Tuesday, March 22, 2011

thoughts in my head: rachel corrie

 this is an experiment for my blog, which i have (as you can see just up above) entitled “thoughts in my head.” the genreal idea is whenever i have an idea surrounding something controversial, difficult, or weighty and need to explore my thoughts on the issue i will get it all out here and create a forum for you to respond and help me with the thoughts from your head! my thinking is that it will be a bit of a running series. how’s that for eloquence?

This semester I am enrolled in one of the most profound classes I will have taken. You may or may not know this, but I take my education very, very seriously, and as such have taken a wide scope of classes over the years. Each held their own special lessons for me and I treasure everything my wonderful teachers gave me from elementary school right on up to my first-rate women’s college. I know some of you read this, so let this be my public thank-you. Uganda would not have been happening for me without your support.

This particular class, though, is very special to me, because it is a Religion class exploring the dichotomy/tension between violence and non-violence through sacred and secular texts. As someone who advocates for and very much believes in non-violence, this has been a very challenging and powerful class for me. I love everything about the class: my professor, who is brilliant and jumps up and down when he really wants to make a point; the texts we have read so far; the fact that I am in the class with one of me dearest friends, Hattie; and most of all how pertinent I feel the class is to how I think about and perceive the world I live in.

And while I could blog to my heart’s content about the Bhagavad Gita and Thomas Merton, today I want to tell you about the thoughts in my head about one particular case study of non-violence. This is, of course, the story of Rachel Corrie.

For those of you who do not know who Rachel Corrie was, this website goes pretty in-depth about her life. But for the purposes of now, here is a little backstory: Rachel was a 23-year-old senior at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. She had taken a semester off to work for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to promote peace in Palestine. She was bulldozed alive on March 16 while she stood in front of a house as an act of non-violent protest against the IAF (Israeli Armed Forces) crushing the home that belonged to a family living on the Gaza Strip. She died within the hour.

I have no pretenses here; I know very little about the Israel/Palestine conflict and therefore am not saying anything derogatory towards the people of Israel. I do feel that there is an enormous web of confusion, deceit, and unfulfilled promises surrounding Israel, but that blame cannot be assigned to one singular person. Clearly, this is a hot topic. Rachel’s death has been disputed by the Israeli government as a tragic accident, despite photographic evidence and a number of eyewitness all proclaiming the bulldozer driver had plain view of her and deliberately crushed her alive.  In the interest of fairness, this is a website that serves as a voice counter to pro-ISM organizations, should you care to have a look by clicking here.

Nevertheless, the reason why I want to write about Rachel has very little to do with the politics of the situation under which she was killed. Rachel Corrie strikes a very deep chord with me for a number of reasons, but most importantly because there are quite a number of similarities between her and I. She loved to glue things to her wall (have you seen the background in my vlogs?), she loved Pat Benetar, she went to a small liberal arts college, and most importantly, she forsook almost everything to devote herself to fighting for what she believed to be a just cause.

In my class we read a number of articles on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a minister involved with the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler). In one article by Klemperer, Bonhoeffer is described as a martyr; neither justified in his hanging nor wholly to be pitied and thought of as a saint. Klemperer goes on to say that “martyrs rarely are easy.” This made me think a great deal about what it means to be a martyr. Why are we so fascinated by them? Is it in the complete and total devotion to a cause that defines you to be an extremist, and therefore completely un-relatable but totally admirable?

To me, Rachel Corrie is a martyr. She was murdered, but the debate surrounding her death rages on. The US government refused to allow her body to be brought back to the states for a funeral and there was very minimal media coverage surrounding her in America.* This harkens a sense of mystery around her; the shushed-up, put-in-a-corner cause becomes far more important because those who know about it are compelled to give their voice to that which has been silenced.

Rachel herself was a voice like that. She did not believe she could speak for the Palestinian people- only they could speak for themselves. In her own words, from an email to her family on February 20, 2003 (about a month before she died):

“Many people want their voices to be heard, and I think we need to use some of our privilege as internationals to get those voices heard directly in the US, rather than through the filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself. I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.”

Everything about that particular quote resonates with me. While I was having a blast in Canada last week with two of my best friends in the world, the whole time I kept thinking about how different my next international adventure is going to be. Having traveled and done non-profit work in developing African nations previously, I do have a decent idea of what my life will be like, but to be honest, I do not know how living in Uganda is going to impact me. I am so blessed to have some amazing friends in my life who are going to support me in transitioning between the continents (hello, Gann!) but the more I read of Rachel’s emails home from Palestine, the more I am pondering this transition. On February 27th, 2003, she wrote:

“When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I've ever done.”

Of course, she never returned. And furthermore, I will not be in the midst of a “genocide” (her words) like she was. But the sentiment and the idea are practically essential. Living abroad is going to be incredible, difficult, and one of the most important things I can do. Not important because of what I will be doing for the various schools and NGOs, but important to me for my own satygraha and achieving my own ahimsa. But it also is going to be really, really difficult to transition back into college life.

I am up for the challenge, though. Willing and waiting.
What do you think of Rachel/martyrdom/Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

*Conversely, Britain reported on her for nearly two weeks, and Alan Rickman worked with Katherine Viner to produce a one-woman show surrounding Rachel’s written work, entitled My Name is Rachel Corrie. This play is in fact how I came to learn about her and her life story. You can have a look here.

current jam: “like a rolling stone” bob dylan
best thing in my life right now: rehearsal this afternoon for ‘moustache guys’!
days until departure: 75

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