Joan of Arc's passion in her struggle for freedom

Recently the symbol for the French struggle for freedom, Joan of Arc (St. Jeanne or rather Jehanne d'Arc) was brought to the attention of a larger public again in the largely historic movie with the same name; Joan was played by the charismatic actress Leelee Sobieski. This movie however doesn't immediately clarify how much this saint differed from the established pattern. Joan of Arc was a poor young girl from the fifteenth century who wore weapons herself (even though she wasn't actually prepared to use them), within the context of a national liberation instead of a crusade against the Muslims. Not that saints didn't play their parts in wars between mutual Christian kingdoms. In that respect we only have to remember St. George or St. Patrick. But in these cases it was never about saints that were alive and physically present during battle. And least of all about an eccentric, precocious teenage girl who not only inspired captains and soldiers to a bitter struggle, but for instance also about observing Christian moral regulations.
We are familiar with the image of female soldiers involved in battle from other directions. For instance, the ancient Greeks as well as the Romans had a female god of war: Pallas Athene or Minerva. Even in the Torah there are militant women such as Judith. Joan of Arc with swordJoan of Arc in any way was an anomaly in her own time, and finally she had to pay dearly for that. Of course, Joan herself interpreted the voices that incited her to fight for France as celestial (coming from the archangel Michael, holy Catherine and holy Margaret). But her opposition just as naturally saw her as diabolical. Her answering of these inspirations immediately "proved" that she was a heretic and so she ended as a 19-year old in a humiliating funeral pyre. Women who are prepared - if need be - to get involved with violence to attain an ideal are still a source of great fascination, as is demonstrated by the success of the movie "The Girl with the Red Hair" about the Dutch resistance fighter Hannie Schaft. It's as if even now the combination of altruistic ideals of justice and humanity with violence is found surprising, especially in females. This is probably because women are after all easily associated with for instance motherhood and caring, values that seem at right angles with war and struggle. Throughout history, however, women have often stood in the forefront in protests against wars in which their sons, husbands and brothers died. Still, western culture has always had a place for militant women, even in the physical sense. I think they are icons for an uprising against such unjust situations that even gentle, "sweet", motherly creatures will physically resist.
In Holland we have had someone who may be taken for a Joan of Arc of animal protection. This was someone called Henny, a leading figure in the Animal Liberation Front. She was very militant and had no trouble destroying other people's property for the sake of individual animals. I met her a few times, and even though I thought she was very inaccessible, I also found the symbolic power she exuded very impressive. But even without physical weapons women can still be very militant when it comes to animal rights. One example of such a lady is Jane Goodall, the great chimpanzee-expert. In a wider context, everybody that stands up assertively for what were always considered feminine values of caring, love and compassion, is in a sense related to Joan of Arc. Thus, completely apart from the question what the ideals of the historical Joans were exactly all about, she can be a model for a belligerence that is inspired by values of respect and compassion for all animals, including humans. Of course, opponents will not literally tie us to the stake anymore, but still they are always trying to ban our inspiration as a dangerous thing. After all, people who gain financially from using animals feel exposed by advocates of animal rights. They are afraid their image will be harmed by an exposure of hard facts in this field. That's why they are trying to depict us as misanthropes and why they point out far-reaching economical consequences and undesirable, supposedly unhealthy changes in food patterns that would be follow if the exploitation of animals would stop. Joan of Arc is a martyr and partly because of that she was canonized. Her nearest relatives were raised to the peerage. And of course her inspiration played an important part in the liberation of France. Non-believers will probably consider this little comfort for the terrible torture she underwent at the stake, and for her very untimely death at 19 years of age. Your personal boundaries will probably determine the considerations you make in this respect. The above mentioned Henny underwent -to a certain extent- similar humiliations as Joan of Arc did but she kept struggling for years within the Animal Liberation Front (see for an example who walked the legal road: Mies van Oosten in memoriam). Within moral philosophy this kind of self-sacrifice is usually seen as a form of "doing good" that goes far beyond "not doing evil". "Not doing evil" is a principle we should all live by, but actively "doing good" is a matter of personal choice that you shouldn't find self-evident, certainly not to this degree. That's why the Catholic Church canonizes such figures, and that outside of that we usually refer to them as "heroes". Joan of Arc may play a part as an abstract symbol for a struggle for compassion, for liberation of the oppressed. But in a more concrete sense she's not as suitable as an example to each of us personally. Still, she can inspire, as proof that there are people who think an ideal is so important that they are willing to die for it. Apparently there is something very valuable in these -often dismissed as unworldly- ideals! Contribution by .

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