A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I saw courage this week.

Real courage.

Not the kind of courage that makes sportswriters wax lyrical when an athlete plays through pain. Nor was it the kind of courage that elicits respectful raves from editorial writers when a political leader takes a principled stand. It wasnt even the kind of courage that brings tears to your eyes when you see brave people overcome tremendous adversity in their lives.

It was another level of courage beyond even that the level of courage that has to be summoned when life and liberty are at stake. And the world is watching.

Ive seen such courage only a few times in my 50 years on this planet. Rosa Parks refusing to yield her place on the bus in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. A lone Chinese student staring down a tank on Beijings Tiananmen Square in 1989. New York City firefighters rushing into the World Trade Center as fires raged and walls crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001.

To those moving, memorable images can now be added this new scene from January 2005: citizens of Iraq standing in long lines sometimes VERY long lines to vote, defying the threats of insurgents who promised to turn polling places into blood baths.

Of course, I realize that standing in line to vote may seem like a simple thing to do when compared with dramatic events at those other memorable times and places. But remember that violence had been threatened against any and all who chose to vote and this in a part of the world where threats of violence are very often carried out. Violently.

And yet, they came. They stood in long, meandering lines defiantly, resolutely and they voted. They emerged from their polling places with smiles on their faces, proudly waving ink-stained fingers as symbols of their new-found political power. They sang and danced in the streets. Many wept openly, unashamed. Despite threats of violence and predictions of failure, they voted. And for one day, at least, democracy flourished in a land unfamiliar with democratic processes, procedures and priorities.

Of course, so much can still happen as this great democratic experiment moves forward. The votes must be counted, the results tabulated and a new government installed and inaugurated. There is still time for intimidation, for threats, for violence. The courage to vote must now be augmented by the courage to see this thing through, and the courage to make it work. Here in America weve been at this for more than 200 years, and yet we still encounter some degree of anger, mistrust and divisiveness in our election process.

But few of us fear for our lives when we vote.

While there are those who may appropriately wonder about the way in which democracy was delivered to Iraq, none can question the courage and determination shown by the vast majority of Iraqi people who stood in long, meandering Election Day lines. It is thrilling. And inspiring. And humbling. It made me wonder: as much as I cherish the right and privilege of voting, would I be willing to stand in such a line, open and vulnerable, knowing it could cost me my life? Im not sure that I have that kind of courage.

That is why I am in awe of what I saw this week in Iraq, and in polling places around the world. The Iraqi people didnt just vote with their ballots; they voted with their hearts and souls as well. They sent a clear message to the world that threats and bullying tactics are no match for the unconquerable human spirit. And if they can maintain that same level of courageous commitment to the principles for which they now stand, this experiment will be successful.

And their courage will live forever in our memory.

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Joseph Walker

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