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Dealing With the Realities of Life

The thought of digging a hole waist deep, binding a woman’s arms, covering her head with a black scarf and standing her in the pit for a mob of frenzied men to stone her until dead is beyond my comprehension for sane people.

The alleged crime? Prostitution.

This is a scene in the opening chapter of the recently published novel The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, the feminine pen name of former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who now lives in France.

The author of two other books published in English, In the Name of God and Wolf Dreams, he took the feminine pseudonym to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by military censors while he was still in the army.

The novel depicts life in Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban.

“The reality of life under a rule such as the Taliban’s makes us despair not only of the land that could tolerate such horror, but also of the world that for so long kept silent about it,” writes fellow author Azar Nafisi of the novel.

The novel ignited in my mind the reality of life under the rule of any despotic group or individual, be they political, cultural or religious.

The landscape of history is littered with such examples: the Crusades; Communism and dictators such as Stalin, Hitler, and Saddam Hussein. Current harsh realities include several tribal, racial and religious wars–Hutu and Tutsi tribes in Rwanda, Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Unfortunately, these are but a few examples of life under the rule of despotic leadership.

While less violent, turmoil also exists amid social and religious issues. Corporate and political corruption, sexual orientation, AIDS, child and spouse abuse–both sexual and physical–hunger, poverty, gender, theology and doctrine are but a few examples the realities of life.

How can nations, societies, religious groups and even individuals, defend themselves against such realities? Edmund Burke’s famous diagnosis more than a century ago is still appropriate: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

A paraphrase of Burke’s quotation holds some promise: “The only thing necessary for the defeat of evil is for good men to do something.” For when men and/or women opt to do nothing, regardless of the reasons, they grant power and authority to another. And absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

But when men and women choose to do something, regardless of the cost, it distributes authority among the many. This ensures power for all, not the few.

Doing something, however, has its liabilities. Barbara Johns led students in a rural Virginia county on an historic walkout to protest overcrowding at their all-black school. Her efforts met with total rejection, even by the NAACP. Death threats forced her to be sent to live with relatives in Montgomery. Ultimately, however, her court case became part of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling 50 years ago in which the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional.

Refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery bus was costly for Rosa Parks but rewarding for all African-Americans as it led ultimately to passage of the Civil Rights Acts.

The sacrifice of a few resulted in the founding of the United States. And lest we forget, religious liberty in America was extremely costly to a few individuals, such as John Leland and a few others who were whipped and imprisoned, but resulted in religious freedom for all.

Depending on the reality of life in which we find ourselves, it most often can be traced to individual actions rather than the genius of a few. Failure to exercise individual freedoms, which were obtained at great cost by a few, provides the opportunity for and even encourages despotic leadership at every level in life.

We should be concerned when fewer than half of registered voters exercise that right in political elections. Yet, that is the norm rather than the exception. Or, when only 10 percent of church members vote in regular business sessions, which is also the norm.

Or when silence is the response after less than 1 percent of Southern Baptists in annual session approve an action or resolution that impacts negatively on millions of others. Or when few, if any, parents attend monthly school board and citizens their local government meetings.

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s a fact in dealing with the realities of life.

Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from Samford University after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist. This column appeared previously in the Anniston Star.