In his extended essay Testament Betrayed, the famed Czech novelist Milan Kundera described the fervid eagerness to pass judgments as “the most detestable stupidity and the most pernicious evil.” The kind of eagerness he was alluding to was the kind where facts become optional and understanding becomes non-existent, the kind where objectivity collapses under the weight of half-truths, and the kind that we all witnessed in the hours following Fidel Castro’s death.
On one hand, we saw the Left that lamented the loss of its revolutionary icon. The Left that used to castigate restrictions on free press under right-wing dictators conveniently forgot about Castro’s police state. The Left that loses itself in a fit of rage when Israel violates the rights of Palestinians pacified into a deaf and dumb sheep when confronted with the gross human rights abuses of the Castro regime. The yearning for revolutionary nostalgia on part of the Left blinded them to the principles of social justice they otherwise hold so dear.
On the other hand, it was the Right’s hypocrisy that we had to bear. The people who regularly remind us not to judge Reagan, Clinton, Blair and Obama only for their foreign policies were the quickest to judge Castro only for his domestic repression. The Right that has continuously justified the repression of right-wing dictators, invoking either realpolitik or the greater good, became the standard bearer of moral absolutism in the wake of Castro’s demise. Of course, this moral absolutism chokes on its own hypocrisy when those virulent condemnations of tyranny on part of the Right morph into ‘rest in peace’ or ‘you did a lot of good too’ when someone like Ariel Sharon bites the dust.
This hypocrisy is painful to look at. The use of emotions in lieu of reason and the tendency to cherry-pick for the sake of ideological loyalty only serves to expose the limitation of one’s perspective. Ideological encampment can be good in certain cases, but when done so at the cost of objectivity sets a dangerous precedent, a one that anyone can exploit to apply different moral standards to different sets of people, all to advance a particular political cause.
However, just as it is hypocritical to apply different moral standards to different sets of people, it is also very naïve to take an ideology for granted and assume that certain policies and political systems would work regardless of the ground realities and the socio-political characteristics of the nation. Both Leftists and Rightists, well-intentioned they may be, tend to assume the universality of their political ideologies. It is this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to politics that prompt these people on either side of the political spectrum to rush to judgments in the first place.
The question that still remains is: How do we judge a man like Castro? Should we condemn him or commend him? Should be berate him or elevate him? The answer to that is not that simple. However, our responsibility is to look at the whole person and not a particular side of him, to evaluate his impact on everyone and not a particular someone. Our responsibility is to look at and condemn his despotic regime for the human rights abuses that characterized it. But it is also our responsibility to acknowledge the social advancement that Castro’s policies brought to a dilapidated, illiterate, and malnourished Cuban nation. It is also our responsibility to recognise Castro’s undeterred commitment to anti-colonialism and anti-racism throughout the world. It is also our responsibility to appreciate the millions of people in disaster-struck countries that were healed by Cuban doctors working on orders of Castro’s government. In other words, we should look at the saintly side of Castro without ignoring the sinful side of him. We should praise the ideologue that he was and condemn the demagogue he became.
At his trial in 1954, Castro famously said, “Condemn me, it doesn’t matter, history will absolve me.” While we all were witnessing the countless beatifications and condemnations of Castro in the past couple of days, one thing remained certain: if Castro’s absolution does come, it would nether be the deluded left or the self-righteous right that will hand it out, it would be those who upheld their impartiality and refused to be swayed by their respective ideological subscriptions.
Shoaib Mehmood Nagi is a post-graduate student in economics with a deep interest in politics, philosophy and literature. He tweets here