The Community of the Disobedient
By: Steven Zak
Israel Insider | Friday, June 06, 2003
Susan Sontag thinks Rachel Corrie was a hero.
Corrie, the 23-year-old "human shield" who was accidentally killed last March when she obstructed an Israel Defense Forces bulldozer engaged in tunnel- and mine-clearing operations near the Israel/Egypt border, was an "emblematic figure of sacrifice," says Sontag in the May 5 issue of The Nation.
Actually, the sacrifice Corrie emblematized was that of others -- the victims of violence that she facilitated. She dedicated her life to protecting tunnels used to smuggle weapons and bombs from Egypt into Gaza. The elaborate structures, dug from inside homes under living rooms, bathrooms and bedrooms and often outfitted with electricity, elevators and communications equipment, serve as a means to the murders of Israeli civilians.
Corrie was acting on behalf of the radical Arab-led International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group dedicated to "resistance" against "the occupation of Palestine." In her diary, Corrie writes sympathetically of the killing of Israelis by Arab terrorists. "[T]ry to imagine, please," she gushes, "the courage it requires."
Sontag likewise romanticizes courage, narrowly defined as taking risks to oppose civilized society -- "to defy the wisdom of the tribe."
"Let us start with risk," she says. "The risk of being punished. The risk of being isolated." The risk of being in continual opposition. Sontag laments that for some, "alienation or dissidence is not your habitual or gratifying posture." For her, by contrast, such a posture is the greatest good. Not as a means but for its own sake. "At the center of our moral life," she writes, are "the great stories of those who have said no."
In her worldview, then, society -- not by its nature but by definition -- is a force to be renounced. "Generally," she says, "a moral principle is something that puts one at variance with accepted practice." Again: To be moral is to disaffirm what others value.
Even nihilists, though, must convince themselves that they are something more. Their main tool is the selective accounting of facts. And so Sontag condemns Israel as a country in crisis "brought about by the policy of steadily increasing and reinforcing settlements on the territories won after its victory in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967." That Arab aggression brought about that and other wars -- unprovoked by any "settlements" -- is beside the point. The point is oppugnance. Israel has faced life and said yes; Sontag must find reason to say no.
Likewise she says no to America, and of course to its wars -- inevitably trumped-up excuses to celebrate "triumphalist national self-regard." (One wonders: if most Americans found self-regard in pacifism, would Sontag feel compelled to be a hawk?) Incongruously, though, she does concede: "It may be that in some cases the threat is real." What then?
"In such circumstances, the bearer of moral principle seems like someone running alongside a moving train, yelling 'Stop! Stop!' Can the train be stopped? No it can't."
Sontag's ultimate metaphor of moral principle, then, is to try to stop the train -- irrespective of whether its purpose is virtuous. "You don't do it just to be in the right," she admits without flinching. "You resist as an act of solidarity. With communities of the principled and disobedient."
Disobedience, then, is itself the principle.
No wonder, then, that Sontag apotheosizes Corrie and exalts the cause of the terrorists she served.
Terrorists like Omar Khan Sharif and Asif Mohammed Hanif who, under the cover of Corrie's ISM, slipped into Israel from Gaza on April 30 and went to a Tel Aviv beachfront pub strapped with bombs that might have come through Corrie's tunnels. There they murdered three people and maimed 55, all innocents who were merely enjoying drinks and human company -- life-affirming acts that required negation.
Days earlier Sharif and Hanif had met with members of ISM for conversation and tea, a shared moment in the community of the disobedient.
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