Stéphane Hessel’s praise of indignation

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Reviewed on 01/29/2011 | No Reviews

Portraits

Call for peaceful and nonviolent insurrection

There is something in the air at the moment: a smell of fire, a perfume of revolution. 93 year old Stéphane Hessel published a small essay which in a few weeks became an editorial phenomenon.
Photo: AFP, Boris Horvat

Photo: AFP, Boris Horvat

“Indignez-Vous!” is the title of this small book. But honestly, you can’t really call this a book. It’s only 22 pages long, and its effects are more like those of a bomb. It’s explosive material, thoughts like which, revolutions are made. In only a few months 600 000 copies have been sold. And “Indignez-Vous!” has become a new manifesto for a fair society.

Mr. Hessel, former ambassador, French resistance fighter, survivor of the Holocaust, drafter of the postwar UN declaration of the human rights, and on the photo here above wearing Phrygian cap, became persona non grata in the eyes of the establishment.

An old man writing for young people.

Hessel’s message is clear: go and cry out your indignation! Get outraged and express it! It’s most of all to the young people that Mr. Hessel is talking, to people who could think that it’s so much easier to come to terms with society as it is. People who think that it does not make any sense anymore to get angry.

The book is an editorial and also a social phenomenon in France because Hessel is expressing things a lot of people actually think. You don’t need to agree with everything in detail, but at least with his basic assumption: that there is always a reason to protest against the conditions. Hessel calls for a peaceful and non-violent insurrection. And what he wrote some months ago now looks like operating instructions for what is going on in Tunisia and Egypt.

Cry out your anger

Hessel, born in Germany in 1917, became a French citizen in 1937. But look at this man, look in his eyes: he’s 93 years old, but his mind seems to have still the same age as when Mr. Hessel became a resistance fighter during World War II. Back then, he became outraged against Nazism and its consequences. Today he’s outraged at other things: the growing gap between the very rich and the very poor; at the way France treats its illegal immigrants; at the fact that the media is in the hands of industrials in France; and, last but not least, at the plight of the Palestinians.

Freedom of thought

Mr. Hessel was shocked by the report of Richard Goldstone about the Gaza-bombings. And after having made a trip to Gaza with his diplomatic passport, he became  a fervent defender of the Palestinians. He was violently attacked for his criticisms of Israel and his support of a movement to boycott Israeli products.

Anyone who has read Hessel pamphlet will understand that Mr. Hessel is not an antisemite. And this is not only because his father was a German Jew. Mr. Hessel is just somebody who keeps freedom of thought alive.

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