Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, February 2014
Ten Principles to Guide the Young Activists
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, February 1, 2014
Here are a few thoughts that are an outcome of my own experiences, and
nothing else (for the young activists everywhere).
“Ego” is Latin for “I”, but its implications are common to every
language. If an activist doesn’t learn to control his ego, he is likely to
suffer numerous consequences, and perhaps ultimately fail in his mission. An
activist, especially one who represents causes deemed ‘controversial’, will
find himself under repeated attacks and unwarranted accusations targeting
his ‘self’ not his ideas. And while there are those who will try to thrash
your confidence, there are also those who will hail your perceived success
and heroism even. Both are dangerous to the ego, for they could upset the
balance necessary to keep us focused and involved as members of a larger
community, and moral in our behavior and conduct.
It is easy to get pulled into all sorts of directions that may separate
you from your original mission. To ensure that you will always find your way
back, you must be clear on what you stand for and why. Thus it is essential
that you define your cause, first and foremost to yourself before you
present it to others. Internalize it as an enduring part of your character
before you stand in front of a crowd, hold a microphone, or carry a banner.
If you are not fully convinced of your message, you will not be able to
Even if your message pertains to a local cause, find the universal aspect
of your drive to bring about change, and embrace it. “Injustice anywhere is
a threat to justice everywhere,” said Martin Luther King Jr. If you adhere
to this notion alone, you know that you will remain true, not just to your
cause, but to the underlying values that give it meaning. Universal human
rights can always serve as a gage by which you can assess matters within a
larger moral framework.
The onus is not on your audience to relate to you as much as it is on you
to relate to their frame of reference: their history, their political
reality and other dynamics that operate within and control their society.
Only then, can you tailor your words and expectations – but never the
morality of your message – in ways that they may understand, relate to, and
It doesn’t matter how worthy a cause is, if it is too distant or
disconnected from people. It is essential that you allow your audience the
chance to relate to your cause as that of people, with names and stories,
beautiful, inspiring, but also disheartening and complex. But it is
important that you don’t provide a sanctified, thus unrealistic narrative
either, for your audience will disown you and question your credibility.
Humanize your subject, but remain truthful in your presentation.
Education will give you access to otherwise inaccessible platforms. It
will empower you and your message with the articulation you need to widen
your circle of support. But you are also an intellectual. The right
education could further develop your intellect. And when it is done with
sincerity, both education and intellect will feed on one another. While
there is no harm in adhering to an ideology that you may perceive to hold
the answers to the dilemmas with which you contend, be wary of becoming an
ideologue, a slave to stubborn dogmas. That will stifle your intellect and
will make your education a mere platform to serve unworthy, elitist causes.
No matter how powerful your argument may seem, how high your education
and how insurmountable your intellect is, remain humble and open-minded. If
you close your mind, it will cease to grow. Your ideas will eventually
become outdated, and your ability to imagine a world beyond your own will
wither and die under the weight of your own sense of self-importance.
It is not enough that you want to change the world. Sure, do that, but
you must have a clear notion of what that actually means, and how you wish
to bring it about. Such a roadmap can always help you reexamine your work
and reassess your actions, and, if ever necessary, alter or entirely change
The fight for justice is unending, as is the struggle against racism, and
inequality. So ‘success’ in this context, by definition is relative. While
you must acknowledge, even celebrate achievements along the way, let
‘success’ be a milestone towards another goal, and not an end in itself.
This way you can always keep moving forward, with a vision that passes the
immediate goal, on to a greater one, where the ‘rendezvous of victory’ is an
idea, so coveted, yet unattainable.
Only by living life you contribute to it. Don’t estrange yourself from
your surroundings. Learn from the mistakes others make, and from your own.
Don’t be afraid or feel guilty if you try to find balance in your life.
Enjoy a sustainable life, but without excess. The fight is long, at times
arduous, but you are here, along with millions of others, for the long haul.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent Al-Jazeerah & ccun.org.
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