Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Op-ed, Today/abs-cbnNEWS.com
November 29, 2004

In a protest in London's Trafalgar Square, a feeble-bodied man stands defiantly against the war-mongers. He embraces the families of the dead and speaks a truth that so many continue to refuse to hear.

The US-led war on Iraq is based on lies, said Stephen Hawking, the most famous British scientist, who suffers from motor neurone disease. Except for the ability to move some fingers, Hawking is totally paralyzed. Yet as he spoke and led the London protest, he did not need arms or legs or speech.

"It has been a tragedy for all the families that have lost members," said Hawking during the protest, shaming the actively unconcerned. "As many as 100,000 people have died, half of them women and children. If that is not a war crime, what is?"[1]

Resistance is eternal and imperial rule ephemeral in the brief history of time. "One person with a belief," John Stuart Mill once said, "is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests." Perhaps even equal to a force ten times greater. Or more.

From the bell tower of St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, Mordechai Vanunu gazes at the expanse below, pulls at the center bell and speaks: "Down there is where they sentenced me to 18 years in prison. This is my way of saying I am still here." [2]

While working as a technician at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert, Vanunu became disquieted by his discovery of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program. Despite his awareness of the risks, Vanunu took photos of the plant and smuggled them out and sought the help of media in exposing to the world Israel's illegal factories of weapons of mass destruction. A short time later, the whistle blower was kidnapped and shipped back to Israel by the Mossad - Israel's thugs - with the help of agents from the intelligence services of America, Britain and Italy.

In the first 11 years of his captivity, Vanunu was kept in solitary confinement. How did he survive? "I decided from the beginning that they could have my body in prison but my spirit, mind, brain, I would keep free, under my control; that would be my way out," said Vanunu. When he finally stepped out of Israel's prison, among Vanunu's first words were two simple declarations of fact: "They have not broken me. Israel's illegal nuclear weapons program must be shut down."

Seven months after his release, Vanunu was re-arrested, then released again. But released to what? Vanunu is forbidden to leave Israel, forbidden to approach any of Israel's borders, forbidden to associate with foreigners, forbidden to talk to journalists, forbidden to speak, forbidden to live the normal life, forbidden to spread his message.

"I want to continue to seek the abolition of nuclear weapons around the world, not only in Israel . . . I also plan to find a woman and have a family," said Vanunu in a recent interview he knows he is not allowed to have.

"I don't know what is the best way to overcome [the Israeli government's] restrictions," said Vanunu. "Is it by silence or is it by speaking? I decided it was by speaking. If I speak . . . I am teaching them that they cannot silence anyone ... If they take away your right to speak, you are not a human being any more . . . [T]hey could kill me. If they want to do something, it's not a big problem for them but I am not in fear, I am just living my life. Fear will not help me."

Fear will not help any of us either. And neither will indifference.

In the far reaches of Hong Kong, a Filipina mother toils day and night for a family she is not a member of. She sweeps their floor, cleans their toilets, takes care of their children, cooks their daily meals and wipes their tables and chairs and desks, changes their bed sheets and does their laundry and takes out their trash. Over and over without let up.

After all this, Loretta Brunio has as much time left as she has energy - very little and close to nothing. And yet somehow the mother of three finds both time and energy to attend to the needs of the Coalition for Migrant Rights (CMR), an organization she helped form in 1999 from idea to fruition while working full time as a domestic help. Along with her equally dedicated colleagues, Loretta Brunio saw to it that the first composition of CMR was not just Filipinos but included as well Indonesians, Sri Lankans, Thais, Nepalese and Indians.

Where does she find the time to do all this? Rest should take up the remainder of the day after her work: the body needs pause and the soul needs respite in order to shore up the walls that hem in the cloister of heartaches and loneliness. Yet she always finds time.[3]

The Filipina mother turns on its head the biblical adage "to whom much is given, much is expected in return." Given close to nothing, Loretta Brunio gives everything and expects nothing in return.

A man imprisoned for close to eternity whose dreams continue to travel around the world and who still longs only to find a woman to fall in love with; a totally paralyzed man whose heart has somehow surpassed the heights reached by his towering intellect; a poor woman who does battle daily with back-breaking work and isolation all the while armed with dignity.

In a world imprisoned by self-inflicted ignorance, among people sedated by affluence, inside communities immobilized by fear, the conduct of three imperfect individuals reminds us today of the essence from which springs acts that we have come to know as that glorious but seemingly unattainable thing called heroism.

We honor our heroes not merely by erecting monuments in their likeness. We celebrate them, too, by recognizing that they were not uncommon women and men but ordinary people like us who carried attributes that we, too, in truth possess: extraordinary hope, will and heart.

[1] "Scientist Stephen Hawking decries war," USA Today, November 3, 2004.
[2] "Long walk to freedom," Duncan Campbell, The Guardian-UK, November 15, 2004.
[3] "Loretta Brunio: Filipino," Renato Redentor Constantino, Today, January 12, 2004.

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