Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Martyr in us

Granted. Life, as one international writer put it, is short, though a little longer than human beings.

This realization has sent human minds into high-level production mode, as they run through the race to make the best out of a short stint.

The Romans and Greeks, people with a long history of martyrdom and martyrs, realized thousands of years ago that life is very important, and concluded that only under circumstances beneficial to a family, community or empire should man take his life away.

Then came the realization that life could buy freedom and, all of a sudden, life became a commodity on which, when taken away, individuals rose to positions of national importance.

Today, martyrdom is as important as a nation’s monetary currency.

A martyr, for a start, is someone who dies or suffers greatly for his beliefs. This raises questions over people who suffer to propagate national causes, and those who suffer or die for personal reasons.

Who, for instance, is a martyr between these three categories of people: those who die for personal gain, but happen to share a common need with a given population that people begin to believe they sacrificed their comfort all citizens; those who do it because of fear that, if they fail to, others will do it, and; those who fall into it because, if they did not, nobody could do it- the courageous type who dare those in authority and challenge them to a contest of either reason, psychological warfare or pure militancy.

Human behaviour experts, notably Michael Clegg Bleby, say real martyrs are those who die, or suffer greatly, for the sake of others- so long as they are indispensable.

Bleby says if an individual suffers death or injury because of opposition to injustices, and it is highly probable that others in that position could have done the same, then, forget about calling such people national heroes, let alone national martyrs. They merely found themselves at the wrong place, for the right reasons!

Real martyrs often sprout if- in the face of a cohesive, political elite, or a bureaucracy of a dominant ruling class- the ordinary man, with ordinary hopes and aspirations, cannot have their voice heard, or have no prospect of a positive response from those in authority. A martyr, like a Biblical prophet, then rises up.

In other words, the behaviour of people is shaped, or can be shaped, by circumstances, says Chancellor-college based sociologist, Pearson Ntata. Circumstances, he enthuses, will always tilt people’s minds towards martyrdom.

Martyrdom is an act of courage; a contest of the human mind against unpleasant social, political, economic, religious, and cultural realities. The martyr’s objective is not to understand the world, oppressive systems, and leaders anymore; it is to change circumstances.

Such people may have some inner arguments about the meaning of their actions, being sometimes wary of their own missions and explanations. But they always do it for the common good.

‘People will always fight against injustices such as human rights violations, and die in the attempt of getting their way,” says Kenwilliams Mhango, Board member for the Human Rights Consultative Committee.

If not, wonders Mhango, why else do people die on hope; the hope that, somehow, the future will be fine- a future they will never be there to enjoy.

As strange as this may sound, martyrdom is in-built for the human being, and is as old as time itself, Mhango says, adding that martyrdom has no time scope.

In fact, argues Mhango, if there was an accolade for the ‘fastest growing word’ in the world, martyrdom would surely have made it tops.

Civil society organisations and political parties point to the late Speaker of Parliament, Rodwell Munyenyembe, as a classic example of Malawi’s modern day martyr: He lost his life in the process of restoring order and peace in a chaotic Parliament.

He died fighting for peace in peaceful Malawi.

“He (Munyenyembe) was a man of peace and order; he is a martyr,” says Edward Chaka, executive director for People’s Federation for National Peace and Development. It is a point Alliance for Democracy’s secretary general, Khwauli Msiska, agrees with.

Martyrdom is timeless because there are always alternative political, religious, and economic dark ages looming, caused, like most before, by the kick back of human mismanagement of ourselves and others, and the scanty basic resources on which modern civilization is based.

The only difference could be that, this time, global is the scale.

The real martyr does not bear the sight of his country collapsing under the weight of tyranny and oppression. He will demand that human rights wear the face of importance as the water we drink.

There are times when these seemingly little efforts have degenerated into revolutions and mass protests. But the extent to which courageous acts broaden into full scale revolutions depends entirely on the scale of oppression.

And whether the efforts of people who engage in martyrdom acts are appreciated, depends entirely on a nation’s perspective.

This brings us to the question of how Malawian society perceives martyrs. The martyr must be dead. The martyr must be male. In the absence of national standards on what qualifies one to become a martyr, society is sure to continue overlooking the living and women.

The truth remains that women have played their role in boosting men’s morale when the men set out on tough missions. They have prepared the man’s mind, putting it in positive, confident frame.

This is common sense. Psychological research findings have it that unity of the spirit is far more important than unity in form.

That is why other people are, or were, called prisoners of conscience. For instance, our own Jack Mapanje saw the lack of unity in his spirit and responded in form by putting his thoughts on paper, getting exiled on the strength of his principles.

Often, the martyr is a peace-minded individual, who will never cease to send out peace signals of one kind or another. When things fail, they fight for what they believe in.

Thus, Martyrs’ day is all about cerebrating the living, and those no longer being- those who recognized their ‘point of no return’, grabbed it, and deposited their blood in the bank of freedom in spirit and form.

Martyrs include those who fight for social, economic, cultural, religious, and political causes. But a real martyr suffers, or dies, fighting for the common symbols of a nation state: national flag, national anthem, national currency, and emblem.

Before the establishment of the State, when chiefdoms stitched communities, political martyrs were hard to come by. It was expected of chiefs not to order their people, but depend on them, and protect them. Except for the occasional tussling over chieftainship, life was a bag of relative peace.

The state, then, came. Tracing its history to 500 BC in Mexico, following the foundation of the Monte Alban as a new Capital for the Zapotecs, the new phenomenon met the need for local cooperation in managing water and other resources, and the provision of security.

A more powerful and centralized form of rule was born!

This gave rise to political martyrdom cases, as opposed to the more dominant religious martyrdoms.

Martyrdom is not an end unto itself; just one of the many routes towards human perfection. But, because what people aspire for never becomes perfect, there will always be one type of conflict or another, and national states will continue to flourish in the richness of these conflicts.

In the process, some will always suffer, or lose their lives, and become martyrs in the eyes of their own, or next, generations.

Martyrs are, in short, life’s children. We are life’s children, too. The martyr, therefore, may be living, and hiding, in us. The martyr could be us.

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