Dear Mr. President,
I've heard many times the sentiment Nicholas Kristof expressed today in his column "Waiting for Gandhi." The idea that the Palestinians have not found their Gandhi, their Dr. King; that one man, could save them all. I don't know if things are that simple. I don't know if a Messiah complex (or a waiting for a Messiah complex) is really what will make things all better. I admire Dr. King, and I admire Gandhi, but they were mortal men that achievement, history and personal sacrifice elevated to something higher, something, quite possibly, unattainable. I think that resting the salvation of an entire people on one man's shoulders is a dangerous proposition. For one thing, it discourages those who would walk the paths of these great men, but could never, alone, hope to fill their shoes. I think you might be able to empathize with this, given those who hailed you as the natural heir to Dr. King (or even Jesus) and then turned their backs when miracles did not appear in your first 100 days. How does a man meet such impossible expectations? And, when he cannot, how does he keep his spirit, his sanity, or his integrity when people give up hope? It isn't fair for us (or for Palestinians, or any one) to expect the work of healing our wounds and steering our nations to collective better destinies to belong to one man. We all must be that man.
Kristof naively describes the non-violence practiced by many Palestinian activists as a recent development, something "that some Palestinians are dabbling in." Perhaps Mr. Kristof has only recently witnessed it himself, but nonviolent resistance has been practiced by activists against the occupation for decades. I feel that this is an aspect of resistance that the media deliberately overlooks, but also that the Israeli government and the American government, fail to recognize, praise, and reward as an alternative to violence. The nonviolence is not less effective because it hasn't found a face for T-shirts of the next generation of hipsters yet.
I was reminded by a fellow blogger recently of some wise words from Rachel Corrie's posthumously published writings.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop.
When I first read these words I felt, personally, called out by them. I needed to drop everything and devote my life to making this stop. I didn't imagine I could do it myself, and I didn't think Rachel thought she could, either. I don't think that I am special or significant or destined to singlehandedly stop injustice. I have no delusions of these kind, but I do feel that my efforts are needed. All of us, every one of us, is called upon to help. Seeing these words again, and then reading Mr. Kristof's column, his claim that "so far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr," I felt them even more powerfully. No one should wait for Gandhi, or Dr. King, or the next great man. That isn't what they taught, and it isn't how they succeeded. History may have elevated them in isolation, but they did not, and could not, have walked alone. At the risk of invoking a cliche seen on stickers and posters in every dorm in the country, Gandhi called us all to be that change we wish to see in the world. This kind of wisdom, that we all have a role to play, a greater cause to serve, a place on the road to our better future, is something that more of us have to take to heart.