Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amira Hass, Guardian of Truth

The left-wing Israeli journalist Amira Hass won the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women in Media Foundation this week, and for days now I have been in a kind of elation. I was spellbound by her 2003 interview at UC Berkeley, where she spoke with the relentless energy, impatience and honesty of someone who loved truth and justice more than herself. (I admit I cried through half of it.)

In Amira Hass I saw the ghosts of Hannah Arendt and Simone Weil, two of my heroines. I think about what unite these three women: their gender, their Jewish background, but more importantly, their incorruptible search for truth, their tireless efforts to share that truth even when no one hears or believes it, and their willingness to expose themselves. Arendt went to Jerusalem to report on Eichmann's trial, subsequently exposing herself to the attacks of Jews and Germans alike. Weil went to work in the vineyards and the factories, exposing herself to harsh physical labor and dangerous working conditions. Hass went to live in Gaza as well as Romania under Ceausescu in order to report on oppression with lived experiences and observations. What strikes me about all of them was how little they seem to be concerned with themselves, their reputation, their career, even their influences. When Amira Hass spoke of her "lifelong achievement" as "lifelong failure," she is dismissing the opportunity to glorify herself and risking the favors of those who honored her. When she says that she has not made an impact (because Israeli colonization of Palestine continues to justify Palestinian self-destruction), she is not complaining that people are not listening to her; she is complaining that people do not listen to truth.

Once, Hannah Arendt was asked by a journalist what kind of influences she had hoped to have on others. Her response is perhaps the only feminist moment in Arendt: "But it's so masculine, to always want to be influential! I just want to understand, and if I can help other people understand along the way, then I am happy." I wonder if Arendt has touched on something that she, Weil and Hass all have in common, namely, a voluntarism animated by a love for the world, a love that does not ask for any returns. These women remind me of why women have a place in public life; more specifically, they show why some women are particularly suited to be guardian angels of truth. Perhaps part of the problem with patriarchy is that it was a system of pride and delusions of grandeur, which prevents people from seeing the truth. What blocks truth more powerfully than anything is the attachment of the self to illusions.

It gives me such satisfaction to know that, in the 20th century and perhaps the next, it is female geniuses like Arendt, Weil and Hass who reveal the true meaning of philosophy: the love of wisdom that overpowers the love that the rest of us give too much to ourselves.

No comments: