Wednesday 10 June 2009

Noble Sorrows

Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words and suffer noble sorrows. (Charles Reade 1814-1884)

As a product of a colonial education, we were instructed about one great heroine, other than Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. She was Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), the "Lady with the Lamp",the angel who brought comfort and succour to wounded and dying soldiers during the Crimean War. She was the daughter of a wealthy landowner who claimed she was called by God to become a nurse.
However, much , much later in the 1980s I read about another lady illuminary, a peer of Florence Nightingale whose contribution and deeds were just as heroic. She was the forgotten Nightingale, a Jamaican-Scot called Mary Seacole, whose story was left untold.

But nowadays, western historians, biographers and especially the media jockeys are quite generous in parading various heroines, especially from the non-Western stables. There is of course the iconic Aung San Su Kyi, the world's most famous political prisoner. To quote someone who I cannot recall : "Her allure was underpinned by her beauty and post-colonial fairytale upbringing." Her plight so touched the conscience of world leaders that in 2003 Burma's EU assets were frozen, military assistance was suspended. Great Britain also showed the same outrage by freezing Burma's assets and called on British companies to cease trade with Burma. Such are our knights on white chargers! It also helps that Burma is a 'failed' and 'rogue' state and for decades has been keeping Western economic overtures at arm's length.

Then there came along Roxana Saberi, Miss North Dakota 1997, who played soccer for King's College, Cambridge University. She was painted as a possible scourge of the Islamic Republic of Iran and was imprisoned as a spy for the USA. The world heaved a sigh of relief when she was released. I guess Iran did not want a cause celebre on their hands. There were more urgent issues to be dealt with.
There are other Chosen Ones, heroines-cum-victims like the Somalian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a self-styled female crusader against Islam who wrote the aptly titled "The Caged Virgin". Notice how books regarding Islam delight in such surreptitiously sexual words as 'virgin' and 'veiled'. It's like an amalgam of the novels of Barbara Cartland and Henry Miller. Of course they worry about her safety but she is now happily ensconced in the arms of the American Enterprise Institute, a neo-con high temple in Washington.
Another heroine-victim who has jumped on the bandwagon of demolishing Islam is Bengali Taslima Nasreen ; a sort of female version of Sir Salman Rushdie. For a non-Westerner to be famous and acceptable in the West as a writer, it helps no end if you are a Muslim or ex-Muslim female and rubbishing Islam is your theme.
I do not deny such women the rights and privileges to be anointed as heroines, victims and potential martyrs by the powers that be . But the media and their patrons prefer to personalize the pet causes of their heroines (or the causes of their pet heroines) and ignore or veil (if I may say so) the vast tapestry of anguish and sorrows of women who are victims of war and poverty. Such women do not look as heroic or attractive, especially as the reasons for their unrelenting suffering cuts too close to the bone - too close to the Judaeo-Christian agenda and culpability.

The trouble with people is not that they don't know, but they know so much that ain't so. Henry Wheeler Shaw 1818-1885

1 comment:

anak si-hamid said...

Sorry Mus,
I cancelled both.