Home > International politics > How effective (and moral) is the hunger strike as political weapon?

How effective (and moral) is the hunger strike as political weapon?

I know I’m setting myself up for invectives from liberals everywhere who have made theirs the Palestinian cause, but I don’t have the least  admiration for Khader Adnan, the Islamic Jihad activist just released from an Israeli jail after 66 days of hunger strike (curiously, the same number of days that in 1981 felled Bobby Sands, the Irish Republican who took nine of his comrades-in-arms with him in his death spiral).

A word of elaboration here, to those who might consider my wording flippant. Although deeply involved in and preoccupied by many of the ills of our sad planet, I consider myself beyond liberalism just as, although a woman, I consider myself beyond feminism. “Causes” of any sort strike me as a luxury; paraphrasing Samuel Johnson and his quip about patriotism, I’d almost say they’re the last refuge of the scoundrel. We sit in our espresso bars or in our Paris cafés and get all worked up about this or that cause but do we ever have a new perspective beyond the expected knee-jerk reaction to whichever of our buttons is being pushed?

Going back to the hunger strike as weapon, it’s fine and honest if circumscribed in time. Mahatma Gandhi famously starved himself but announced the duration of his strike (21 days) from the get-go. Human rights activists periodically undergo the ordeal in various parts of the world and occasionally obtain results. The Indian Anna Hazare regularly goes on hunger strikes to denounce government corruption and has just ended a 12-day one, successfully as the prime minister has set up a watchdog organization to put an end to rampant graft.

But starving oneself to death? The hunger strike as a threat? As weapon? As blackmail? The tunnel vision of victimhood and martyrdom in the Middle East too often encourages this lack of respect toward life. If I don’t respect my own life, nothing prevents me from strapping on explosives and blowing up myself and others. The same stupidity that drives me to believe that this action will gain me a place in both history and heaven also makes me see a hunger strike as noble. It’s not. Obviously, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the totally unacceptable growing settlements, the detention of Palestinians without charge or trial, and the treatment of Palestinians in general are shameful, but let’s be fair, how often have the Palestinians themselves honestly tried to broker an agreement? Both sides lie and renege on promises and wrap themselves up in outraged righteousness and play politics to please their stakeholders. Thinking that the solution lies in doing violence to oneself or to others may be easier than actively working toward finding one.

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  1. christian
    April 28, 2012 at 7:56 am

    Just explain me how you can justifie the self immolation of tibetan Monks?
    “Thinking that the solution lies in doing violence to oneself or to others may be easier than actively working toward finding one” :give them some advices!
    “If I don’t respect my own life, nothing prevents me from strapping on explosives and blowing up myself and others” :that’s not the case in Tibet.
    XXX

    • April 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      There are obviously more cultural and historical nuances in the act of destroying oneself than can be discussed in a 500-word essay but when was the last time a Tibetan monk committed violence against others? I am addressing here specifically the awful rage and hatred in certain parts of the world, with fear and suspicion as its counterpart, not a good foundation on which to start building peace.

  2. April 8, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Reblogged this on Embakasi Reloaded.

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