Additional Publication Information
I started studying and promoting nonviolent action in the late 1970s. My special interest was designing society so that nonviolent methods could make militaries unnecessary. One of the intriguing features of nonviolent action is that when peaceful protesters are brutally attacked, this can lead to greater support for the protesters. The pioneering nonviolence researcher Gene Sharp called this “political jiu-jitsu.”1 In the sport of jiu-jitsu, the opponent’s force and momentum can be turned against them. Likewise, protesters, by remaining nonviolent, can turn the attacker’s overwhelming force against the attacker, generating greater support.
In 1991, protesters in Dili, East Timor were massacred by Indonesian troops. This turned out to be a political disaster for the Indonesian government, greatly increasing international support for the East Timorese independence struggle. The massacre backfired on the Indonesian government. The Backfire Manual explains why. Imagine you're planning an action and think you might come under attack. Maybe it's a rally and there's a risk of police brutality. Maybe you're exposing government corruption and there could be reprisals against your group. To be prepared, you need to understand the tactics likely to be used by your opponent, for example covering up the action and trying to discredit you and your group. The Backfire Manual provides guidance for this sort of planning. It outlines the backfire model and gives examples and exercises for using it. This is a practical handbook for being more effective whenever you face a powerful, dangerous opponent.