President Michael D Higgins Speech at the Sean MacBride International Peace Prize Award
Saturday November 17, 2012 07:37 by Volunteer
From 16/11/12 at All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin
Organised by the International Peace Bureau and hosted by Afri - Action from Ireland.
President Higgins was the first recipient of the Sean MacBride International Peace Prize.
"[General Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here today for the presentation of this prestigious peace prize. I would like to thank the International Peace Bureau for inviting me to present the prize and all of you for that very kind welcome.]
It is exactly twenty years since I was honoured by being chosen as the first recipient for this prestigious award. In accepting it I said that:
“The conservative can exist in comfort only by averting his gaze. To choose to know is to risk being presented with a dilemma. That dilemma, put simply, is that, once one knows, you can, from that moment, live only in the bad faith of guilty silence or act. Many choose not to know”.
"It is, indeed, very easy to choose not to know; to unthinkingly accept a dominant ideology; to conform unquestioningly to a status quo. The rejection of creeds which are founded on intolerance and extremism, and the active contesting of systems that are unjust, patriarchal, military, capitalist or racist require enormous bravery. It also requires a courageous vision that is prepared to transcend the self in the pursuit of basic human rights.
Today we are here to honour two such brave and courageous women; women who have refused to become circumscribed by self interest and who have been prepared to agitate, to struggle and to rage against the inhumanity that they have ‘chosen to know’ within their culture, within their society, within their country. It is a battle that has often placed them in considerable personal danger; and one that has required enormous levels of self sacrifice as they struggle to assert their humanistic vision and stand against a cultural hegemony that allows the exploitation and mistreatment of large sectors of their societies.
Lina Ben Mhenni and Dr. Nawal El Saadawi have much in common: their laudable courage, their determination to show to us the true evil that can emerge from hatred, prejudice and intolerance; their deep abhorrence of the terrible inhumanity that can arise when one sector of society consider themselves to be better than everyone else and believe that they have been born into a gender, class, race, religion or ethnicity that is superior to all others; their commitment to highlighting the consequences that occur when a sense of human empathy and shared solidarity is lost or destroyed; and, of course their great inability to look the other way, to engage in denial or to simply ‘not want to know’.
Both women have made contributions to peace, democracy and human rights that have impacted enormously on their own countries but have also ensured that their voices are heard all over the world. They are also exceptional and extraordinary individuals who have brought two unique and distinctive voices to the fight for global peace and justice.
In her own words, Dr Nawal El Saadawi has been “swimming against the tide all my life”. Her dedication to overthrowing totalitarianism in her home country of Egypt and her ongoing battle against the problems faced by women in Egypt has lead to imprisonment, to persecution and to enforced exile from the country she has fought so hard to transform. As one of the leading feminists of her generation she has shone an unrelenting spotlight on the role that western imperialism and the class structure of Arab societies has played in establishing, embedding, and maintaining women’s second class status within those societies. She has undertaken a life long mission to dismantle the patriarchal systems and mindsets which have subjugated and suppressed women in many cultures across the globe and, as a doctor, a psychiatrist and an academic has not only observed, but bravely confronted, the many forms of oppression which have physically and psychologically perpetrated so much damage to so many women living within unjust and unfair societal norms. As a renowned, controversial and bravely audacious writer she has also been instrumental in transforming the lives of many people who have been restrained and discriminated against through patriarchal, class or cultural oppression.
Dr. Saadawi’s outspoken activism and her transformative courage have been critical in ensuring that the voices of women continue to be heard, and that the feminist demand for true equality is someday realised. Now in her ninth decade she continues to swim against the tide, as she plays her invaluable part in the global struggle for the achievement of an ethical and inclusive society.
Today we also honour a young woman who, although six months shy of her thirtieth birthday, has already made a deeply impressive contribution to that great global struggle for justice and humanity. Communications technology has been fundamental in creating a world in which the space between peoples and nations and cultures has become progressively smaller; a world where a parochial or insular approach to human rights on the grounds of ignorance is no longer acceptable. When I received my own Sean McBride peace award I spoke of the importance of constructing new networks and utilising new technology in order to create patterns of influence, magnets for those whose humanistic impulses could not be quenched.
That is precisely what Lina Ben Mhenni has achieved through her brave use of social media to expose the brutality of Tunisian government forces in what we now know were the final days of the Ben Ali regime. Through her work as an internet activist and renowned blogger Lina brought the world face to face with the misery, the deprivation and the daily injustices of the Ben Ali regime. She enabled people across the globe to make that crucial connection between unjust policies motivated by purely imperialist interests and the daily human injustices that are perpetrated by those policies. In so doing she created a very real, shocking and immediate record of the violence and injustice carried out by the Tunisian authorities. Her contribution to raising worldwide awareness of the discrimination and oppression that lay at the heart of Tunisian society is profound, her courage in refusing to hide behind a pseudonym humbling, and her contention for the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of just twenty seven truly awe inspiring.
Ba mhór an onóir dom a bheith ar an gcéad duine a fuair duais Sheán Mhic Giolla Bríde in 1992 (míle naoi gcéad agus naocha a dó). Is mór an onóir chomh maith dom a bheith anseo inniu leis an ngradam a bhronnadh ar na daoine spreagúla ar leith seo; beirt bhan mhisniúla nach raibh aon fhaitíos orthu páirt a ghlacadh ar an líne tosaigh agus iad ar thóir shíochánta an daonlathais agus na gcearta daonna ina dtíortha agus ar fud an réigiúin.
[I was deeply honoured to be the recipient of the first Sean McBride award in 1992. I am equally honoured to be here today to present the award to this year’s inspiring and remarkable recipients; two women who have been unafraid to play a front line role in the peaceful pursuit of democracy and human rights in their countries and across the region.]
I commend both of you for your heroic courage, your vision and your commitment to building a global society based on equality, justice and respect; and I thank you for all you have done so far to ensuring that dream becomes a living reality for oppressed people across the world."