Last modified: 7:58 AM Saturday, 14 January 2017

Truth comes armed with pervasive light
And by reproof puts hypocrisy to flight.

On the power of moral courage

What we see in this picture, we have seen before. In China’s Tian An Men Square in 1989, the world watched as a lone protester demanding freedom for his countrymen stood before and halted a column of tanks sent by a despotic government to cow and crush a popular demonstration.

Women hold off pro-Mubarak thugs

Sister act: Women hold off pro-Mubarak thugs, Tahrir Square, 2011.
[ Image Source ]

Today, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, government-armed goons have stormed in — some of them freed from death row on Hosni Mubarak’s orders for precisely this purpose — to cow and crush ongoing demonstrations by myriads of their countrymen. And yet by a few measured words, two unarmed women have walked unassailed through their ranks and proceeded to join the demonstrations.

A lone protester halts a column of tanks, Tian An Men Square, 1989

A lone protester halts a column of tanks, Tian An Men
Square, 1989.
[ Image Source ]

Whence comes the courage that can enable weakness to stand before violence and power and — however transitorily — triumph?

As there is such a thing as moral intelligence, so too there is moral courage. Sometimes the hate and heat of the autocrats’ enforcers is no match for this courage, and even these paid bullies, met with calm, reason and resolve, feel themselves rebuked and turn away in shame.

Of course, as the final outcome in China warns us, evil can still triumph. The brave man standing before the tanks notwithstanding, the Chinese government proceeded to kill hundreds of protesters, and silenced for a generation or more the calls for freedom from its people. And it may be that Mubarak’s hoodlums will achieve the same for him, suppressing by violence and intimidation the strongest showing made by his opposition in his three decades in power.

Let us, therefore, take every opportunity to remind the people of Egypt that their struggle is our struggle. Let not the revolt of khamis wa-3ashrun yanayir (25 January) melt into a mere incident in the history of a despotic satrapy. For such a fate would be a poor reward for bravery, and it would teach the world’s autocrats a different lesson: that any opposition can be crushed by one willing to transgress every moral law and kill his countrymen in sufficient numbers.

The fate of freedom everywhere may hinge on this question: Which is to triumph, the power of armed thuggery, or the power of moral courage?

Originally published as a review of a New York Times article on Egyptian protests and Hosni Mubarak’s attempt to quash them.

Peace, liberty, unity, justice, equality
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