February 24, 2018

The Cost of Courage

The Cost of Courage

This was written for the Church Times in October 2012

It only takes one shocking event to reveal to the world the ordeals suffered by human beings who struggle daily under oppression. That event can lay bare the stark issues of injustice, gender violence, fear and brutality which lie unresolved in the lives of millions. Such is the story of fourteen year old Malala Yousufzai in Pakistan. At one level it is the familiar issue of the suppression and subjugation of women- an issue which at some time or another has faced almost every society on earth. At another level, it is about the assertion of tyrants who believe that shooting a girl child is a justifiable way of asserting their control and silencing opponents.

Many of the journalists who have told the story paid homage to Malala’s fearlessness before the ruthless atrocities of the Taliban. But that description does not really seem apt. For people who are fearless rarely understand what it is to be afraid; they remain impervious to the way fear and anxiety can disable and de-stabilise ordinary mortals. By contrast, this girl has known fear only too well. She has spoken of it, described it, explained what it has been like for her. Everything about her situation has made her want to run, but she has stayed. It is not fearlessness but courage which defines her boldness and her tenacious resistance.

Courage is a very human quality. To start with, it does not ignore danger. Since the age of eleven, Malala seems to have been acutely aware of perils that have surrounded her, as she has lived consciously along the chasm of two incompatible worldviews. The worldview she inherited from her father embraces human rights and education; it urges respect, hope, peace, love and freedom for women. The worldview she rejects embraces power, torture and bloodshed. It is driven by an ideology which dismisses freedom, hates the West and denigrates women. Few children would see the gulf so clearly. Even fewer would have the enormous courage to face the implications of choosing to resist the powerful.

But courage lives with vulnerability. Malala had nothing to protect her as she spoke out against what she had witnessed, as she asserted her desire to be educated and travelled to the school that had been banned. No armed bodyguards surrounded her as she left her home or boarded the bus. The images splashed across our screens and newspapers illustrated her vulnerability: – the openness of her young face, the blood-soaked clothing on her body. In facing vulnerability she shared truth and drew us into her world and struggles.

Courage also reveals the true nature of evil, highlighting for us all the cowardice of her assailants, their hatred and inhumanity, their brutality and violence. Their faces were hidden. Yet vicious cruelty can never bear good fruit. Whatever just cause these men thought they were fighting, whatever power they thought they wielded, the courage of this child has exposed them as weak, cowardly bullies. Pakistani satirist, Nadeem Paracha summed it up perfectly: ‘Come on, brothers, be real men. Kill a Schoolgirl.’

For me, this story reflects not the power of Western liberalism, but the truths of the Christian faith. For vulnerability and courage are at its very core. Jesus incarnates  them. It was not fearlessness which he exhibited at Gethsemene the night before he died, but naked terror as he contemplated what lay ahead. We might never know what courage Christ needed for our salvation. But when we see the best of human bravery exhibited in the life of a defenceless young Pakistani girl, we begin to understand its power.


October 2012



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