For example Sarina. The way she sang into an invisible microphone on a family car ride, with her little sister grinning next to her. Loud, a little angry, like a lot of people used to do when they were 16. She recorded herself doing it and put the video on the Internet, as did a few others. Sarina's films can still be found today. In some she experiments with hairstyles, in others she laughs with friends. And again and again she talks about what is important to her. For example freedom.
The song that Sarina sang is a song against religious rule. The hairstyles she did were dangerous. Her courage was great and passionate. On September 23, Sarina Esmailzadeh took to the streets of her hometown in northern Iran to protest. She knew about the brutality of the regime and the security forces, about the intolerance, the ruthlessness. A week earlier, Jina Amini died after being arrested by the police. Nevertheless, Sarina Esmailzadeh went to demonstrate. She didn't survive that day.
Thousands upon thousands of women in Iran have been taking to the streets for months. For months, thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian women have been going to the front, holding out in bunkers, trying to protect their families. For months, Afghan women have been rebelling against the Taliban's terror, which is particularly aimed at them.
It's almost impossible to talk about courage this year without thinking about these women. It was the same for many who write on the following pages. They are the first to remind you of those who, not far from here, now, today, are fighting for freedom, sometimes for survival.
Is it a coincidence that in many places this struggle is being led by women? Are women brave differently than men? Does this question matter at all? And when is courage a political category?
What is happening in Iran, in Ukraine, in Afghanistan makes everyday struggles seem small here. But even on a small scale, as one of the authors writes, revolutions are taking place. The women write about the courage to listen to their own voice. to raise your own voice. Having a different opinion than most and sticking with it, even when the reactions are harsh. About the courage to follow your own ideas, to break out of role models, not to conform to the ideas of others. The courage to say no. It seems personal choices. But when they spring from collective experiences, they are more than that.
It is almost always about taking the liberty to have more freedom. Freedom is a big word nowadays. Rarely has it been so contested (and has it been so stretched) as in the times of Corona and corresponding measures; rarely has the value of what the term describes been so tangible for the individual. And seldom has the fragility of our freedom been so brutally revealed as with the beginning of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.
Freedom is a ubiquitous concept today. Surprisingly, it is not courage. Because both belong together: the less freedom, the more courage it takes to fight for it.
When talking about the courage of the Iranian women or that of the Afghan women, anger is a little too often the explanation. As if the women acted solely out of sheer necessity. Not out of free will and out of conviction for the cause. It seems a different kind of courage than daring, which is usually only attributed to men. The women risk everything: their lives.
A few days ago, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented her concept of a feminist foreign policy to a great deal of excitement, especially among critics. There was little that was surprising, and it was probably too much to expect to find answers to some of today's most difficult conflicts. It would have been courageous to deviate from the pragmatism that the vulnerability of the global security architecture seems to dictate. When radical opponents of freedom stand in front of you, it may not only help on the street, but also in politics: more daring.
And then, of course, there's another word that doesn't go far when it comes to courage. It's one of the most misunderstood words of all: fear.
Glacier Kwong, who took to the streets in Hong Kong when freedom was destroyed by the Chinese regime and was forced into exile, writes that courage is not the absence of fear. It means feeling afraid and still making the right decision. Perhaps it is even more: where there is fear, the path of courage begins.
This is bad news for those opposed to freedom who see fear as an ally.