Sunday, 4 July 2010

Standing with courage, leading with dignity

Today's post, rather than an exhortation of esoteric meandering about the minutiae of our 'locoworld', is a reflection on some of the people truly trying to change the world in the face of tremendous hardship. These are heroes, some more well-known than others, who in trial and tribulation still strive for a more just and equal geopolitic. In no particular order...

Aung San Suu Kyi
She is the epitome of stoic resistance, having spent most of the last 20 years under some form of detention imposed by the military junta in her country. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, her party in 1990 won (by an outright majority) the parliamentary elections. The legacy of her family over the last century in pushing for an independent democratic Burma gives her strength in the face of increasing hardship.

The Dalai Lama
China (residing in India)
Another Nobel Laureate, the Tibetan spiritual leader continues to preach non-violence and coexistence despite continued subjugation of the rights of his flock. Fleeing to India in 1959 to escape the rising violence in his homeland, the Dalai Lama has avoided political pursuit and advocated for a just peace in China.

Mir Hossein Mousavi
Mousavi was the Prime Minister under Ayatollah Khomeini and was viewed by the so-called Reformists in Iran with suspicion. Was he just another establishment figure? He quickly proved that his battle was one beyond the mundane jockeying in the Islamic Revolution. His steadfast insistence on an open government inspired the green movement in Iran. It has cost him and his family dearly, but he has not let it silence his voice.

Mordechai Vanunu
It is well-known today that Israel possesses 100-200 (if not more) nuclear warheads but it was a nuclear technician who in 1986 broke the taboo and told the world what it always suspected: Israel was a nuclear state. For his actions, he was kidnapped in Italy by the Mossad, and ultimately sentenced to 18 years in jail. Today, he remains closely guarded, and often imprisoned in Israel, but the world continues to remember his stand against weapons proliferation.

Birtukan Mideksa
Meles Zenawi may be Ethiopia's current Prime Minister, leading a party with 545 out of 547 parliamentary seats, but Mideksa stands tall in her prison cell. Obdurate, stubborn, headstrong. She refuses to apologize for campaigning for democracy. The former judge refused a pardon on principle and one of Africa's bright lights sits in the dim-light of prison.

Jaswant Singh
It is not easy being a liberal politician in a right-wing party, but pragmatist Jaswant Singh thrived as a key Minister in the BJP government in India. Yet, his star-status was undermined by his publication of a book that shook the nation. In Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence, Singh refused to toe the dictated historical line, and insisted that there was shared blame for partition. His book may ultimately be seen as the first salvo in true historical reconciliation. He continues to speak out, despite being ostracized in political circles and thrown out of the BJP.

Nojoud Mohammad Ali
If there ever was a hero it is Nojoud. With grace, fire, and fierce independence, she strolled into a Yemeni judge's office and demanded a divorce - at age 8. Her family had 'sold' her to a forced husband, who proceeded to consummate the marriage immediately, raping the young girl. Yet, she refused to play docile victim and stood up not only for her rights, but for the many others in all ages who have shared a similar plight. 

Malalai Joya
"They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring." A member of the Afghan parliament since 2005, Joya has vociferously attacked oppressive forces in her country, from the warlords, druglords, and criminals to the Karzai government itself and the Taliban. She faces daily death threats, but continues each day to represent her people and fight for their rights in full. 

Baltasar Garzon
In 1998 Garzon issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, forever changing the history of international law. No longer would there be impunity for heads of state. Without prejudice, he has pursued cases against whomever has contravened the law, state and terror groups alike. Recently he opened cases to investigate rights abuses during the Franco regime, but it was a step too far and now he faces criminal proceedings for this intransigence.

Oswaldo Paya
Oswaldo Paya is a Cuban dissident who insisted on an organic movement for change in his native country. With fellow activists he created the Varela project at the end of the 1990s, and gathered over 10,000 signatures on a petition demanding legislative change, which was presented to the parliament. He was ignored, harassed, and ridiculed, even though he was an advocate of gradual change and reconciliation. He opened the way for a new generation of moderate dissidents who were inspired by his courage.

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