II have been wars of choice, not necessity.

The 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia yet our bombs fell on Afghanistan. Iraq was the most secular of Arab countries yet we chose to occupy it. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq declared war on the United States. Yet our leaders chose to go to war.

Like many, I have been amazed and inspired by the extraordinary numbers of people who are demanding democracy in the Arab world.

For me it began with those who marched in the streets of Tehran, provoking the fury of Ahmadinejad and Ali Houseini-Khamenei. I followed the Iranian protests on Twitter and watched their amazing homemade videos on Youtube. Unfortunately, the regime didn’t hesitate to crush the protests, beating, killing, and imprisoning those who resisted.

People who have never experienced the power of a popular social movement don’t truly understand the influence of inspiration. Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Freedom Rides. The lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. The civil rights movement spread from town to town, from campus to campus because it was almost impossible not to admire the bravery of those who took action. And because segregation was such an egregious violation of human rights.

For the most part, the civil rights movement was successful because of the power of creative non-violence. Men, women, young and old willing to absorb the hatred and anger of those who would use dogs, tear gas, and clubs against them. The white power structure of the south, and some rabid racists were certainly willing to kill movement activists, but the civil rights struggle was soon being watched by an entire nation, and most decent Americans were horrified to see southern mobs screaming at black children who only wanted to go to school. Quickly the federal government was forced to intervene to end segregation.

Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a very different dynamic in the Arab world today. Leaders used to exercising unlimited power have no problem wiping out those who want change.

In Tunisia, a 26 year-old unemployed graduate named Mohammed Bouazizi was forced to break the law and sell fruits and vegetables without a permit. After the police seized his produce, in despair, he covered himself with gasoline and committed suicide. The 5,000 who took part in his funeral turned it into a demonstration against the widespread unemployment and pervasive corruption that marked Tunisia.

More and more people, united in the knowledge that Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had ravaged their country and stolen their wealth, cried out.

Like a dam breaking before the power of a swollen river, the streets of Tunisia were swamped by its people. And the dictator fled.

My esteemed colleague, Bill Shein, wrote in the Berkshire Eagle, “Recent events have provided overwhelming evidence that nonviolence works, even in the face of murderous dictators.”

Unfortunately, most dictators don’t easily depart. In Eqypt, there was a critical moment in Tahrir Square when the non-violent demonstrators were attacked by thugs on horses and camels. Demonstrators quickly jumped up and knocked most of the riders off and took them to makeshift prisons. Soon after, Mubarek supporters began to throw flaming gasoline bottles from rooftops. The demonstrators responded by sending the Molotov cocktails back the way they came. Mubarek and his bullies soon understood things had changed; people would fight and die for their freedom.

In Eqypt, millions marched to depose a dictator, and though Mubarek may be gone, the other generals remain and continue to imprison those who speak out. The struggle for democracy in Egypt has just begun.

Non-violence works when there’s conscience. When the sight of bloody repression stirs the many in the middle to call for change, and pressures the powerful to concede. But it doesn’t necessarily work if the people in power are so blindly convinced they deserve their power, they will stop at nothing to preserve it. Words would never have stopped Hitler. When night fell in Tiananmen Square, Chinese tanks crushed a non-violent demonstration; the press was banned and we’ll never know how many were slaughtered.

The people of Libya deserve a chance to be free. And I believe we should help them before Qaddafi’s tanks, his bullies, and his snipers prevail.

The Berkshire Record, April 7, 2011 © Mickey Friedman