30 October 2014

Cards get reflected in eyes

This is the fourth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness. 

Emotion can take various forms.  One can feel strongly about something.  One can feel righteous anger. One can feel intense sorrow.   If something gives you an e-attack, or an emotion-attack, it can spur you to do something out of the ordinary.  Like rebelling. 

Sometime in the year 1988, students of the University of Peradeniya demonstrated in Kandy.  They were outraged by the killing of a 15 year old student of Nugawela Central.  The boy had been himself taking part in a demonstration that had got unruly or else was deemed to have ‘exceeded limits,’ prompting the police to open fire.  So they were ‘picketing’ in Kandy which actually meant they were holding up posters condemning the police and the then government.

One set of students were standing in front of a row of clothes shops.  The other set was on the other side of the street, in front of a row of restaurants and retail shops.  At one point, the police baton charged the demonstrators.  Those in front of the clothes shops had nowhere to go.  The other set fled into the shops.  A group of them went upstairs and watched.  Among them was a young man who was not particularly interested in politics.  He generally went along with his friends.  He saw it all.  He didn’t say anything until it was almost over.  Then he said, softly, ‘this is wrong’. 

That was it.  He was sad. He was angry.  But in a moment, both sorrow and anger were gone.  The young man, who until then had been little more than a tag-along, became an active member of the student movement. 

The lesson here is not about what turns someone into a rebel.   It is about the usefulness (for the enemy) of provoking anger and how prudent it is not to show it and better still to attack emotion with logic until emotion is subdued by reason.    

The rebel has to understand that sometimes it is in the interest of those in power to provoke anger.  We are not saying that this is what happened in Nugawela of course.  But when emotions are ruffled up, people get a bit out of control.  They reveal themselves.  They become targets.  It is easier to identify the loudest (both in voice and in action) and ‘deal with them’ than to wipe out all objectors -- when the shepherd is ‘taken out,’ the sheep become ‘easy pickings’. 

So if the enemy wants to rouse you, he can get you to a) reveal yourself, and b) understand how you are likely to react in certain conditions.  The lesson is that the rebel cannot afford to lose his or her cool.  It’s like a game of cards.  You know the cards you hold, but you can only make an educated guess about what the enemy holds.  You don’t get to see the enemy’s cards, but as the Kenny Rogers’ song goes, if you know how to read faces you’ll know what the cards the enemy has just by the way they hold their eyes. 

What kind of expression are you wearing right now, do you know?  Are we conscious ever if our faces betray our hearts and minds?  It’s all about feeding the enemy information that may come useful someday. 

It might sound very clinical, calculating and cold, things which one doesn’t associate with the word ‘rebel’ which is made of warmth, righteousness, fervor, passion and determination that draws up energies on never imagined one possessed.  Still, if one is serious about victory, then heat must be understood as inevitable and as useful for ‘show’. Deep down there has to be clarity, however. 

Words, thoughts, plans and reason are things that melt when there’s too much heat.  Worst, when there’s too much heat, there can be fire.  Where there is fire, there is smoke.  Smoke can be seen miles away.  Why give the enemy an edge?  Why betray your position?  The boy who saw the police baton-charge his fellow students was shaken, but only for a moment.  He diverted the heat elsewhere.  There was no smoke for anyone to see.  That he (and his friends) lost is another matter – he didn’t give the enemy the outside chance which often is all that it takes to put down rebellion.