By Kamaya Jayatissa –
“I wish all of you to find your reason for indignation. This is a precious thing.”– Stéphane Hessel (Time for Outrage!)
With 4.5 million copies sold worldwide and translated into more than a dozen languages, Stéphane Hessel’s 32 page pamphlet Indignez-vous! (translated as Time for Outrage!) remains a source of inspiration to youth around the world. Named one of the world’s top thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine in 2011, Hessel died in February at age 95, leaving behind him a lesson, which is to never accept any kind of injustice.
French resistance fighter, concentration camp survivor, diplomat, human rights advocate, he participated in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inspired recent non-violent youth movements such as the Spanish Indignados, the Greek Aganaktismenoi, Occupy Wall Street in New York and beyond. Many around the world took up his call for a “peaceful insurrection” against the growing inequities of global capitalism. When asked during an interview why he believed that indifference among youth was the worst’s of attitudes, Hessel replied:
“I was worried that so many young people in all our countries seem to have forgotten their responsibility for values. They are just responsible to find a flat, to get some money, to have material wealth. And they do not realize that that is going to be jeopardized if the basic democratic values are not fought for. […] You must find the things that you will not accept, that will outrage you. And these things, you must be able to fight against nonviolently, peacefully, but determinedly.”
Having witnessed nearly a century of world’s history and mostly inspired by Sartre’s philosophical footprint, Stéphane Hessel, the voice of the voiceless, was one of those who believed that every man is responsible as an individual. He believed that true humanity begins with a sense of responsibility to what has to be done, the responsibility to refuse to accept what is unacceptable.
In the current context, Hessel’s message appears to be quite relevant to Sri Lanka –especially given the recent incidents that are taking place, both internally and internationally. Indeed, almost four years have gone since the war ended and yet an authentic peace is still longed for in the island. Most importantly, extremism is escalating to the detriment of inter-cultural dialogue, mutual understanding and ultimately reconciliation. One can only wonder where Sri Lankan youth positions itself in all this.
The past decade has seen a growing recognition of the importance of youth participation in decision-making. However, when it comes to the actual involvement of young people in matters pertaining to reconciliation, as in many other countries, the Sri Lankan Government is only engaged in a consultative process at best. In the longer-term, this might potentially have negative consequences on the peace-building process itself as not taking young people’s concerns into account can lead to further frustration within society itself. The implication of youth, their perceptions and expectations are therefore essential in the shaping of a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.
Similarly, one can also witness a loss of enthusiasm, of involvement and commitment among today’s youth in Sri Lanka, a youth which represents one quarter of the population. This can be explained by the fact that young people are often alienated by politics. They see less value in both mainstream politics and in the viability of alternative spaces. Indeed, few are those among the Sri Lankan youth who are voicing out their thoughts and frustrations on the recent socio-political hazards the country is going through. Others remain either indifferent or passive while many have given up hope by saying that this is not the right time and place for change, that the space is not [yet] available to rise up and give a voice to our dreams.
Yet, what better moment than today to develop creative and critical thinking, to find our reason for indignation; for this is the best moment to make a change, right now when our values and principles are falling apart. It is our moral responsibility as youth to make a difference and strive for a better Sri Lanka, one in which racism and extremism will not be accepted, one in which our people will finally gather as a nation.
Our generation has the duty to build and strengthen a sustainable peace in our country so that the next generation does not go through another civil war based on ethno-religious tensions. Or else, by not fighting for further dialogue, for further unity, we will be as responsible as the ones spreading hatred between our own people. Mostly, by passively accepting injustice we will become the victims of our own indifference.
But as Hessel reminds us constantly in his pamphlet, these insurrections should always be done non-violently, for words are the best weapon our generation will ever have:
“I am convinced that future belongs to non-violence, to the reconciliation of different cultures. […] Hope has always been one of the dominant forces of revolutions and insurrections and how I still feel that hope is my conception for the future. We must understand that violence turns his back on hope. […] To create is to resist, to resist is to create.” (Time for Outrage!)
A hyperactive nonagenarian, Stéphane Hessel dedicated his life to encourage people to demand change and to fight for a better world. For him resisting injustice was his most passionate responsibility.
*Kamaya Jayatissa, President of What’s Next!, is a PhD student in International Law at the Sorbonne University, Paris. She holds a Master Degree in International Law from the Sorbonne and a Diploma in International Governance and Sustainable Development from Sciences Po, Paris. This article first appeared on Ceylon Today.