I’ve been lucky enough in my relatively short life to see a good portion of the globe. From Seattle to Barcelona, Bangkok to Kathmandu, there has been one face to whom I’ve grown quite accustom – Che’Guevarra’s. In fact, I’m almost convinced that next to Ralph Lauren, he may be one of the greatest T-shirt salesmen of my time.
Though somewhat contradictorily, Che’ represents rebellion against inequality for a comfortable generation armed to the gills with debit cards and fashion sense. At ease with a caricature that’s been contextually removed from the horrors of the battlefield and made light like a diet soda, my generation is fond of rebels that don’t complicate our values… that don’t make us judge the worth of violence for utilitarian ends.
So what am I to make of Maoist Chairman Prachanda sitting only shoulders away? – A living, breathing revolutionary in the year 2007. Not revolutionary in the palatable Gandhi ‘peaceful resistance’ sense, but in the Mao Zedong ‘political power through the barrel of a gun’ sense. Sitting only several feet from me, he bears greater resemblance to a common businessman than someone who spent a decade in Nepal’s jungles leading the violent Communist rebellion against Nepal’s feudal system.
I must admit that the Communist bit sits a little tardy with me. A child of the Cold War, Communist ideology was something that threatened the foundation of civilization as I knew it. Communists were cold fascists that hated Christmas and pointed nuclear missiles at my backyard. But though by my calculation it’s a seriously fatal platform for Clinton/Obama 08, Communism is no longer the boogeyman I grew up with.
It’s the other part that’s unsettling me under the heat of this tent – violence. 13,000 people died in the 10-year insurgency, including scores of innocent women and children. The choices this man made behind those wire-rimmed glasses were accountable for many of these. Maoist rebels are said to have committed extortions, intimidations and murder of government officials. They are also said to have abducted numerous children to bolster their military.
I struggle to fathom what kind of circumstances inform the decisions made during war. What kind of suffering triggers violent reprisal? How is the worth of an innocent life measured against a party’s agenda? And how do civilian deaths ever become justified for a movement in the people’s name? I personally believe that there are extremely few instances when violence can achieve greater outcomes than peace. But perhaps someone would claim that’s merely a comfortable philosophy that my good fortune as a middle class American, isolated from the conflicts of the 21st Century, has allowed me to subscribe.
Speaking of America, Prachanda and the Maoist party remain on the US Government’s terrorist list. Recently departed US Envoy James Moriarty wouldn’t so much as refer to the Maoist Chairman as Prachanda (a battle name he took on during the revolution meaning ‘fierce one’). This would confer on Prachanda the respect of a warrior. Instead, Moriarty refers to him as Puspa Kamal Dahal – his less ferocious birth name which somewhat ironically means ‘lotus flower’.
Truth be told, I’d like to think of this man sitting near me as a flower… like a sanctimonious ideologue with a caricature suitable for a coffee mug. He is considered a great leader to many for the life he’s led and there’s no doubt he left more than a fingerprint on Nepali history. I would like to be able to remove him from the realities of violent conflict, and strip him from a history that both compels and confounds my judgment. But right now I’m simply unable.
Posted By Devin Greenleaf
Posted Jul 27th, 2007