Category Archives: courage

Courage in an evil cause

Dalrymple writes that English

is said to have the largest vocabulary of any language.

So in a way

it was an achievement on the part of Theresa May to have found exactly the wrong word to describe the Parsons Green bombing (2017), namely, to say that it was ‘cowardly’.

The attack, Dalrymple notes,

was not a cowardly action: it was evil as well as stupid, and many other things no doubt, but it was not cowardly. Planting a crude bomb does not require, perhaps, quite so much bravery as it does to blow yourself up, but no one with any imagination can suppose that placing a bomb in a public place is an undertaking for a coward, or that it requires no courage. On the contrary, it requires considerable courage to do such a thing; if it did not, it is probable that there would be many more bombs and terrorist attacks than there already are. To place a bomb like this, one must face the risk of premature explosion and mutilation, the risk of being set upon by witnesses, and the likelihood of being caught and spending years in prison. These are not risks that most of us would care to take.

Does it matter, Dalrymple asks,

if a word, uttered in the heat, or nearly in the heat, of the moment (though surely by now, May must have rehearsed in her mind what to say in the event of a terrorist outrage) is wrong? It would be impossible to estimate with certainty or exactitude the harm done by the misuse of words in these circumstances. But nevertheless there is an unpleasant corollary to May’s statement: if even part of what is wrong about leaving a bomb in Parsons Green station is that it is a cowardly thing to do, then a terrorist attack that is more direct, and hence less cowardly, must be better, from a moral perspective. Are we to admire terrorists who stare their victims in the face, or put themselves directly in self-harm’s way? Bravery in the promotion or defence of a bad cause does not make the cause better, or a heinous act any more praiseworthy.

Inside the befuddled mind of Sadiq Khan

Dalrymple notes that after one of the regular Islamist atrocities, public figures

always manage somehow to say something that is either pusillanimous or does not need saying.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, found words that, says Dalrymple,

contrived to combine banality with error.

  • He said that the attacks were deliberate, as if anyone might otherwise have thought them accidental, or performed in a fit of absence of mind.
  • He said that they were cowardly, which is the one thing that they were not. True, the people that the perpetrators attacked were defenceless, but the perpetrators could hardly have been under any illusion about their fate. Even with the prospect of 72 virgins as a reward, it must have taken courage to do what they did.

Courage, Dalrymple points out,

is not in itself a virtue: it becomes a virtue only in pursuit of a virtuous aim. A man who is evil need not thereby be a coward, and frequently in fact is not. A timidly evil man is probably preferable to a bravely evil one, unless his timidity leads him to superior cunning.

Khan said that the victims were innocents. Dalrymple asks:

In what sense were they innocents? It was unlikely that they, of all humanity, were born without Original Sin. It could only be that they were innocents by comparison with the guilty. But who, in the context of being mown down by a driver or attacked by men with long knives, are the guilty?

In other words, there exists in Khan’s mind

a group of people whom it would have been less heinous for the terrorists to kill, whom it would not have been cowardly for them to have killed.

Shrill exhibitionist wailing over Trump’s victory

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-23-21-26Dalrymple is no great admirer of Donald Trump, but he notes that the despair that greeted the US election result was as shrill and exhibitionist as was the euphoria that greeted the coming to power of Trump’s predecessor.

The best thing you can say about Trump, Dalrymple says, is that he has the courage of his bluntness.

Anyone, Dalrymple points out, who reads the transcript of Trump’s utterances enters mazes from which there are no obvious exits.

But for the world to despair — well, this is to accord Trump more importance than he deserves, Dalrymple argues. Those who call Trump’s election a catastrophe do the man too much honour.

De wanhoop die gepaard ging met de verkiezing van Donald Trump leek me even schel en exhibitionistisch als de euforie bij Obama. Ikzelf ben geen grote bewonderaar van President Trump. Het beste wat je over hem kan zeggen, is dat hij evenveel moed heeft als botheid. Wie de uitgeschreven versie leest van wat hij allemaal zegt, gaat binnen in doolhoven waar er geen duidelijke uitgangen zijn. Voor de hele wereld wanhopen omwille van hem, of tenminste doen alsof, is hem echter meer belang toekennen dan hij heeft of verdient. Al diegenen die zijn verkiezing een ongelofelijke catastrofe noemen, doen de man te veel eer aan.

The men of brains shall be slaves — slaves to the men of character

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 01.14.21This was the credo of those tasked with recruiting for the Colonial Service. It is the theme of the 1931 Maugham tale ‘The Door of Opportunity’ (to be found in the 1933 collection Ah King).

Dalrymple touches on the theme in a discussion of a newspaper headline he came across that read: ‘Young people’s money woes are down to lack of education.’

He points out:

The problem is not one of education but of character.

The indebted

know that nothing much will happen to them as a result of their default, nor is there any shame or social stigma attached to living above one’s means. Certainly no government, or no public employee, feels such shame.

The article, he says, was

an example of the overestimate of the importance of formal education by the overeducated. They assume that everyone can be taught to behave in the same way that everyone, more or less, can be taught to read. Prudence, providence and probity, however, are character and cultural traits more than they are intellectual accomplishments. It is not that people don’t know; it is that they don’t care.

Gutsy Voltairean

Shown here being attacked by Mugabe's thugs, Tatchell has proved he has courage. He has also demonstrated the quality of tolerance — 'admirable and alas all too uncommon', as Dalrymple puts it.

Pictured here being attacked by Mugabe’s thugs, Peter Tatchell has many times proved his courage. He has also demonstrated tolerance, a quality ‘admirable and alas all too uncommon’, Dalrymple writes.

What is courage?

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 01.36.15Courage is ‘to go against received wisdom and act upon it’, says Dalrymple.

This is a (possibly unconscious) restatement or reworking of Confucius:


The Master said: ‘For a man to sacrifice to a spirit which does not belong to him is flattery. To see what is right and not to do it, is want of courage.’

(Analects, Book II, Ch. XXIV, 1,2; Legge tr.)