I’ve just finished reading the brilliant and inspiring book ‘Let Her Fly’, the personal memoir of Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala.
It is by all accounts an extraordinary story of one man’s profound belief in the equality of women, despite growing up in a country and culture that kept, and continues to keep, women subservient in nearly all aspects of social, political and family life. But what is especially extraordinary is what informs those beliefs and how little Ziauddin knew about ‘feminism’ as a concept for the early part of his life. He quotes:
“What was this thing I yearned for long before Malala was born? And then wanted for her, and for my own wife, and then for my girl students, and then for all girls and all women on God’s beautiful earth? I did not articulate it, initially, as feminism. This is a valuable label that I would later learn in the West, but I was unaware of feminism then. For more than forty years, I had no idea what it meant. When it was explained to me, I said, “Oh, I have been a feminist for most of my life, almost from the beginning!” While living in Pakistan, I saw my own shifting ideas to be based more on love, decency, and humanity. I simply wanted, and continue to want, for girls everywhere to live in a world that treats them with love and meets them with open arms.” (‘Let Her Fly’ by Ziauddin Yousafzai and Louise Carpenter)
It seems to me that Ziauddin is expressing a sentiment much higher than the ‘isms’ we would put on our beliefs or political alliances. Our need to self-identify, to fight for a cause, as important as those are, must always be rooted in something much bigger and more fundamental and transformative.
This has always been the hallmark of great men and women, who campaigned not just for their own causes but saw a link between what they were fighting for and a higher order of thinking that put the divinity back at the heart of humanity. And by divinity, I mean having a spiritual dimension, a sense of something bigger and more superior than ourselves, and with a substance that is all good.
Martin Luther King, in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, quotes St Thomas of Aquinas:
“A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.”
For King, as with others, the human scene had to be a reflection of the divine plan. That was the standard by which we were to hold ourselves accountable.
I think often of this in the political upheaval that we are witnessing. When our politicians exhibit scarcely a shred of moral fibre or ‘higher order thinking’ and when our democratic system is undermined by decisions made purely on the basis of self-interest. When we align ourselves with a particular political party or policy at the expense of a universal moral code that exalts not debases.
It seems that some political decisions or identities ARE based more on love for humanity than other can be. Decisions based on personal interest, isolation, xenophobia, racism, sexism, extremism, etc can never have the moral force that those based on inclusion, leadership, community, equality, respect, democracy can have. This is what saddens me as I watch the catastrophe of Brexit unfold. Whatever your personal viewpoints are on the merits and mistakes of being part of the EU, to me, Brexit cannot stand on the motives of a few men’s egos, and the hatred, xenophobia and arrogance that seem to define the wishes of those who want to leave a community that has ensured one of the longest periods of peace in Europe. Self-interest cannot and must not be bigger than global peace and security and the love for humanity that those goals inspire.
We have to make our decisions based on that higher order of love. For, if not, what will we become? Plunged back into the darkness of our past, a world order shadowed in fear, hatred and xenophobia?
For me, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s vision is what every personal or political belief should be based on, whether you call yourself a feminist, a conservative, an environmentalist, whatever. Love, decency and humanity. When those motives are correct, it will inform our political and personal decisions at a much higher order. And the right resolution will follow.