21 February 2007
The way people carry on about war and other forms of upheaval, one would think that the absense of such things is the normal state of affairs. Ayaan Hirsi Ali offers food for thought for those who think so.

People ask me incessantly what it’s like to live with perpetual death threats. This question is most often asked by Westerners, with the naiveté of those who consider life to be naturally peaceful. Born in Somalia, the daughter of an opponent of Siyad Barré’s dictatorship, I grew up in my country, then in Saudi-Arabia and in Kenya in an environment in which death invited itself without end. A virus, a bacterium, a parasite, a drought, a famine, a civil war, soldiers, torturers: death could take all forms and hit anyone, anytime. When I had malaria, I got well again. When I was circumcised, my wound transformed into scar tissue, and I survived. When my Qur’an teacher fractured my skull, doctors saved me. A bandit put the blade of his knife against my throat: I’m still alive, and more of a rebel than ever before. (Emphases mine.)

The fact is life, even at its best, is difficult. Much of our activity is intended to remove all the difficulty from life, as if life should not be difficult. Much of our political discourse in this country is focused on who, or which party, promises to remove difficulty from our lives. And each time some difficulty is removed, or its degree of severity decreased, we respond by insisting that one more difficulty be removed, and another and another. All of this rooted, of course, in the fear of death.

Ali’s perseverance as a rebel, despite having a bandit’s knife against her throat (among other things), suggests that instead of trying to remove all the difficulties from life that we can, we ought to strengthen ourselves to confront and live through difficulty.

The simple fact is this: there has never been a truly lasting period of personal peace and affluence. Every such period has ultimately failed (take, e.g., the Great Depression); and those who thought – fantasized – that it should be otherwise (or would continue to be otherwise indefinitely) were the ones who were unable to cope, and suffered the most, when it did so.

We can alleviate some suffering: we can offer palliatives for it. But we cannot remove it from our lives. Neither can we escape death. Not even in America.

The reality is that, although we don’t realize it because we are affluent enough to be surrounded by sufficient distrations, we all live under a perpetual death threat.

So many people would have so little power over us if we truly understood that.


About Me

James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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