Sunday, September 14, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 11 - Walking in Integrity - September 6, 2008

During a recent trip to San Diego, my daughter and I got pedicures at a salon overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Crazed by the sunshine and salty sea air, I opted to have my toes painted blue. Yes, blue. Bright blue. With raised eyebrows, Beth shook her head at her mother’s bizarre behavior.

“Do you want flowers?” the nail tech inquired.

To which I wholeheartedly replied, “Of course!”

I left the shop quite pleased with my blue-slushy colored nails with white, rhinestone-bedecked flowers. What fun to switch roles with my daughter and be the trendsetter, while Beth played it safe with classic red!

Back a few years, I would not have had bucked fashion rules or peer expectations, and I would have gone to great lengths to spare my daughter embarrassment. Older and wiser now, I’ve become a woman of integrity, from my highlighted hair down to my blue painted toes.

While I am able to say and demonstrate what I believe in small things, am I able to do the same with more important and controversial issues? I know that I am free to speak my mind, but I often censor myself. Occasionally I fear that if I speak up, I will be judged or rejected, laughed at or ignored, as if my opinions are not worth listening to.

However, I do not need to silence myself because I fear punishment or death; but there are many people in this world who do. I am awed by and admire those brave souls who will not bow to tyranny; who speak their truth at great cost to themselves. One such individual is the Iraqi-born poet, Nabeel Yasin.

Now renowned as “the Poet of Baghdad,” Yasin began writing poetry during his childhood. He grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a close-knit, middleclass, Shiite family, the son of hardworking parents with strong values. He was only eight years old when his brother, Juma’a, was imprisoned and brutally tortured—the first of many imprisonments for three of the Yasin brothers.

“It is your duty to write,” his mother told Nabeel, at age fifteen. “You have been blessed in ways that others have not. And though you should be careful how you do it, you must use your talent.” Saddam Hussein became vice-president of Iraq in 1968, and as he quickly rose in power in the Ba’ath party, Nabeel was penning his own passionate thoughts in his increasingly popular poetry.

Although Yasin did not affiliate himself with any political party, his ideas about freedom and self-expression, fueled by hatred for his brothers’ enemies, resulted in arrests, interrogations, imprisonments and brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba’athist regime. In 1978, his passport stamped with “enemy of the state,” Nabeel went into hiding to avoid certain death. Reluctantly, in 1980, he and his wife, Nada, and infant son fled their beloved homeland.

The Yasins sought refuge in many cities in the Mideast and Europe, finally settling in London. Unbeknownst to Nabeel, though his poetry was banned by the Ba’athist regime, copies of his poems were distributed covertly and memorized by many—a candle of hope burning brightly during over two decades of war and tyranny.

“Two generations of Iraqis, some 60 per cent of the population, have been raised in the shadow of war,” wrote Yasin in 2007, coming of age entrenched in “an ideology of violence” that dates back thousands of years. While Yasin believes that Iraq needs assistance from the west, he believes in the youth of his homeland and fervently encourages Iraqi poets, writers and artists “to “ignite a new set of cultural aspirations among the young.”

Would I stand up for—and stand firm in—my beliefs if my integrity was similarly challenged?

Could I find—and inspire—hope in the face of such destructive ideology?

Every country can point proudly to their poets, preachers and politicians who act courageously and inspire hope.

May I—may we—follow their courageous examples of integrity.

May we set courageous examples of integrity, and ignite hope, aspirations and integrity in others.

“As long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils…
I will not deny my integrity.”
Job 2:3-5 NIV

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