Walkabouts and wonders

"A life not examined is a life not lived" – Socrates

Tag Archives: freedom

Questions of freedom

A couple of weeks ago, a small ceremony took place in a London square; a memorial was unveiled to a young Indian and Muslim princess, Noor Inayat Khan, who parachuted into Nazi-occupied France in World War II to act as a spy for the British. She was captured, tortured and then executed in a concentration camp – her last shouted word before the crash of the rifles, “Liberte”. Her memorial is a salutary reminder of the many individuals who have given their lives resisting the barbaric and fighting for freedom .

I was reminded again of this, when I stopped in the British Museum for a couple of hours between appointments in London. It is a place where I have often spent a fascinating hour or two, marvelling at the great works of past peoples and civilisations – Egypt, Assyria, Saxon England, the Ming dynasty China. This day, I went into the Ancient Greek galleries.

The total number of items on display isn’t actually that great, but it does include some remarkable pieces – statues that still carry a sense of reverence for the beauty and divinity of the human form as perceived in that time, more than 2,000 years ago. But the great majority of the displays come from one of the earliest and greatest single examples of ancient public art still to be seen in the world today; the Parthenon at Athens – only the temples and pyramids of Ancient Egypt, remain as visible in our modern times. These statues and relief carvings were created as part of a powerful and permanent reminder of the triumph of the free Greek states against the threat of conquest by the Empire of Persia, 2,400 years ago. And it was created by public agreement. What an exhilarating thing it must have been for the people of Athens to pass through the portals of a monument to their own beliefs and courage, built at their own hands.


But then, to bring everything completely up to date, as I left through the gates of the museum, a tall young man reached out to me in the evening gloom – he passed me a booklet entitled “Discover Islam”. Against a background of fear, suspicion and antagonism created by the last few years’ extremist behaviour, it described a faith that promotes peace, compassion and acquiescence to the will of a supreme creator.

From the time that the Parthenon was first conceived and no doubt before, individuals and nations have fought at different times for their freedom – often standing on opposing sides and frequently invoking the same ideas and the same gods as their authority against each other. Standing back and considering that history, I cannot help feeling that either, the human race is mad or, we need some fundamental new thinking about what freedom is and what it means. Freedom for whom? To do what? And at what cost? A freedom maintained by guns and fear, or a freedom used to self-satisfaction only – are these the ways of true freedom, or something lesser that masquerades as such, deceiving us as to our own higher nature?

Beauty and the Beast

I have been reading and re-reading another blog on WordPress –“Beauty and the Beast” – it is a raw and powerful piece telling of a woman’s experience of mental and emotional bullying from a (now) ex-husband, its continuing effects (rendering her a beast in her own eyes, even now) and the efforts she is now making to recover a sense of beauty and worth.

Naturally, many of her readers have sent messages of support and love, and she says how much this helps, but I wonder if she realises the significance of her very attempt to start her life anew. For surely, the greatest of all human beauties is freedom, for all the other beauty that humans have or can produce; love, honour, warmth, grace of movement, music, song – they rely upon freedom. That is why any story of a struggle for liberation always strikes such a deep chord in people. This woman may find it difficult to believe, but in the very act of trying to free herself of her history, she liberates that greatest of all beauties and actually puts herself alongside many of the greats of history, from the civil rights movement in America, to the freedom-leaders of South Africa, the wartime French resistance, the Congress movement in India, the suffragettes of many countries,  and so on.

And so this woman’s story is a story and an example to us all; very important in these times, I think.

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