The documentary How to Start a Revolution by Ruaridh Arrow was screened at the Zionist Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University, among other places presumably. It comes at a time when Foreign Policy magazine has decided that Gene Sharp “has inspired Arab spring protesters.” It all started with a front page story in the New York Times, which decided—without any evidence whatsoever—that Gene Sharp has inspired a non-violent revolution throughout the Arab world.
Of course, the Arab uprisings have not been non-violent at all: the Egyptian people revolted violently in Suez and other places, and government buildings and police stations have been attacked throughout the country, as were offices of Hosni Mubarak’s party. The Libyan uprising degenerated, with NATO intervention, into multiple wars inside Libya. In Tunisia, the rebels also attacked government buildings. In Syria, the situation is now regularly labeled a “civil war.” So one can easily dismiss the theory of Gene Sharp’s so-called inspiration by underlining the non-non-violent nature of the “Arab spring” — it’s more like an Arab autumn these days. But what does the documentary How to Start A Revolution say?
It is not easy to finish the movie: there is no story, really. It is also a bit disturbing. It focuses on Gene Sharp in his old age, in his house in Massachusetts. In the basement of the house works the executive director of his Albert Einstein Institution. The movie focuses on both. But the director struggles to make his case, and the movie has the feel of a promotional movie of a cult.
Sharp disturbingly has no problem in promoting himself and praising, nay exaggerating, his influence. He starts the movie by talking about the oft-used evidence of the spread of his ideas: that his books have been translated into more than 30 languages. They keep talking about the translation of one of his books (prominently featured in the film) into Arabic. But this is dishonest. Sharp knows that his books were not translated through the initiative of Arab fans. They were translated by his own Einstein Institution and through external funding provided to his organization. Continue reading