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City of Banjul
Friday, December 1, 2023

Civil courage, what does that mean to you?

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With Aisha Jallow

Let us first look at what the dictionary says:

Civic (or civil) courage is when an individual or group of individuals act, advocate, organise or lead on an issue of importance to the community at great personal, political, or professional risk. These individuals may not necessarily prevail in the short run, but their courageous actions guide our community toward better values and greater equity.

We have many great role models when we look at people with civic courage: Mother Teresa of India, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu from South Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia.

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These people are well known for their courage and what they managed to achieve thanks to their perseverance. Just as the dictionary says, “these individuals may not necessarily prevail in the short run, but their courageous actions guide our community toward better values and greater equity”.

It is not a matter of an immediate gratification, but of the greater good.

When we study the lives and the achievements of our role models, we might think that what they have done is so great, so who are we to compete with them?

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What we need to consider is that it is not a matter of competition; instead it is a matter of caring about ourselves as well as others. What is good for us is also good for others. So if we wish to live a good life, we must give others the same opportunities as well.

So what is a good life? The list can be very long, and differs from individual to individual, but if we look at the sorrow and fear that has paralysed The Gambia for some time, we end up with one word: peace.

A peaceful life is when we don’t have to fear that anyone will harm us in anyway. We can speak freely and walk around without risking getting involved in violent actions. A peaceful life is when we know that people care about each other, not in an interfering way, but as friends. A peaceful life is when we know that in need we can contact the police and feel secure because they are equipped with everything they need to prevent crime.

Yes, I am still on the matter of the killing of two police officers, or should I say, the murders? Murder is a strong word, and I am not a magistrate. I speak from a layman’s perspective in this matter. If I were a family member of one of the police officers killed, I would definitely have thought of the incident as a murder. The two police officers had no chance against the perpetrator/s, and the thug/s knew that. Going by that fact, the killings are murders to me. Why kill someone? There are always options! They could have hit the police officers or injured them, but ending someone’s life is crossing every line we can think of.

A police officer is an official person, a person trained to prevent crime and to interfere when they become aware of criminal action. They are obliged to interfere and we expect them to take their duty seriously, but what kind of duty do we have? You and I? Can we just relax and say that this is not our business so we don’t have to take any responsibility at all? When it comes to interfering in a criminal action, we as civilians are not obliged to interfere. We are not trained and sometimes we might do more harm than good, so we need to be careful. It is not always easy to know what to do, but when it comes to “someone else will do that instead”, we have gone too far into protecting ourselves.

Sometimes we are controlled by fear; we don’t know what to do or say. Other times we choose to look the other way because we don’t want to be involved. No one is always brave as well as no one always runs away from responsibility as a human being. What we do and when we do it depends on the time and the situation. If our nearest and dearest are threatened somehow, it is easier to react, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Some choose to always look away as it is more convenient for them and they don’t want to be accused of any kind of interference.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about different kinds of violence and one of the parts in my list was latent violence. The latent kind is when you never know when violence will appear, only that it will and it will hurt. Let us look at this matter from the outside, not from the victim’s perspective but the spectator’s. Let us say that you live next door to a family where the father is abusive. He threatens his wife and his children and beats them whenever he feels like it. What should you do? You understand that it must be awful for the neighbour’s wife and children to live in that situation day in and day out. You hear the sound of the beating, you hear the children scream and cry, and you see the wife with a black eye and a bandage.

Do you have any obligation to react? Yes, as a fellow human being you have that obligation, even if it feels uncomfortable. It is natural to feel afraid. The neighbour might be stronger than you and perhaps he has threatened you too. Should you look the other way and pretend that you hear nothing and see nothing? The answer is NO, because even if we are afraid we must react when there is a wrongdoing. What about if the situation was the reverse; wouldn’t you want someone to help you? What kind of world would the children of the abuser grow up in, if the only thing they knew is that they were living in fear and pain and no one cared?

Violence in the family is mostly latent. It is there, waiting to break out. It is terrifying to live like that, but as a fellow human being you can reach out. You can comfort the children if they come near you, you can encourage the wife to report her husband to the police. Treat others as you wished to be treated yourself.

If we go back to the police officers I wrote about a little bit earlier in this essay, we must consider them as people who were there to help us to live in peace. The whole responsibility for peace can never rest on them, because we must always work as a team. We can be the eyes and the ears of the police; we can tell them if there is something wrong going on somewhere. The police officers are trained to prevent, protect and interfere in crime, but they are no super humans.

Civil courage means that we are brave enough to prevent and interfere even if we are afraid. We do it for the greater good, we do it because it is the right thing to do. Police officers do this every day, and don’t say they are paid for it, because I don’t think that you are prepared to risk your life every day for such a low salary as most of our police officers are paid. Treat others as you wished to be treated, every day, always. Be brave even if you are afraid because that is the right thing to do.

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