Roger Garaudy died eight years ago last month, at the age of 98. This was possibly the first choice he made (if you can call it a choice) from which there is no return.
Garaudy’s life was full of flip-flops and backflips. If he had owned a proper leotard he could’ve been an Olympic athlete, with confusion as his discipline.
Garaudy was born in 1913 in France, the same month and year as Albert Camus, who, ironically, was obsessed with dualism, opposites like happiness and sadness, good and bad, dark and light, that plague us until death when we are forced to raise our hand (right or left, we might have to think about) and admit that our lives were quite useless and a bit too long.
That same year also saw Lausanne host the Olympic Congress, which pole-vaulted the Olympic Games to a whole new intellectual level. Here, among the world’s academics, philosophers, and scientists, discussion raged: were ever-increasing demands made on competitors in the just-finished Stockholm Olympics leaving them on-top-of-the-world (like Klein and Asikainen who wrestled for more than 11 hours before they fell asleep in each other arms) or down-in-the-dumps (like Kanakuri Shizō, the Japanese marathon runner who collapsed during the race, was cared for by a local farmer and his slightly-put out wife, and returned to Japan without notifying anyone. He completed the race with a time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds, when he returned to Stockholm fifty years later).
Anyway, our Olympian Garaudy was raised both a Catholic and an Atheist, which probably didn’t give him the most straightforward start.
He began life, like many philosophers and great orators have, as a more-than-active member of the Communist Party. And, from street lighting to public housing, from swimming pools to public lavatories, French Communists were the Olympians of the fight for the rights of the people. However, here is where the Olympic Congress may start to prove their theory of pushing people too far: Garaudy converts to Protestantism.
Swapping religious dogmas can be quite traumatic, but in this case both denominations have very similar beliefs at their core, so the switch may have been quieter for our troubled Olympian.
And so, with his luggage packed, Garaudy set off for WWII, where he promptly joined the French Resistance. Here Garaudy was probably very much at home. He was surrounded by people from all economic layers and political leanings of French society: conservative Roman Catholics, clergyman, members of the Jewish community, liberals, anarchists, and communists. He could be any one of those every day without anyone really caring, as the constant threat of death or, worse, a lifetime of bratwurst, kept them otherwise engaged and on-the run.
This adventure did him good, and after a brief stint as ‘crazy prisoner #1’ in Djelfa, Algeria, he returned to France and annoyed all his friends – particularly his new-found Protestant ones – by rejoining the Catholic Church, having missed the thought of eternal damnation horribly. This is a man who had no problem changing his mind, and damn the consequences.
Garaudy then began writing and produced more than fifty books on his ideological views, which we know were many and varied. And his latest Olympic flame was now Marxism, not Communism.
Marxism, as you know, takes its name from the thoughts of Groucho, Gummo, Zeppo, Chico, and Harpo, and is primarily concerned with how well we actually live. The thinking is that we are a product of our environment and that the needs of ‘workers’ reflect most of humanity; so that’s the focus. Communism, of course, is an ideology that calls for a classless, stateless, social organization built upon the common ownership of the ways we produce. As a communist (which Garaudy originally claimed to be) you can hold views that manifest as Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, council communism, Luxemburgism, anarchist communism, Christian communism, and various other -isms that mean nothing whatsoever to most of us.
Funnily enough, in a July 1995 interview with the prominent political periodical Playboy, our old friend Mel Gibson said that the Rhodes Scholarship (the international postgraduate award for study at the University of Oxford) was a campaign for Marxism. Gibson was also born a Catholic, but converted to Wackadoo after meeting French resistance to his own existence at Cannes.
Next, Garaudy decided that the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was not as great an experience for the Czechs as it was for the Soviets, and that the night of August 20, 1968 would not be remembered as Brezhnev’s greatest achievement (thwarting political liberalization reform rarely is.) Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well with the French Communist Party (of which he was strangely still a member and who found themselves between a rock and any Soviet state) and he was expelled like a clay pigeon in 1970.
Not the most stable of minds in the philosophical field, Garaudy responded as you would expect him to respond. He converted to Islam.
He adopted a new name, of course. Not feeling quite as inspired as the once-Steven-Georgiou-then-Cat-Stevens-now-Yusuf-Islam, he simply changed his first name to Ragaa. Ragaa Garaudy.
He then began a journey many of us would be confused by.
Filled with a need to be a prick, Garaudy next decided that Jesus was not actually Jesus and that Palestine was so-named because his ‘pals’ lived there. Yasser Arafat, who brought the tea towel back into fashion, is rumored to have said that his friend Garaudy had a “mind like a hotel bed. As soon as it was made someone else would copulate in it and sew a new seed.”
In the mid-90s, our Olympic philosopher decided that despite fighting to stop the German oppression in WWII, no Jews actually died at the hands of the Nazis. So, he was convicted of Holocaust denial and stupidity and sent off to irrigate his brain. That didn’t help, and soon after, in 2006, Garaudy, already in deep water, tied the laces of his cement boots by sending a videotaped message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreeing wholeheartedly with the mad Iranian that Israel should cease to exist.
He sealed his fate by stating that the 9-11 attacks were committed by the US, and people who knew him just shook their heads.
But it was not Israel, in the end, that shut down. It was Garaudy’s insanely confused mind: from Catholic to Protestant; to Catholic to Muslim; from Communist to Marxist to Anti-Zionist; from philosophic discourse to warmongering babble, the pressure of performance was indeed too much. After nearly one hundred years of competition, the Olympic Champion of Changeability was finally disqualified from the games.
Your mind is at rest now, Roger. You never have to change it again. An epitaph was written for him, which I share here with the kind permission of myself:
Here lies poor Roger or Ragaa, if you must
An Olympic hero who left us for dust
It wasn’t loose women, or dancing, or booze
It wasn’t the Nazis gassing the Jews
It wasn’t the Marxists or Communist lords
Not Mahmoud or Yasser or their terrorist hoards
It wasn’t the Towers or the horror of death
Or even the thought of his terminal breath
Here lies poor Roger, brain tattered from grind
He destroyed himself, by changing his mind.