VOLUME 03 NUMBER 04 & 05

WHEN knowledge is limited to only quantifiable facts and events, we “become blind to the most important meanings of human existence,” pointed out Ignacio Martin-Baró once in his extraordinary work. He was a Jesuit priest who was murdered together with five other colleagues and their housekeeper and her young daughter by the Salvadoran government’s elite Atlacatl Battalion, a “counter-insurgency unit” created at the US Army’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia in 1980.

Writing on the 25th anniversary of Martin-Baró’s death which fell in November this year, Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist beautifully traced what the late-Jesuit priest tried hard to convince the oppressed communities of. “Human dimensions such as commitment, solidarity, hope and courage cannot be simplistically quantified, but are what enable human beings to overcome injustice,” he pointed out. What we are witnessing is that most of the mass movements that fought for human liberation started from very limited numbers of people whose dimensions could not be simplistically quantified. They guided the fellow citizen while convincing, compassionating, educating them on the real meaning of liberation even in most dangerous political environments. Those who led mankind to reach milestones, not believed to be achievable by majority of people, led us to understand that social change is a possible and positive task of collective responsibility. They were the people who changed history, formalities and superstitions.

The history of liberation from vicious practices such as slavery and apartheid were written within this basic notion and the commitment of people who started to liberate themselves from injustice. Injustice is the most horrendous experience mankind ever faced.

Mankind has been fighting for thousands years but cruelty still exists in many forms. From the prison in Guantanamo bay, the killings fields systematically
operated by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), the infamous drones attacks by the Government of United States which result in the deaths of innocents, to the real situation in the local police stations in the most Asian, African and Latin American countries are evidence of the saddest reality of the unjust social disorder. In these places, injustice is prevailing at higher degrees while undermining and intimidating basic principles of humanity.

Ignacio Martin-Baró developed the authentic and rational form of social psychology (Liberation Psychology) which explained and examined the real
meanings of human existences. He enlightened his followers to the inadequacy and weaknesses of the existing theories when they tried to address the effects of the structural violence that prevailed, particularly in El Salvador. But his explanations are universal and help give form to the common scenario we as human beings are suffering in our daily lives.

“It is clear that no one is going to return to the imprisoned dissident his youth; to the young woman who has been raped her innocence; to the person
who has been tortured his or her integrity. Nobody is going to return the dead and the disappeared to their families. What can and must be publicly restored [are] the victims’ names and their dignity, through a formal recognition of the injustice of what has occurred, and, wherever possible, material reparation. . . . Those who clamor for social reparation are not asking for vengeance. Nor are they blindly adding difficulties to a historical process that is already by no means easy. On the contrary, they are promoting the personal and social viability of a new society, truly democratic.” (Ignacio Martin-Baro, “Reparations: Attention Must be Paid,” in Transitional Justice: How Emerging Democracies Reckon with Former Regimes, ed. Neil Kritz (Washington,
D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1995), 570. (original -posthumously; Ignacio Martin-Baro, “Reperations: Attention Must be Paid” Commomweal, March 23, 1990, pp.184-186).)

It was a time when most of the globe was facing extreme violence. On the one hand violence was used as the tool to control the resistances by the
state apparatus. On the other hand the violence was the subjective method of convincing the people that resistance against the oppressing governments was futile.

Why is violence important? What is the negative impact of violence? How can we eradicate violence? “Violence, finally, as I have said, is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength…”, Hannah Arendt , author of “On Violence”, pointed out while making a new discourse on the subject which tended to be ignored in many ways.

“Violence,” she writes, “can always destroy power. Out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it [violence] is power.” Most of the accounts on violence try to explain the political impact on and the stability of the state apparatus. Therefore they had to justified use of violence to some extent. But there are also some rare accounts reflecting the point of view of the common person in society and the way they felt about violence.

Fortunately for us Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt and later Slavoj Žižek in their expansive political essays were trying to depict the theoretical and political pictures of violence while showing the very important connection to human nature.

As Walter Benjamin pointed out, “the destructive character knows only one watchword: make room; only one activity: clearing away … The destructive character is young and cheerful. For destroying rejuvenates in clearing away traces of our own age …” (Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings)

What we are seeing in the distinguished works of Ignacio Martin-Baró is his cleverness and insight into the common mind with the result that most of the theoretical arguments and explanations to common forms of injustice to mankind were overridden and how shares with us the new light of his own illuminations to strength the ordinary citizen.

25 years after losing the legendary figure, we are entering an era of new forms and techniques of violence. It is therefore important to appreciate the urgent need to understand the works of Ignacio Martin-Baró here and now at the present time thanwas the case in the past. Why? As, Bruce E. Levine correctly pointed out, “liberation psychology – which Martin-Baró helped popularize – challenges adjustment to an unjust societal status quo and energizes oppressed people to resist injustices.”


Cartoon by Awantha Artigala