Despite being killed more than 50 years ago, Che Guevara remains a symbol of revolution
Admire him or loathe him, the image of Che Guevara looking in the distance with a fiery resolve is perhaps a photo that will live on as long as humans rise up to protest injustice.
Presidents will fall, kings will crumble, lofty platitudes delivered by sycophants of demagogues will fade away, but Che will remain. That gaze will never falter, and inspired by it, people will continue to rise in revolution.
June 14 was Che Guevara’s birthday and, as people of countless countries clamoured for equal rights and an end to racism, bringing down statues of imperialists, Che was perhaps having the last laugh with Castro. With the cigars, no doubt!
Che once said: “I am not a liberator, liberators do not exist; people liberate themselves.” Well, you don’t have to be a Marxist or a rabid socialist to realize that Che’s comment has proved to be prescient to the letter.
George Floyd’s killing has triggered an eruption, exposing centuries of exploitative filth.
Why Che’s enigma never fades
Now here’s a question that the CIA should be asked because they were reportedly involved in the capture of the revolutionary in the Bolivian jungle and, then, his eventual killing. In fact, like many errors the Americans committed, the killing of Che was perhaps the most notable and possibly the one which will have reverberations till the end of time.
They shot the guerilla and then turned him into a democracy icon for the world. Talk about providing a helping hand to the adversary. One bullet to eternal stardom.
There is a saying that, before being shot, Che defiantly told his killer: “Shoot, you coward, you will only kill a man!”
Perhaps this is apocryphal but, admit it, by gunning him down, the legend only began.
Come to think of it, if Che had remained alive then maybe the mystique plus the fascination surrounding him would not have developed to such staggering proportions.
Guevara once said: “If you tremble with indignity at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” Well, it seems that millions of people defying the threat of the coronavirus and coming to the streets to protest racial prejudice are responding to the call of the revolutionary.
Whenever there is a mass uprising, there is a common tendency among protesters to seek inspiration from this Argentine firebrand. I am not committing any blasphemy when I say, one day, Lionel Messi will be just another great footballer of the past but Che will always remain “the revolutionary” -- the allure always intact, the enchantment indelible.
Have I offended any reader? Well, how many can still recall the name of 70s Argentine superstar Osvaldo Ardiles? Once he was a craze, but modern-day Argentina fans may have to Google him.
The face of revolution
Che has emerged when masses rose against oppression and tyranny. In the 80s, when the streets of Dhaka were turbulent with the anti-autocratic protests, democracy slogans were intertwined with images of Guevara. The spirit of the dead revolutionary was omnipresent.
Young students of Dhaka University envisioned a social movement that would bring down a dictator. And they did it in the end. There have been countless uprisings in the 90s all over the world with Che emerging as a very visible motivator for people demanding freedom from repression.
Even the Arab Spring and the wave of social consensus in Bangladesh against war criminals saw Guevara’s image on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and placards.
Now, looking at Che from a realistic angle, if he had not been killed then, perhaps he would not have become the unquestionable symbol of human liberty and equality.
As famous Bangladeshi poet Humayun Azad once quipped: Revolutionaries should die young; otherwise, they turn into reactionaries.
Che did not manage to save Congolese nationalist Patrice Lumumba from being killed by Belgian agents in the Congo and neither did he manage to drive out the colonialists. But the fact that he went to help Lumumba from convoluted imperial machinations is good enough to secure him as a crusader who challenged the colonial juggernaut in the 60s.
The reason why Che Guevara is once more in discussion is because millions in the US and the UK are pulling down statues and emblems of imperial hubris.
The masses have risen while the governments grapple to put together half-baked and implausible responses to address the soaring indignation of the general people.
Has anyone ever though that, whenever there is a united voice against injustice, the so-called established leaders of democracy are never invoked?
But a revolutionary killed more than 50 years ago in a squalid room always finds a way to remain relevant. Be it on a coffee cup or on a cap, he is there -- the resolute symbol of man’s desire to rise against despotism.
Che once remarked: “I do not care if I die as long as someone else picks up the gun and keeps on fighting.” The “gun” is a metaphor for the ideology of social equality and millions have picked it up to carry on the crusade.
As these statues fall, I am reminded of a quote by Humayun Azad, our own maverick philosopher: “To bring down a statue, one needs a vertebrae; to worship a statue, one has to be an invertebrate.”
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.