‘To threaten the brave with death is like promising water to a duck,” says an old Arabian proverb.
We grew up with terms like courage, upholding values such as truth and kindness, and memorised poetry and songs about sacrifices for love and peace.
Sitting back, I am in awe over the numerous heroes I have come across in my career. Almost 10 years ago I was in a busy Baghdad street when a shooting erupted and made almost everyone who was there bolt for their lives. There were two exceptions: a woman who first grabbed two children before she ran and a news-stand vendor who picked up an elderly man before he ran. They were not her children and the old man was not his relative. Even in the midst of danger, these two paused and looked around and saved complete strangers. They were heroes.
Remembering heroes is an important tradition in all cultures and nations, and one of the few ways of thanking them for their sacrifices. Yesterday, the UAE honoured its heroes on Commemoration Day, a day picked for its historic significance as it was 45 years ago that the country’s first hero made the ultimate sacrifice, even before the UAE officially existed.
Salim Suhail bin Khamis, 20, was one of six police officers stationed on the island of Greater Tunb when it, and Lesser Tunb, were invaded by Iran before the UAE was founded on December 2, 1971. Iran also occupied the island of Abu Musa.
Salim became the country’s first martyr when he refused to lower the Ras Al Khaimah flag from the police station he was guarding. At the time, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb belonged to Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Musa to Sharjah. Only one photo of Salim exists – an official photo in a police uniform as he joined the force at the age of 18. His story and the story of all of the UAE heroes inspire us all. Their narratives will never be forgotten and their names will be immortalised on the monument erected this year.
Heroes make sacrifices for the rest of us; they do it for a whole country and for the present and future generations.
Some nations in constant turmoil have their own heroes, but who is recording their names?
In Syria, there was the 82-year-old Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al Asaad, who even after being tortured, refused to tell the terrorist group ISIL where the hidden artefacts were. He was beheaded and his decapitated body put on display. He is known among archaeology and history circles as the “Martyr of Palmyra”. In Iraq, ISIL tortured and killed outspoken educated women like Sameera Salih Ali Al Nuaimy, a lawyer known for working to advance women’s rights.
She paid with her life for criticising their reign as “barbaric”. These are just two examples of heroes who dared to stand up to terrorists.
Courage comes in many forms. Earlier this month, Lebanon lost one of its outspoken heroes, Ghazi Aad, founder of Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile, who has been working for almost three decades to reveal the fates and whereabouts of thousands of persons who went missing in Lebanon during and after its civil war. Wheelchair-bound, Aad died at the age of 59, having spent his life helping others.
“This topic was taboo, and I have received death threats from so many different sides that wanted this story dead and buried,” he told me a few years ago. I would see how he would hold the hand of a grieving mother whose child went missing in the 1980s, a child who had just stepped out to get some chocolate from a nearby store and never came home. He would listen, and listen, and try and try again to push the authorities to help these families find answers and peace.
May all the heroes rest in peace, and we wish their family and friends peace, love and patience. History is made by those who have the courage to stand out.