In the Absence of Leadership
Four days ago, I was asked to write a little something about what the term "leadership" could promise in conflict-driven regions, and what it could particularly signify to young women in conflict-driven regions today. Some of my thoughts:
In the Middle East context, the more I think of the term "youth leadership", the more I realize that we as youth in the Middle East question that role, as we have repeatedly watched our leaders let us down. Leadership roles for so many years have proved to lack in power. We have watched leaders get turned down, shunned and ignored as they keep asking for permits, for freedom of movement, for justice, the recognition of basic rights, for some attention, some sympathy; we have watched them complain yet and again, we have watched them fail. Leadership and whatever the term leadership entails; be it self-respect, admiration or power to change, that type of leadership has failed before our eyes.
Engraved in our memory today, as youth from a conflict-driven area, is the lack of justice towards our people. Everyday we deal with discrimination, injustice, war and lack of peace and security. We would not be surprised if at any moment chaos erupts and turns the tables upside down. Anything could happen in our region at any time, and when it happens, nobody could stop it from happening. It could be something completely unfair, unjust and insane yet there is no legal entity or authority that would protect us from its happening. Lands could be shelled, houses torn to pieces, schools bombed, families kept from seeing each other, walls built violating human rights (...) the list goes on.
It is highly important to note that when war has erupted in Palestine, one after the other, nobody could stop it from erupting. Nobody could stop the people from dying, nobody is stopping the walls from getting built and nobody is stopping houses from getting confiscated. Alas, if an old man is walking down the street and a soldier decides to shoot him for no reason whatsoever, nobody, no matter how powerful nationally or internationally, could stop it from happening. We as youth are hence not easily comforted by promises and assurances because our memory has taught us otherwise. All of our experiences have turned us to become the generation of PARANOIA; filled with conspiracy theories and left unprotected, as we can count on no one to cover our back.
The more I think of the term "leadership" in our conflict-driven region, the more I see that the youth in our region do not aspire to become such leaders in that respect, because we keep observing the leaders as they fail, and we do not aspire to be in their shoes.
In the era of failure and defeat, one recognizes a leader when one comes across a person who remains undefeated despite all the suffering. A young woman friend from Gaza, recently after the war on Gaza, shared these words in the local papers. She said that having seen the blankness of the world, as they turned their eyes from the war while she watched people die left and right before her; she was suddenly shaken by the meaninglessness of it all. It was a scary moment, she said, but having taken it in, she decided then and there that life is here and it is here now. For some of us, this is all we've got, but if the case is so, then that is good enough! "I decided to live with what I've got," she said, "and I decided to live it well." That by itself could signify leadership.
One could perhaps not be able to imagine how women in Gaza cope with no water, no electricity, no freedom of movement and no basic rights, with the possibility of war erupting at any given moment and with no media coverage; leaving its citizens with nothing but paranoia on their minds. At the same time, one cannot measure pain. It may be the 21st century, but there is harshness and cruelty still. Women are constantly stigmatized, and to this day women are abused in all parts of the world. Difficulties that women are facing somewhere else may not include lack of water and electricity, but there are difficulties still. One could perhaps not see the pain some women are enduring, yet every now and then, we pass across a few who carry their pain with strength and go through life with no bitterness. These are where leadership traits start to appear and spark a light of hope. It is from insisting, that even when the world seems to have crushed itself into pieces, we have not yet given up on the world. We still aspire, get inspired and inspire, as we move on and move forward.
I thank each and every one of you for recognizing the pain that women are enduring and for knowing that strength comes not from closing one's eyes in delusion, but from opening them up. I thank you for giving importance to building the strength within and letting our voices be heard. You may not be hearing my actual voice right now, nor can you see my face as I speak, yet if my words have come through, then I have no reason to complain. For it is now that matters, and if this is what we've got now, then that's good enough!
NOTE: Just as I was sending this message, I found an email from Paolo Coelho's Warriors of the Light mailing list and it was under the title: "In search of the perfect leader." Strangely enough, I had just finished writing my message and found that his thoughts could perhaps conclude mine! Here is some of what he wrote:
"The truth is that the great revolutions and the progress made by humanity were brought about by people just like us - the only difference being that they had the courage to make a key decision at a crucial moment.
"A long time ago, in my unconscious, I changed the word "leader" for the expression "warrior of light". What is a warrior of light?
"Warriors of light keep the spark in their eyes.
"They are in the world, are part of other people's lives, and began their journey without a rucksack and sandals. They are often cowards. They don't always act right.
"Warriors of light suffer over useless things, have some petty attitudes, and at times feel they are incapable of growing. They frequently believe they are unworthy of any blessing or miracle.
"Warriors of light are not always sure what they are doing here. Often they stay up all night thinking that their lives have no meaning.
"Every warrior of light has felt the fear of joining in battle. Every warrior of light has once lost faith in the future.
"Every warrior of light has once trodden a path that was not his. Every warrior of light has once felt that he was not a warrior of light. Every warrior of light has once failed in his spiritual obligations.
"That is what makes him a warrior of light; because he has been through all this and has not lost the hope of becoming better than he was.
"That is why they are warriors of light. Because they make mistakes. Because they wonder. Because they look for a reason - and they will certainly find one."
February 5, 2009