Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rushdie on moral courage

Salman Rushdie, who knows of such things in away most of us will never experience, asks the question in a New York Times article, "Whither Moral Courage?"  Some excerpts:

We find it easier, in these confused times, to admire physical bravery than moral courage — the courage of the life of the mind, or of public figures.

Even more strangely, we have become suspicious of those who take a stand against the abuses of power or dogma.

It was not always so. The writers and intellectuals who opposed Communism, Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and the rest, were widely esteemed for their stand. ... As recently as 1989, the image of a man carrying two shopping bags and defying the tanks of Tiananmen Square became, almost at once, a global symbol of courage.

Then, it seems, things changed. The “Tank Man” has been largely forgotten in China, while the pro-democracy protesters, including those who died in the massacre of June 3 and 4, have been successfully redescribed by the Chinese authorities as counterrevolutionaries. The battle for redescription continues, obscuring or at least confusing our understanding of how “courageous” people should be judged.

Two years ago in Pakistan, the former governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, defended a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, wrongly sentenced to death under the country’s draconian blasphemy law; for this he was murdered by one of his own security guards. The guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was widely praised and showered with rose petals when he appeared in court. The dead Mr. Taseer was widely criticized, and public opinion turned against him. His courage was obliterated by religious passions. The murderer was called a hero.

This new idea — that writers, scholars and artists who stand against orthodoxy or bigotry are to blame for upsetting people — is spreading fast, even to countries like India that once prided themselves on their freedoms.

America isn’t immune from this trend. ... Out-of-step intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and the deceased Edward Said have often been dismissed as crazy extremists, “anti-American" ... One may disagree with Mr. Chomsky’s critiques of America but it ought still to be possible to recognize the courage it takes to stand up and bellow them into the face of American power.

It’s a vexing time for those of us who believe in the right of artists, intellectuals and ordinary, affronted citizens to push boundaries and take risks and so, at times, to change the way we see the world. There’s nothing to be done but to go on restating the importance of this kind of courage, and to try to make sure that these oppressed individuals ... are seen for what they are: men and women standing on the front line of liberty. How to do this? Sign the petitions against their treatment, join the protests. Speak up. Every little bit counts. 


Anonymous said...

I really don't see this as anything new at all. Those who swim against the tide of conformity have always been maligned by many, particularly their own peer group; and often only elapsed time and history changes the view of them. I think his essay is more a comment on the rise of religious extremism than the lack of moral courage.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting. Unfortunately, what he says is all too true.

If you haven't read it, Josef Anton, while not as good as his best novels, is a wonderful if sometimes terrifying ride through his post-fatwa existence.

wrinkledman said...

Moving commentary. Thank you. I stand up with you.

Marilyn said...

The world has never been kind to whistle-blowers or those who go against the grain. Messengers have always been killed. Nothing new there. Is the world more polarized and leaning towards conformity now? Perhaps...