Aaron Bushnell’s fiery sacrifice a stark statement against genocide in Palestine

Gerry Chidiac: Global outcry follows self-immolation of pro-Palestinian protestor Aaron BushnellOn February 25, Aaron Bushnell self-immolated in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. His motive was very clear. Bushnell live-streamed his act, stating:

“I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.”

He then poured a flammable liquid on his body and set himself on fire, shouting, “Free Palestine!” several times before losing consciousness. First responders extinguished the flames and Bushnell was taken to hospital where he died a few hours later.

Self-immolation is a radical form of protest that normally takes place in response to state acts of violence and oppression. Those who engage in it tend to be very spiritual, like Buddhist monks and devout Quakers, members of a Christian group known for their dedication to social justice.

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Bushnell was neither a Buddhist nor a Quaker, but he was brought up Christian and would have been taught that “Jesus died so that we may live” and that “there is no greater sacrifice than to give one’s life for others.” Bushnell seems to have taken these messages to heart.

It has been interesting to see the response to Aaron Bushnell’s ultimate sacrifice in the mainstream media. There has been a clear attempt to downplay the political significance of his act and focus on his personal life and alleged personality flaws. Given the fact that a similar act of self-immolation took place at the Israeli Consulate in Georgia in December and was barely reported in the mainstream media, one can reasonably assume that they would have done the same in Bushnell’s case had it not been so effectively orchestrated.

Aaron Bushnell made no secret of his political views. He stated on social media, “Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

Bushnell’s act has added energy to a growing global movement to end what many people believe is genocide. There have been numerous vigils in honour of Bushnell. In Portland, a group of American military veterans burned their uniforms in front of a banner reading, “Free Palestine! Remember Aaron Bushnell!” American philosopher and presidential candidate Cornel West stated, “Let us never forget the extraordinary courage and commitment of brother Aaron Bushnell who died for truth and justice!”

Around the time of Bushnell’s death, Israeli military forces allegedly fired on a group of starving people lined up for food, killing over 100, and the official number of individuals murdered since the assault began in Gaza in October topped 30,000. Countries like the United States and Canada continue to send military aid to Israel, and the majority of our politicians profess, “We stand with Israel!”

Tensions continue to mount in the Middle East as attacks by radical factions on Israeli and American targets continue unabated. Counter-attacks have been futile, but these groups have made it clear that their military actions will stop when the Israeli assault on Gaza ends.

One has to wonder if Western politicians have a plan. Should a full-scale war erupt, who will fight it for them? Even before the assault on Gaza began, they could not come close to filling the ranks of their militaries.

Regardless of the views of the political and economic elite, this act of self-immolation has touched the hearts and minds of millions -if not billions – who say, “We stand with Aaron Bushnell! End the genocide! Free Palestine!”

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages and genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He received an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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