Mark LeVine: Mirage and Reality in the Arab Spring

Roundup: Historians' Take

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).

Reading the chronicle of the violence and death that have blanketed the western Libyan port city of Misurata during the last week, I couldn't help thinking of a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 classic, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

"The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it... adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

King understood the continued urgency of the struggle for equality. Similar to the situation today across the Arab world, promised reforms had yet to produce significant social change in 1967  indeed, they were being undermined by the country's rapid descent into the darkness of the Vietnam War....

The region's youth-led protests have been inspired by the writings of King. But they have also been influenced by Lenin, whose seminal 1901 tract What is to be Done? forcefully argued that revolutions are won and lost in good measure on the depth and coherence of the strategies and tactics they develop, which were crucial to winning the support of a critical mass of the population to overthrow the system....

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