The prestigious honor of a Nobel prize held annually, is shrouded in so much secrecy and the final selection is done after due care and consideration. This year the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize to Nadia Murad, a human rights activist and Denis Mukwege, a Congolese surgeon for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
What does Irena Sendler, Janusz Korczak and Dietrich Bonhoeffer have in common with Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi and Galileo Galilee ? They stood fighting for the firm principles of human rights, justice and truth that they believed in.
Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker and humanitarian who had served in the Polish Underground during World War II was instrumental in smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. And then provided them with false identity documents and shelter with willing Polish families, in orphanages and other care facilities, including Catholic nun convents. Janusz Korczak, the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit was a Polish-Jewish educator and children’s author who had spent many years as director of an orphanage in Warsaw. During the Gross-Aktion Warsaw operation, he had refused sanctuary repeatedly and stayed with his orphans when the entire institution was sent to the extermination camp. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran Pastor who was consistently outspoken in the criticism of the Nazism in Germany. Instead of fleeing, he preferred to stay in the country of his birth where he was eventually arrested and executed.
Abraham Lincoln who was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery had gone against the tide and stood for the free rights to all, as evidenced by the famous inspiring Gettysburg speech. One of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson had challenged the existing policies on religious tolerance, education and slavery.
Likewise, one of the principle figureheads of the Indian independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi had followed a philosophy of non-violence and peaceful protest. Despite continuous opposition of the society, he had also sought to improve conditions for women and people disenfranchised by the caste system. Galileo Galilee had challenged the orthodoxy of the church through his own scientific discoveries. His commitment to truth and science resulted in personal threats to his well-being.
There are many more legends out there; some known,some whose strengths and contributions are known by select communities and others who had stood by their principles known to only those in their time. Yet come what may, the core strength in all these people lie in the fact that they stood by their inner principles and moral values, without subjugating to the wrongs and terrors of their days. They stood by those guidelines of truth and justice, taking care not to get involve in doctrines that justify in any wrongdoings to any man, woman or child.
“Stand up to hypocrisy. If you don’t, the hypocrites will teach. Stand up to ignorance, because if you don’t, the ignorant will run free to spread ignorance like a disease. Stand up for truth. If you don’t, then there is no truth to your existence. If you don’t stand up for all that is right, then understand that you are part of the reason why there is so much wrong in the world,” as said by Suzy Kassem.
While taking a firm or courageous stand involve working against injustice or intervening on behalf of someone you know who is vulnerable or victimized, it also involves standing strong when majority might move in the opposite way or another path. Whatever form the conflict may take, we have our courage from God for he has provided us the spiritual and mental armour. As His Word says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.(Ephesians 6:10-12)”
While we may not be able to do as the known legends have done, what we can do in our community and neighbourhood may be a small but sure step in standing firm in our principles, Faith, values and sense of honour, justice and duty. Though absolute care and caution must go along with the reasoning and commitment behind our actions. To quote Criss Jami, “Never rebel for the sake of rebelling, but always rebel for the sake of truth.”