18 October 2014

Dear Rebel, it is easy to name the enemy isn't it?

This is the third in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion I am writing for the FREE section of 'The Nation'.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness. 

Ok, so you’ve picked your fight.  You’ve decided to object.  So you must have some idea of what you are objecting to.  Consequently you probably have a good sense of the people (or forces, if you want to use a term that has greater political currency)who put in place or defend whatever it is you have decided is wrong, unjust and needs to be done away with. 

You have to know the enemy.  If you can’t identify those who get in the way of getting to where you want, you are not going anywhere.  You have to know what the enemy looks like.  You have to know what the enemy’s comfort zones are, you have to know the strengths and weaknesses. 

Now sometimes the enemy is anything and everything, amorphous and hard to describe.  ‘The State’ for example.  Governments on the other hand are easier while heads of institutions such as school principals even simpler to identify and figure out.  Laws also fall into the ‘relatively easier’ category.   
Anyway, it is important to identify the enemy.  At the same time there can be danger in caricaturing the enemy outside of the obvious advantages of that exercise, i.e. to whip up support, for example, against the ‘blackness’ if you will.  There is the danger of believing caricature. When this happen, one tends to see a single-color enemy, an enemy devoid of detail.  When you have the details erased you miss the chinks.  You are forced to limit yourself to options that bring down an entirety in one go while all the time you might have been able to play on a seemingly innocuous but critical flaw. 

Think of a wrestler.  Think of a martial artist.  Every player has strengths and everyone has weaknesses too.  The late Col F.C. De Saram who coached both Royal and S Thomas’ is once supposed to have said ‘you have to plan to get the batsman out on his favorite shot’.  That’s playing on ‘confidence’.  So just as you work on the opponents weakness, you could also try playing on the strengths.  Confidence bleeds easily into over-confidence, after all.  It’s easy to carry oneself but tough to walk around when one’s inflated, either by self or by others.  That kind of thing gets missed when you use hard lines to draw the enemy. 

One of the greatest dangers in enemy-identification is to focus on that thing, whatever it is or whoever it is, on the other side of a line that we’ve drawn.   Think of chess.  We have to assess the opponent. We have to take stock of the ‘ground reality’, the relative strengths of forces, ascertain by the enemy’s moves the enemy’s plans and so on.  We have to take stock of the enemy’s weaknesses for those are nodes for attack.  At the same time we cannot operate on the assumption that we are invincible.  More often than not the rebel has to contend with forces several times stronger than those arrayed on his side.  The enemy will not twiddle thumbs. They enemy will look for the rebel’s weakness and attack it.

There are, therefore ‘friend-points’ in the enemy as well as ‘enemy-points’ that are etched onto the overall rebel-persona.  Paint with broad brush, cut it crude and you might just have squandered the one outside chance you have. 

How we do get a hang of this friend-enemy thing, then?  The wise say that even as you engage in the upfront in-your-face manner, it is advisable to step back (at least with your mind) to get perspective.  This is why the old revolutionaries said that self-criticism is as important as criticism in revolutionary engagement.  Put another way, there are enemies within that also need to be exorcised, even as you battle those without.  

It’s easy to rebel.  But if rebellion is to achieve objective, physical strength has to go hand in hand with eyes that can see detail and an intellect that can obtain the true friend-worth and enemy-strength in the engagement-equation, noting always that friend and for can locate themselves on either side of the battle line. 

Fighting the good fight to the ‘good end’ is never easy.  But the rebel has decided that he/she will fight.  That’s a noble thing.  A very important first step and a very noble decision.  With it comes responsibility and few can be as responsible as a person who has shown the nobility that goes with the decision to put life on line, let’s say.  A rebel needs friends because no individual can ever be a front.  He/she needs to be endowed with or else acquire the wisdom to identify friend and more importantly the enemy.