Monday, March 16, 2009

LET ME STAND ALONE


If Rachel Corrie had chosen to become an artist or a writer and live a comfortable middle-class American life she would turn thirty next month. Instead she became a human rights activist. She will remain twenty-three forever. Six years ago today, on March 16, 2003, she was crushed to death by a bulldozer attempting to demolish the home of a Palestinian family. Her killing came amidst a spate of attacks on foreigners by the military that left four dead and several seriously injured, but if the army was trying to snuff out the ideas that brought foreign activists and aid workers to Gaza they failed miserably.

From an American college student to a Palestinian martyr Rachel Corrie has become a
symbol for the belief that resistance to oppression is a universal human struggle that transcends all boundaries. Her journal entries, school papers, and sketches, all published into a book last year, serve both as a manifesto of human solidarity and tell the tragically inspiring story of a young woman's coming to maturity. From her elementary school musings to her last letter home, written four days before her death, we can trace her journey from her early days in Olympia, exploring the natural world, to her foreign travels, budding social activism, teenage drama, work with the national parks, and a stint as a social worker to her final days in Palestine.

A natural writer and a critical observer, it is an enthralling and riveting read. It is the story of the life of the woman who has been defined in public discourse by her death. This is not a book about Palestine or politics, it only overtly deals with these topics in the last pages, but the formation of the ideas that brought Rachel to Palestine are evident throughout. As a young child she displayed a greater understanding of human suffering than most adults and as her intellect and education developed and progressed that passion manifested itself in new and radical ways. Her preteenage thoughts on homelessness set the tone for her later involvement as a social worker, a peace activist, and eventually a human rights observer.

These are the hollow souls,
Crusts of helpless figures,
The Crumbs that we toss to the gulls.
Skins and round watery eyes.
Horribly open, lucid and knowing.
How can the eyes of the ignorant
be so wise?

These are the forgotten ones.
They are lost in the invisible world of lists.
Here are our ugly siblings,
The ones who stand behind us and smile hungrily.
These are the ones we don't even glance at.
We fix our eyes just over their shoulders.

Bring on their hungry smiles.
We battle them with loose change,
Trying to send them back out of our minds.
We love them when they are far away and we are snug and warm.
But when they are close to us,
And we can smell their rotting breath
And look deep through sunken eyes into the eddying minds,
We choke with fear and distaste and pull away from the outside.

Here are the homeless and also the nameless.
Here are the people whom we politely ignore.
We are brutally well behaved.
Even when they speak to us, call to us, beseech us, We do not answer or call back.

These are our sisters and brothers.
And that is what terrifies us.
They are us. And we could as easily be them.

Let Me Stand Alone is an insightful and compelling book that should be read by anyone interested in social justice or in understanding progressive thought.
Rachel, you are gone, but you will never be forgotten. Your courageous compassion and silent strength are a constant reminder that a just society is possible. Your struggle will continue.

10 comments:

Bar Kochba said...

Its incredible how you idealize a terrorist sympathizer. Corrie jumped in front of a bulldozer that was demolishing a weapons smuggling tunnel from Egypt. Hamas was using it to bring in weapons to Gaza to be used against Israel. It is pure slander to say that Israel intentionally killed her. The IDF Judge Advocate’s Office concluded: “The driver at no point saw or heard Corrie. She was standing behind debris which obstructed the view of the driver and the driver had a very limited field of vision due to the protective cage he was working in.” An autopsy revealed that the bulldozer never rolled over Corrie: she was killed when debris dislodged by the bulldozer struck her head.

Corrie was a fool and a useful idiot for Hamas murderers. I shed no tears over her or her ilk.

Young Activist said...

I'm not even going to try to rebut that rubbish, something so nonsensical cannot be reduced any further. However, I will try to explain it with an extended quote from Orewell. He was a brilliant political analyst.


