….by way of Albert Camus
When deaths come in large numbers the victims tend to lose their unique identity and with it we often lose our ability to fully empathise until lengthy contemplation helps us understand the tragedy. Gaza and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany are hideous examples and events weirdly linked.
It takes, therefore, individual tragedies often to polarise and concentrate our minds and formulate opinions and direct policy and ideas
On the 15th March 1990 British based Iranian journalist Farzad Bazoft was executed in Baghdad for no other reason than he was doing his job of investigation and reporting. This event memorably had a terrible impact on me and to my mind awoke the awareness world wide of the evil embedded in ideologically driven Baathist minds in Iraq.
The recent mindless execution of James Foley at a place and time so far unknown should be an event which will focus our minds into the future and may even bring us closer to the freedom and democracy in the Middle East which seemed at hand when The Arab Spring took hold following the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in 2010.
Unlike the time when Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan were executed in Iraq following the 2003 Iraq invasion there would appear to be a greater, more widely held resolve across the globe to achieve what Bouazizi had inadvertently yet poignantly set in train. We must at least have hope.
Foley was not simply killed for he was firstly shorn of his dignity, humiliated and subjected, by his executioner, to a tirade of idiotic ideology. The man clearly divested of any kind of human rationality is in the clutches of a new manifestation of Nazism.
Foley appeared to endure this cruelest of deaths with dignity and stoicism and as a personal tribute to him and his family and to all those who have been and will continue to be murdered by the neo- Nazi Islamic State, so long as they are allowed to do their evil business.
The following tribute I draw from the work of a man, the like of which we urgently need on the world stage – Albert Camus.
Camus reminded us that no revolution is worth dying for if it does not include a demand for the immediate cessation of capital punishment. Camus who lived through the Occupation of France in World War 2 wrote the following in The Rebel. First published in 1951 the world had just barely survived Hitler and the Soviet bloc was in the clutches of Stalin. He was writing at a time when the unspecified third person was always male although he did evidently occasionally alter this.
“Collectively passions, must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least relatively. At the same time that he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather a period of reportage than the period of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in time of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them or by their hand………”
He continues –
“Meanwhile, the triumphant revolution, in the aberration of its nihilism, menaces, those who, in defiance of it, claim to maintain the existence of unity in totality. One of the implications of history today, and still more of tomorrow, is the struggle between the artists and the new conquerors, between the witnesses to the creative revolution and the founders of the nihilist revolution. As for the outcome of the struggle, it is only possible to make inspired guesses. At least we know that it must, hereafter, be carried on to the bitter end. Modern conquerors can kill, but do not seem to be able to create. Artists know how to create but cannot really kill. Murderers are only very exceptionally found among artists. In the long run, therefore, art in our revolutionary societies must die. But then the revolution will have lived its allotted span. Each time that revolution kills in a man the artists that he might have been, it attenuates itself a little more. If finally, the conquerors succeed in moulding the world according to their laws, it will not prove that quality is king but that this world is hell. In this hell the place of art will coincide with that of vanquished rebellion, a blind and empty hope in in a pit of despair. Ernst Dwinger in his Siberian Diary mentions a German Lieutenant (post WW2 in Russia) – for years a prisoner in a camp where cold and hunger were almost unbearable – who constructed himself a piano with wooden keys. In the most abject misery, perpetually surrounded by a ragged mob, he composed a strange music which was audible to him alone. And for us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and torturing images of a vanquished beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.
But hell can endure for only a limited period, and life will begin again one day. History may perhaps have an end; but our task is not to terminate it but to create it, in the image of what we henceforth know to be true. Art, at least, teaches us that man cannot be explained by history alone and that he also finds a reason for existence in the order of nature. For him, the great god Pan is not dead. His most instinctive act of rebellion, while it affirms the value and the dignity common to all men, obstinately claims, so as to satisfy its hunger for unity, an integral part of the reality whose name is beauty. One can reject all history and yet accept the world of the sea and the stars. The rebels who wish to ignore nature and beauty are condemned to banish from history everything with which they want to construct the dignity of existence and of labour. Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and Tolstoy knew how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart. Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolution. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty. The procedure of beauty, which is to resist the real while conferring unity upon it, is also the procedure of rebellion. Is it possible eternally to reject injustice without ceasing to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes. This ethic, at once unsubmissive and loyal, is in any event the only one that lights the way to a truly realistic revolution. In upholding beauty, we prepare the way for the day of regeneration when civilization will give first place—far ahead of the formal principles and degraded values of history—to this living virtue on which is founded the common dignity of man and the world he lives in, and which we now have to define in the face of a world which insults us”.
This extract comes from Albert Camus, The Rebel (L’ Homme Révolté). Translation by Anthony Bower. Penguin Classics; pp 218-219.
My postscript: “The death of freedom, the triumph of violence, and the enslavement of the mind” will occur if we do not whole-heartedly embrace hard won traditions of freedom, democracy and the enlightenment.