Josh Kaplan

Why the glorification of Aaron Bushnell is a tragic mistake

The death of a protestor shouldn’t be a cause to rally around


A memorial to Aaron Bushnell (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

February 28, 2024 12:36

The war that started on October 7 has many fronts. In Gaza, in the Red Sea, on the streets of London, people fight with varying levels of intensity. But nowhere do more people argue with more bad faith and less personal investment than Twitter. Every day, thousands of terminally-online people with internet access get on their phones to queue up and try and work each other up to make the nastiest, stupidest observations about the war and convince each other that they are not just correct about everything, but morally above reproach.

The latest episode of this phenomenon may be one of the grimmest. On Sunday, Aaron Bushnell, a member of the US Air Force died outside the Israeli embassy in Washington DC. He self-immolated to stop what he called ‘genocide’ in Gaza. A tragic death however you look at it, one more death connected to a conflict that has already taken far too many. But to read the musings of various anti-Israel twitter personalities, you’d think he’d walked through a meadow of sunshine and flowers rather than end his life brutally, obsessed by a conflict over which he had no control.

Roger Waters, a man who has long suffered from advanced anti-Israel brain rot, called him an ‘All American Hero’ and posted a video of Bushnell’s death set to (modestly) his own music. Aside from the crassness of using a man’s tragic death to score internet points against people you don’t like, it speaks to a larger tragedy. The idea that it’s a good thing that this young man, who had a whole life ahead of him would wantonly throw away his future is not just mistaken, it’s irresponsible.

I don’t know if Bushnell was mentally ill, as has been speculated. I think it’s largely irrelevant. The act of self-immolation is rarely the preserve of someone with a rational outlook. What matters is the way it has been cynically deployed in service of a mistaken idea that any and all sacrifice for the people of Gaza is justified. In a conflict in which the ante is high enough, raising the tension further, escalating the stakes by praising those who raise them beyond rational protest is inflammatory and irresponsible.

Hamas, rarely prone to logic themselves, praised the act as a “ symbol of the spirit of global humanitarian solidarity with our people.” Words echoed by the usual suspects in the West, people like Cornel West, Owen Jones - in short people who should know better. Does it matter that Bushnell’s sacrifice will not affect the reality on the ground? Do they care that his family are left grieving over a tragedy that simply becomes two days' worth of tweets and talking points?

Given the state of the discourse, where a ferocious debate has erupted over whether he could truly be a Palestinian ally because he was a white man, its hard to argue that his death is being treated with respect.

I have no problem with acts of protest, it’s a vital part of democracy. But to make a central part of your cause the idea that sacrificing your life is the ultimate way to serve it, you create a perverse incentive to get attention by any means necessary. This idea that your own life is cheap does not end in roses, it ends with Borough Market, with the Manchester Arena, with October 7.

People in Israel and people in Gaza are not served well by this inflammatory raising of tensions. In a time when we have seen far too much senseless bloodshed, encouraging more cannot be the way through. Seeing tragic sacrifice as noble encourages the idea that there is no merit in collaboration, no benefit to co-existence. The solution to the war does not lie in extremist acts. It may remain an elusive goal, but the aim should be to see all parties as worthy of humanity. And to cheerlead tragic death only puts us further from that point.

February 28, 2024 12:36

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