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From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The myth of the megaphone martyr: As I noted yesterday, testimony from ISM’s own eyewitnesses contradict claims that Rachel Corrie was wielding a bullhorn when she was killed. Unfortunately, this image of the bullhorn wielding shahid (martyr) seems to have taken root. Even Ha’aretz has bought into it: Rachel Corrie was carrying a bullhorn and wearing a fluorescent orange vest to make clear that she was an activist, as she climbed a mound of earth to bar the path of the immense Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. The presence of the bullhorn may be a minor detail, yet it’s also a revisionist embellishment of an already emotionally charged incident.

Whether Corrie’s death was in vain is debatable, of course, although it’s fairly obviously it’s been a propaganda bonanza for her organization. On another message board somebody noted that Corrie is more useful to such efforts now that’s she’s dead. That’s awfully cynical, but it doesn’t seem that the ISM and other such parties have spared much effort to publicize her death. The Ha’aretz reporter notes that “In Israel her name has been all but forgotten, but Rachel Corrie is still viewed by many leftists abroad as a symbol, even a saint.” I’d suggest that it’s not just in Israel, though, but pretty much everywhere. But I think even people who have forgotten her name remain familiar with the outlines of the story (the woman who was run over by a bulldozer), if only because it was one that was played out in large part with overly simplistic language and images. As a result, productive discussion in the matter seems to have been quashed from any number of directions. Deriding Corrie as, say, a Darwin Award Winner or elevating her to sainthood is polarizing, not to mention emotionally bludgeoning, and neither approach offers much in the way of productively addressing anything of necessity. Perhaps this is why so many people are so eager to either beatify her or denigrate her.

Last summer an ISM member explained to me that a major reason Corrie’s death didn’t receive major coverage in the media (although one could argue that it most certainly did) was because it had been eclipsed by the Iraq invasion. This was very unfortunate, as in other circumstances, so she believed, Corrie’s death would have received far more media attention than it already had, and thus more people would have become aware of Israel’s, y’know, sordid behavior and stuff. Her disappointment and regret seemed to be less that someone had died but that the media had squandered an opportunity to vilify and scandalize Israel. This struck me as a bit callous, and it’s this sort of thinking that makes me wonder if the ISM is less (if at all) pro-Palestinian and simply anti-Israel. (And to what ends have the ISM and its ilk used—exploited?—Corrie’s death for anything other than catalyzing and disseminating anti-Israel rhetoric?) I suggested to her that perhaps not having even more media coverage of her death had been a good thing, if not for the ISM but for Corrie’s family and friends. After all, despite whatever anti-Israel sentiment might—or might not—have subsequently arisen from additional coverage of Corrie’s death, the level of ridicule and derision directed at her (and her family, friends, and supporters) would most like have increased as well. Plus, I mentioned to her, there was no guarantee that any extra media coverage would have been at all favorable towards Corrie and/or negative towards Israel. This coverage might well have portrayed her not as a noble human rights worker who had been murdered, as this ISM activist seemed to assume Corrie would have been depicted in further exposure, but rather as an insufferable, terror-enabling radical who had played “chicken” with earth moving equipment and got what she deserved. (I don’t subscribe to either version, by the way.) The activist didn’t seem to understand what I was getting at, but perhaps in the world of the ISM even bad publicity is good publicity.

And, unlike this woman, I’m not so sure that, absent the Iraq invasion, Corrie’s death would have garnered (even) more media attention. Indeed, perhaps what’s notable is that Corrie’s death was covered to the degree that it was. The Gaza strip, after all, is but one troubled area in a troubled region in a very troubled world. And there have been other Americans who were killed (deliberately and brutally) in the last year in Gaza, not to mention in Haifa and Jerusalem, yet none of them received the sort of media coverage that was devoted to Corrie. (Quick: Name any of the other Americans killed in, say, Gaza or Jerusalem in the last year. If you can’t do it, ask yourself why you know Corrie’s name but not any of theirs.) And how many hours did it take before pictures of a bloodied Corrie had been posted on the Internet for the world to gaze upon? And for what end? (Incomplete post. I grow tired. Something about this reminds me of an incident from my youth. My father was driving us somewhere and we saw the aftermath of an accident. Two kids lay in the street, their bikes next to them, traffic backed up. Help was there, but traffic was being turned back. My father turned the car around, and then suddenly he was angry, furious. One of the kids had on black tennis shoes. Stupid. This is why you have to be careful. You have to be careful. Stupid. Angry. This shouldn’t have happened. Waste. Stupid waste. (Oxfam oranges and blood and death and bullhorns and stupid poetry.))

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