Rebel Yell: Resistance and Renaissance in the Age of Terror

The whole world absent-mindedly turns its back on these crimes; the victims have reached the extremity of their disgrace: they are a bore. – Albert Camus, The Fastidious Assassins.

The "War on Terror" is a brutal and criminal enterprise launched by George W. Bush and fully supported by John McCain and Barack Obama, both of whom have pledged not only to continue its deadly operations but to expand them to new killing fields. Iran, Pakistan, Russia's "soft underbelly" in the Caucasus – these and other regions have been moved into the cross-hairs of the voracious war machine that drives the foreign policy of both parties. And of course, the countless "covert ops" carried out by the plethora of secret armies and agents of Washington's hydra-headed "security organs" will likewise continue unabated.
Three nations have already been destroyed (or driven into further ruin) by the Terror War: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. More than a million innocent people have been murdered, either by direct military action by American forces and Washington's various proxy armies and hired killers, or indirectly, in the savage internal conflicts spawned by the vast state terror of invasion and occupation. A million people slaughtered, millions more left dispossessed, orphaned, suffering, grieving, lost: these are monstrous crimes on a scale that make the depredations of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden look like child's play.

Yet almost the entire American political and media establishments – and most of the public as well – approve, even applaud this monstrous engine of depravity, though they may disagree on a few tactics or targets here and there in the overall operation. Despite the fact that the corridors of power in Washington are flooded with the viscera of disemboweled children – murdered in the name of every American – this campaign season is just "business as usual," the same old horse race, the same fevered attention to polls, veep picks, gossip and posturing, to the exclusion of all else. "Hey, get those guts off my Guccis; we're trying to shoot a commercial here!"

It is an extraordinary situation. Those who lived in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia might find it familiar: the broad acceptance of a system of barbarous criminality as a normal state of affairs, the ordinary – even laudable – circumstances of life in which one simply gets on with things. The victims – the boring victims – whose blood and anguish feed the system are always somewhere else: in a camp, a secret prison, some faraway land.

We live in despairing times. And the presidential campaign – which has turned many "dissidents" into fierce partisans of political forces that will, by their own proud admission, continue to feed the Terror War machine that has dishonored and degraded us all – only deepens the despair.

But despair is a condition, not a response. The only worthwhile response to our historical moment, it seems to me, is rebellion, in the profound sense in which Camus uses the term: a highly individual act which nonetheless expresses a universal value – our common humanity and the inviolability and integrity of every human being. Rebellion is the adamant – and forever flawed and conflicted – resistance to everything that threatens this integrity.

Camus writes:

What is a rebel? A man who says no; but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man who says yes as soon as he begins to think for himself. A slave who has taken orders all his life, suddenly decides he cannot obey some new command…He [says] "there are certain limits beyond which you shall not go….The slave asserts himself for the sake of everyone in the world when he comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something inside him that does not belong to him alone, but which he has in common with other men – even with the man who insults and oppresses him….

Revolt does not occur only amongst the oppressed but…can also break out at the mere spectacle of oppression in which someone else is the victim. In such cases there is a feeling identification with other individuals. And it must be made clear that it is not a question of psychological identification – a mere subterfuge by which the individual contrives to feel that it is he who has been oppressed. It can even happen that we cannot countenance other people being insulted in a manner that we ourselves have accepted without rebellion…Nor is it a question of a community of interests. Injustice done to men whom we consider enemies can, actually, be profoundly repugnant to us. Our reaction is only an identification of destinies and a choice of sides. Therefore the individual is not, in himself, an embodiment of the values he wishes to defend. It needs at least all humanity to comprise them. When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men…

Claiming the unity of the human condition, [rebellion] is a force of life and not of death. Its most profound logic is not the logic of destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movements, in order to be authentic, must never abandon any of the terms of the contradiction which sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it contains as well as to the no…The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness. …The consequence of rebellion is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest against death. …Every rebel, by the movement that sets him in opposition to the oppressor, therefore pleads for life, undertake to struggle against servitude, falsehood and terror.

…The most extreme freedom, the freedom to kill, is not compatible with the motives of rebellion…The object of its attack is exactly the unlimited power which authorizes a superior to violate the forbidden frontier…The rebel demands undoubtedly a certain degree of freedom for himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and freedom of others… Murder and rebellion are contradictory. If a single master should, in fact, be killed, the rebel in a certain way is no longer justified in using the term 'community of men' from which he derived his justification. If the world has no higher meaning, if man is only responsible to man, it suffices for a man to remove one single human being from the society of the living to automatically exclude himself from it.

[Yet] if rebellion exists, it is because falsehood, injustice and violence are part of the rebel's [own] condition. He cannot, therefore, absolutely claim not to kill or lie, without renouncing his rebellion [against absolutes] and accepting, once and for all, evil and murder [the inevitable product of slavish adherence to an absolute exalted beyond our common, particular humanity]. But nor can he agree to kill and lie, since the inverse reasoning that would justify murder and violence would also destroy the reasons for his insurrection. Thus the rebel can never find peace. He knows what is good and, despite himself, does evil. The value which supports him is never given to him once and for all – he must fight to uphold it, unceasingly…. In any case, if he is not always able not to kill, either directly or indirectly, he can put his conviction and passion to work at diminishing the chances of murder around him. His only virtue will lie in never yielding to the impulse to allow himself to be engulfed in the shadows which surround him, and in obstinately dragging the chains of evil, with which he is bound, towards the light of good.

….The longing for rest and peace must, itself, be thrust aside; it coincides with the acceptance of iniquity…On the contrary, let us sing the praises of our times when misery cries aloud and disturbs the sleep of the surfeited rich. Maistre has already spoken of the "terrible sermon which the [French] Revolution preached to kings." [Rebellion] preaches the same sermon today and in a still more urgent fashion, to the dishonoured elite of the times. This sermon must be heard. In every word and in every act, even though it be criminal, lies the promise of a value which we must seek out and bring to light. The future cannot be foreseen and it is possible that the renaissance is not impossible…. Resignation is, quite simply, rejected here: we must stake everything on the renaissance.

…Rebellion…is the refusal to be treated as an object and to be reduced to simple historical terms. It is the affirmation of a nature common to all [people], which eludes the world of power.