Lessons on courage from Egypt: inner beauty revealed in times of struggling for justice

Pretty much everyone knows about what’s going down in Egypt right now, unless you’ve been living in a cave or are living the busy life of a college student (which I’ve found tends to keep you in a bubble unless you constantly are consciously making an effort to escape it once in awhile). Thankfully, I am someone who does manage to escape his individualistic concerns and look out at the world bit, and I’ve found the Egyptian democracy movement fascinating.

Barricades formed on both sides where Egyptian protestors and government supporters of Mubarak continued to clash just outside Tahrir Square. (c) NYT

While I’m unsure of how many people believe it accurate to associate the two, I found it fascinating to find that the self-immolation by a single Tunisian man may have been the spark that started it all. One man’s display of frustration with the government set off a chain of more than a dozen other men to also set themselves on fire in Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania. Some used these events to  reflect back on the gruesome images of Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk who burned himself to death in Saigon during the Vietnam War in 1963. Many remember the way his body eerily stood still amongst the flames, a symbol of a man giving up his body in response to an unbending authority. I can’t help but think that this kind of display is the cause of the mass demonstations we are now seeing in the Egyptian streets, with the people rising up against a similar stubborn authority. This man’s lighting himself aflame has coincidently ignited a revolution.

However, what I want to focus on here is not self-immolation events or such desperate attempts to show the desire for a new way of life or an attempt to “escape” the current one. Rather, I want to show here is some of the displays of determination and courage by some of the Egyptian people that go beyond literal self-sacrifice. These displays were described in Nicholas Kristof’s of the New York Time latest article on his travels in Egypt.

A carpenter Kristof had met in a field hospital had his arm in a sling, leg, in a cast and head bandaged in a hosptial set up by the democracy movement. This was his seventh time in 24 hours when this man needed medical treatment. This is determination for justice if I ever saw it.

“I’ll fight as long as I can.” [said this man]

Furthermore, Kristof describes a double-amputee who had lost his leg’s many years prior in a train accident, but whom still had…

…rolled his wheelchair into Tahrir Square to show support for democracy, hurling rocks back at the mobs that President Hosni Mubarak apparently sent to besiege the square. [This man] was being treated for a wound from a flying rock. I asked him as politely as I could what a double-amputee in a wheelchair was doing in a pitched battle involving Molotov cocktails, clubs, machetes, bricks and straight razors.

“I still have my hands,” he said firmly. “God willing, I will keep fighting.”

Demonstrators in Egypt rally together around their belief in a better Egypt. (c) NYT

I take back my comment earlier. This man here has shown the kind of determination and an inner strength required in any revolution and which if  instilled into the hearts of more of his countrymen, will surely lead to a better Egypt.

Lastly, I found the most inspiring part of all to come from a man working on the front lines of the demonstrations…

At Tahrir Square’s field hospital (a mosque in normal times), 150 doctors have volunteered their services, despite the risk to themselves. Maged, a 64-year-old doctor who relies upon a cane to walk, told me that he hadn’t been previously involved in the protests, but that when he heard about the government’s assault on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, something snapped.

So early Thursday morning, he prepared a will and then drove 125 miles to Tahrir Square to volunteer to treat the injured. “I don’t care if I don’t go back,” he told me. “I decided I had to be part of this.”

“If I die,” he added, “this is for my country.”

This is the kind of willingness to be involved I was discussing earlier in my post concerning Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. This is the kind of courage most people seem to lack. This man, at a reasonable age to simply consider himself out of the equation in terms of his nation’s fight for democracy, has risen above this sense of removal to become engaged in truly helping his people fight for justice. I like to think of this kind of movement to the front lines as one of the most heroic moves a man can make. It’s about being willing to “break” away from your own individualistic concerns, which here was catalyzed by this man’s allowance of “self-snapping”. This display of inner fragility is a sign of strength in my opinion. To be willing to let injustices one sees in the outer world drive your inner world into chaos is a strength that has a value beyond measure. This man decided to write his will (admitting his willingness to die for his beliefs in a better way) and head out to be a part of the revolution. This is the kind of display of inner strength in a nation’s fight for justice I think should inspire us all. One might argue this older man had nothing to lose, but I believe the majority of 62-year old men in the world, faced with a similar choice of either leaving their family behind or heading out to fight for what they believe in, would not make the same choice of the latter. This type of choice requires the willingness to die for one’s belief in a better way. People that make these kinds of choices have an uncommon itch that keeps them moving towards their goals, despite the sacrifice often necessary. This feeling, although different than the stir in the stomach of the revolutionary who started this current revolution in Egypt, is the kind of flame that keeps the world moving in a better direction.

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~ by Andru on February 5, 2011.

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