"Obviously there are considerable resemblances between political Catholicism, as exemplified by Chesterton, and Communism. So there are between either of these and for instance Scottish nationalism, Zionism, Antisemitism or Trotskyism. It would be an oversimplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort. If the chosen unit is an actual country, such as Ireland or India, he will generally claim superiority for it not only in military power and political virtue, but in art, literature, sport, structure of the language, the physical beauty of the inhabitants, and perhaps even in climate, scenery and cooking. He will show great sensitiveness about such things as the correct display of flags, relative size of headlines and the order in which different countries are named(4). Nomenclature plays a very important part in nationalist thought. Countries which have won their independence or gone through a nationalist revolution usually change their names, and any country or other unit round which strong feelings revolve is likely to have several names, each of them carrying a different implication. The two sides of the Spanish Civil War had between them nine or ten names expressing different degrees of love and hatred. Some of these names (e. g. ‘Patriots’ for Franco-supporters, or ‘Loyalists’ for Government-supporters) were frankly question-begging, and there was no single one of the which the two rival factions could have agreed to use. All nationalists consider it a duty to spread their own language to the detriment of rival languages, and among English-speakers this struggle reappears in subtler forms as a struggle between dialects. Anglophobe-Americans will refuse to use a slang phrase if they know it to be of British origin, and the conflict between Latinizers and Germanizers often has nationalists motives behind it. Scottish nationalists insist on the superiority of Lowland Scots, and socialists whose nationalism takes the form of class hatred tirade against the B.B.C. accent and even the often gives the impression of being tinged by belief in symphatetic magic — a belief which probably comes out in the widespread custom of burning political enemies in effigy, or using pictures of them as targets in shooting galleries.

Instability. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, as I have pointed out already, they can be and often are fastened up on some foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country they have glorified. Sometimes they are outright foreigners, or more often they come from peripheral areas where nationality is doubtful. Examples are Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, de Valera, Disraeli, Poincare, Beaverbrook. The Pan-German movement was in part the creation of an Englishman, Houston Chamberlain. For the past fifty or a hundred years, transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia. But the peculiarly interesting fact is that re-transference is also possible. A country or other unit which has been worshipped for years may suddenly become detestable, and some other object of affection may take its place with almost no interval. In the first version of H. G. Wells's Outline of History, and others of his writings about that time, one finds the United States praised almost as extravagantly as Russia is praised by Communists today: yet within a few years this uncritical admiration had turned into hostility. The bigoted Communist who changes in a space of weeks, or even days, into an equally bigoted Trotskyist is a common spectacle. In continental Europe Fascist movements were largely recruited from among Communists, and the opposite process may well happen within the next few years. What remains constant in the nationalist is his state of mind: the object of his feelings is changeable, and may be imaginary.

But for an intellectual, transference has an important function which I have already mentioned shortly in connection with Chesterton. It makes it possible for him to be much more nationalistic — more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest — that he could ever be on behalf of his native country, or any unit of which he had real knowledge. When one sees the slavish or boastful rubbish that is written about Stalin, the Red Army, etc. by fairly intelligent and sensitive people, one realises that this is only possible because some kind of dislocation has taken place. In societies such as ours, it is unusual for anyone describable as an intellectual to feel a very deep attachment to his own country. Public opinion — that is, the section of public opinion of which he as an intellectual is aware — will not allow him to do so. Most of the people surrounding him are sceptical and disaffected, and he may adopt the same attitude from imitativeness or sheer cowardice: in that case he will have abandoned the form of nationalism that lies nearest to hand without getting any closer to a genuinely internationalist outlook. He still feels the need for a Fatherland, and it is natural to look for one somewhere abroad. Having found it, he can wallow unrestrainedly in exactly those emotions from which he believes that he has emancipated himself. God, the King, the Empire, the Union Jack — all the overthrown idols can reappear under different names, and because they are not recognised for what they are they can be worshipped with a good conscience. Transferred nationalism, like the use of scapegoats, is a way of attaining salvation without altering one's conduct.

Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. The Liberal News Chronicle published, as an example of shocking barbarity, photographs of Russians hanged by the Germans, and then a year or two later published with warm approval almost exactly similar photographs of Germans hanged by the Russians(5). It is the same with historical events. History is thought of largely in nationalist terms, and such things as the Inquisition, the tortures of the Star Chamber, the exploits of the English buccaneers (Sir Francis Drake, for instance, who was given to sinking Spanish prisoners alive), the Reign of Terror, the heroes of the Mutiny blowing hundreds of Indians from the guns, or Cromwell's soldiers slashing Irishwomen's faces with razors, become morally neutral or even meritorious when it is felt that they were done in the ‘right’ cause. If one looks back over the past quarter of a century, one finds that there was hardly a single year when atrocity stories were not being reported from some part of the world; and yet in not one single case were these atrocities — in Spain, Russia, China, Hungary, Mexico, Amritsar, Smyrna — believed in and disapproved of by the English intelligentsia as a whole. Whether such deeds were reprehensible, or even whether they happened, was always decided according to political predilection.

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one's own mind.

Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered. He spends part of his time in a fantasy world in which things happen as they should — in which, for example, the Spanish Armada was a success or the Russian Revolution was crushed in 1918 — and he will transfer fragments of this world to the history books whenever possible. Much of the propagandist writing of our time amounts to plain forgery. Material facts are suppressed, dates altered, quotations removed from their context and doctored so as to change their meaning. Events which it is felt ought not to have happened are left unmentioned and ultimately denied(6). In 1927 Chiang Kai Shek boiled hundreds of Communists alive, and yet within ten years he had become one of the heroes of the Left. The re-alignment of world politics had brought him into the anti-Fascist camp, and so it was felt that the boiling of the Communists ‘didn't count’, or perhaps had not happened. The primary aim of propaganda is, of course, to influence contemporary opinion, but those who rewrite history do probably believe with part of their minds that they are actually thrusting facts into the past. When one considers the elaborate forgeries that have been committed in order to show that Trotsky did not play a valuable part in the Russian civil war, it is difficult to feel that the people responsible are merely lying. More probably they feel that their own version was what happened in the sight of God, and that one is justified in rearranging the records accordingly.

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly being reported — battles, massacres, famines, revolutions — tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.



I have examined as best as I can the mental habits which are common to all forms of nationalism. The next thing is to classify those forms, but obviously this cannot be done comprehensively. Nationalism is an enormous subject. The world is tormented by innumerable delusions and hatreds which cut across one another in an extremely complex way, and some of the most sinister of them have not yet impinged on the European consciousness. In this essay I am concerned with nationalism as it occurs among the English intelligentsia. In them, much more than in ordinary English people, it is unmixed with patriotism and therefore can be studied pure. Below are listed the varieties of nationalism now flourishing among English intellectuals, with such comments as seem to be needed. It is convenient to use three headings, Positive, Transferred, and Negative, though some varieties will fit into more than one category."

Bar Kochba said...

We'll don't you just have me down pat. I'll take some pills and hopefully that Zionism will clear up.

Young Activist said...

You know Bar I used to be a nationalist too, but at a certain point you just have to think for yourself and decide what's more important, humanity or your desire to belong to a sectarian group and assert your own superiority. The group you belong to is really only an accident of birth you could just as easily by Chinese, or Palestinian, or Somali. Why don't you read the book, if for nothing else, then to gain an understanding of how liberals thinks? If you are as confident in your ideas as you make out to be then what's the risk? If our ideals are as wrong as you think then reading this book, with an open mind, will only reinforce what you already believe and give you a better understanding of where we went wrong. But, this could be a dangerous exercise, once you take the risk of considering, and not just looking for ways to refute, the ideas presented you might end up agreeing with some of them. I recall Uri Avnery being a member of Irgun in his youth, now he is considered the grandfather of the Israeli peace movement. Members of the peace movement are all humanitarian in outlook, we realize that even our staunchest opponents are also our brothers and sisters, we have no anger, we hold no grudges, we are ready to embrace anyone who is ready to embrace their own humanity.

Bar Kochba said...

What book? And I am no nationalist! I am a Jew who observes the Torah!

Young Activist said...

I never said anything about the Torah or you being a Jew, but your insistence on bringing it up at every possible oppurtunity validates my comment. What book? Do you even read my posts before copying and pasting your replies?

Bar Kochba said...

You quoted from Orwell. Are you saying that I should read one of his books? That was unclear.

What infuriates me is how the Arabs have become the poor defenseless victims. For 60 years, and even before, the Arabs have been the aggressors, attacking Israel numerous times. The people of Gaza are being portrayed as innocents. Israel, after 8 years of incessant bombardments, 10 000 rockets and several deaths, went into Gaza to defend itself. The people of Gaza voted Hamas to power and then let their homes be used as bases for rocket attacks. They made their own bed and you have to stop justifying their attacks. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005- they could have had peace then. They chose rockets and Israel finally responded.

nindee said...

YA, I admired your patience. I've finally given up on BK, since he kept on writing bunch of old lies about Rachel Corrie.

BK, you said something bout Torah. Do you interpret Torah the same way as this Nadia Matar does?

http://www.philipweiss.org/mondoweiss/2009/03/nadia-matar-recording.html

Looks like Osama Bin Laden and the Bali bombers' way of interpreting Koran to me. Pure terrorism.

Bar Kochba said...

Abbas is a terrorist. He was involved in the attack on Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics. He is a Holocaust denier and does not accept Israel. Fatah is certainly more of a threat to Israel than Hamas. Israel should execute him immediately for crimes against the Jewish people.

Israel belongs to the Jewish people. That is what the Torah tells us. The Arabs have 22 of their own countries. Leave us with ours.

Young Activist said...

This raises an important issue, what is a terrorist?