The Voice of Defiance in the Conversation of Mankind

This video of an unarmed Ukrainian woman confronting a Russian soldier is making the rounds. Take a long, hard look at it: it’s literally a profile in courage. 

I’ve encountered people on Facebook who profess not to understand the point of this “conversation.” What is the woman doing? What is she trying to accomplish? Doesn’t the soldier show great “equanimity” under such stress?

No, this is how occupation soldiers are justifiably treated the world over. It’s not a “conversation” in the ordinary sense of the word. It’s the victims’ way of responding to aggression, and of demoralizing the aggressor by the weapons closest at hand. This particular soldier might, after all, justifiably have been shot or bludgeoned to death. He got a mere tongue lashing instead. Don’t feel sorry for him.

I mention bludgeoning in particular because February 25 was the anniversary of the Hebron Massacre of 1994, an attack by an American Israeli settler on the worshippers at morning prayer in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in the southern West Bank. Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the massacre, walked into the mosque and indiscriminately opened fire on everyone he encountered until he ran out of ammunition. He was then bludgeoned to death by the survivors, who used fire extinguishers to do the job. I don’t imagine that they did their work in respectful silence. Nor would it altogether make sense to ask what constructive “purpose” was accomplished by whatever they said as they did it. Believe it or not, there are times when moral discourse justifiably has a purely expressive function. One of them is when you’re killing someone who’s just tried to kill you.

If the Russians should occupy Ukraine, for however long they do, they should and will hear things like this every day, dozens of times a day from all variety of ordinary people. I’ve had similar “conversations” with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Jerusalem, as have all of my friends and comrades in Palestine, along with members of my family under martial law (or police state law) in Pakistan.

One wants, in these circumstances, for one’s justifiable rage to sink into the aggressors’ psyches like the furies, and to pursue them wherever they go. If you’ve ever confronted a soldier in this way, you can see from their facial expressions that it does indeed affect them–some of them. The last time I tried it, in a little village called Al Ma’asara in the West Bank, one of them directed some of his spit my way. But spit doesn’t hurt. I have friends and comrades in Palestine who confront the occupation as a kind of part-time gig, and pay the price for it with bodies, and in some cases, their lives. More power to all such people, and to the contribution they make with the voice of defiance to the conversation of mankind.

NATO and the United States have a great deal to answer for in the current crisis. But the Russians should be under no illusions about how they’re to be received by the people of Ukraine. They should and will be cursed, stoned, burned, bombed, shot at, and poisoned. The paradox is that not all of them necessarily deserve that treatment. And yet justice demands that until they end their aggression, they should get it.

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