Few weeks ago, I was curled up in bed reading a Sunday newspaper when I came across a story that was so inspiring and uplifting and yet simultaneously so depressing that I filed the story away for future reference.
What made this story so captivating is something I will come to later on in this article. However it did set me thinking about what was essentially the core of that particular story: the complex issue of heroism and what exactly it entails.
Of course the veneration of heroes is as old as civilization itself. The ancient Greeks would have recognized the way we yearn for heroism.
Take the hero du jour President Barack Obama, a man who was an inspiration to millions of people. Yet how much of this was a result of concrete achievements and how much of it was simply because he was a symbol of something great? And how much does it matter?
And at what point does a glorified figure’s defects destroy his hero credentials? I’m thinking here of Samora Machel who would probably be in the top five of any ‘greatest ever Africans’ list. And yet he ran a regime of incredible brutality-something which is virtually forgotten today.
Machel built dozens of camps where hundreds of thousands of suspected opponents were sent for forced labour and torture. It wasn’t only suspected opponents who were treated ruthlessly- for example Machel ordered the imprisonment of all of Mozambique’s Jehovah’s witnesses, many of whom were tortured or killed.
Even by the standards of Africa’s brutal post-independence dictators, Machel was psychopathic enough to belong with the worst. Yet today all that has been airbrushed from history and the Machel we know is the gallant symbol of selfless patriotism.
What of Che Guevara whose heroism is also clouded by myths and celebrity? People around the world adore him. Yet most people don’t have the faintest idea about what he stood for or what he actually did before he was killed.
He has become a hero not because of his deeds, but because he is an icon that has somehow come to represent heroism.
All this musing about heroism was triggered by the story I referred to in the first paragraph. It is rare to find a story of such powerful as the story of Malalai Joya.
Appointed to Afghanistan’s Parliament in her early twenties, Joya became an outspoken critic of the Country’s brutal and corrupt warlords.
Furthermore, she was a very vocal advocate of women’s rights in a Country in which they are barely recognized. She has survived countless assassination attempts, been physically attacked in Parliament and rarely spends two nights in a row at the same location.
And yet, despite such staggering odds Joya has fought on without any fear. In one of the most dangerous Countries in the World and certainly one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, it is incredibly moving to realize just how brave and inspirational one person can be.
And it is chilling to realize we live in a world in which hundreds of armed men are trying desperately to kill a young woman simply for speaking her mind and campaigning for justice.
Infact, that story is a microcosm of all that is both good and bad in this world.
Malalai Joya is a heroine the vast majority of the world has no clue about. Reading about her tremendous courage, I felt I had to pay tribute to her cause in some way. In a world of plastic, mythical heroes, it is rare to meet the real deal.