Ingrid Betancourt is liberated.
Liberation, a term appropriated by the Left in the 1970s, has lost its meaning and its power. And the Left has mainly itself to blame. By indiscriminately calling all armed struggles against imperialism, colonialism, and capitalism movements of liberation, the term devolved – from a word that signified joyous freedom to one that meant militant resistance by Marxist forces.
Liberation might have evolved to mean the freedom enjoyed by those participating in and benefiting from anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist armed movements. The problem was not that these struggles were armed, since armed resistance was the only way forward in many countries. Neither was the problem that the goals of these “liberation movements” – post-colonial, post-imperial socialist societies – were so inherently misguided.
Rather the main flaw of so many liberation movements was that the essence of liberating and being liberated was lost in the blindness of doctrinaire politics, the rage of battle, and the rush of power.
The prisoners of Nazi killing centers and concentration camps were truly liberated, and the Soviets, American, and British forces truly liberators. Liberation in 1944-45 had a lived meaning for captives and liberators. It meant individual and collective freedom.
Many of those, many of us (perhaps even most of us) who have participated in or worked in solidarity with the liberation movements in this post-World War II era have had freedom as a core motive and uncompromised practice.
But too often we have let political doctrines blind us, power corrupt us, and violence distort us. In the struggle for liberation, we have let our rage against injustice and repression lead us away from the meaning and the feeling of liberation.
Liberation and revolution became just other words for not being free. Being captive to power, ideologies, and our own hate and fear.
Some have attempted with varying success to give liberation new meaning. Liberation as countercultural revolution in the wake of the 1968 youth rebellions. Liberation as freedom from capitalist alienation and oppression, as in the founding of Libération newspaper by Jean-Paul Sarte and others in 1973.
Reacting to the patriarchal control of leftist organizations and movements, the women’s liberation movement enlarged the province of liberation to include personal and political struggles against sexism and male chauvinism. In the 1970s liberation also came to mean a fusion of religious belief and social struggle as in liberation theology.
Then there was the short-lived men’s liberation and youth liberation movements.
As the women’s liberation movement has faded, liberation today, at least in the U.S., may be most often associated with the animal liberation movement. Liberation for many means not freedom but the Liberation type font or the computer games Liberation: Captive 2 and Killzone: Liberation.
It would be nice to believe in liberation again. To believe that, for ourselves and others, freedom is possible. To know that we can liberate and be liberated.
It might have felt better if movements and governments identified with the principles of freedom, justice, equality, creation, and sustainability had been responsible for the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt. And it surely feels badly that self-identified movements of the left, like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), are the captors, oppressors, and terrorists.
But for Ingrid Betancourt and the other former FARC prisoners liberation has only one meaning – being free at long last. And knowing that others have made this freedom possible.
It’s time to celebrate liberation. To embrace it as a common goal. It’s just another word for nothing left to lose.