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November 17, 2017

11/1/2017 4:31:00 PM
Facing Death, Keeping Their Humanity

A twinge of wishfulness comes easy this time of year. Falling leaves, cold winds, and early darkness evoke summers of the past.

Inside, a fire in the hearth insulates us from the chill of the future. 

The dark sky morning and evening and the quiet stirrings of the City before sunrise give the illusion that we can fashion the day to our pleasure. 

Metaphors abound. Darkness approaches but light will prevail. The dying stalks will thrive again in the spring. Underground, in the dark, there is life felt but unknown.

These notions and others we fashion to give ourselves courage and build up our nerve to face the hassles of the week.

For the most part, these are first-world dreams and problems. We live in a democracy – a threatened one these days – but one still governed by checks and balances. Our task these days is to keep our humanity when we are besieged by those who would divide us.

A heart-stopping example of keeping one’s humanity in the face of unspeakable brutality was recounted in last week’s New York Times.

Writing from Maiduguri, Nigeria, one of the most violent places on the planet because of the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, Dionne Searcey, the Times’s West African Bureau Chief, told stories of 18 young women who had been kidnapped by the radical ISIS group and ordered to be suicide bombers. For the past few years, Boko Haram soldiers have used young women to detonate bombs in various civilian and military areas, blowing up themselves and some of “the enemy.”

Each of these young women, all teenagers or younger, was outfitted with a bomb, given a detonator and instructed to get into a crowd and blow up as many people as possible, herself included. Some were given only the strict order; at least one was promised “paradise” for killing others and herself.

It is easy to imagine but difficult to really fathom the kind of evil and brutality to which these young women had been subjected even before they were selected to be angels of death.

Yet, as Ms. Searcey lets their stories unfold, none of the girls spoke directly of the trauma; instead, they told of how they looked for and found a way out that did not kill anyone.

Facing death, each decided to reject the command to kill and be killed. In story after story, the young women said they did not wish to cause harm to others.

They sought help from strangers, who aided them in removing the bombs.

Most have returned to school; they want to study to become professionals in the service of others: teachers, doctors, lawyers.  

The steadfast courage and compassion of these young women – surely brutalized by their captors, who tried also to brainwash them into being good soldiers – is heart-stopping.

So, too, is the brutalization by their captors.

In too many places around the globe – even one place is too many –  women are beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered by men. Domestic violence month has passed, but violence against women rages on, worldwide.







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