the interrogations of shamshouma

Dying to be human: Khader Adnan’s politics of life

Khader Adnan, a Palestinian and Islamic Jihad activist from Arabeh, has been on hunger strike for 65 days to protest against the continuous abuse and humiliation he suffered during interrogation, as well as his unlawful detention without trial by the state of Israel, in what is now being termed as “a new Israeli record for the country’s longest hunger strike”. Khader Adnan’s hunger strike, which started shortly after his seventh detention on December 17th 2011, has stirred up a massive local and international solidarity campaign by activists, prisoners and Non-profits organizations

Khader’s hunger strike is becoming a site of protest over the politics of life and what it means to be human in Palestine.It is unveiling the paradoxes of humanity as emergent and articulated in discourses of human rights, Islam and biopower. Kader’s hunger strike is a powerful political action that is redefining and extending the domain of protest, by threatening problematic and global definitions and practices of humanity, as articulated in discourses of human rights and Islam.

Through Khader’s hunger strike and the reactions it is producing, the paradoxes of these institutions of the human become more apparent and visible for criticism and scrutiny.

The paradox of the human in human rights discourse

Perhaps the most succinct expression that  best describes the political action embedded in Khader’s hunger strike, as well as the debate around it, is “Dying to live”,  adopted as banners in rallies,  as graffiti and as a twitter hashtag (#Dying2live)  that follows Khader’ health and medical state daily. Another significant statement is also #KhaderExists.

Both of these poignant and powerful expressions are strong critiques of the  problematic paradox  in human rights discourse, that is becoming more and more visible, on what it means to be human. It is what Jacques Ranciere interrogates in his article “Who is the subject of the rights of man?” (2004) when he identifies a discursive shift  “from Man to humanity and from humanity to humanitarianism”.

Human rights, assumed to bring together universal rights of freedom, dignity, equality (etc) to all forms of humans, regardless of gender, nationality, race and culture, turned out to be the rights of the rightless only, of victims, of those who lack these basic rights, those who need humanitarian interference.

In order to become a visible subject of human rights, in order to claim his basic rights of respect and dignity as a human, Khader Adnan is starving himself in a sign of protest, because the only way for him to become human, to claim his humanity, is when he turns his life into “bare life”, to become what Giorgio Agamben calls a Homo Sacer (‘a sacred man”), “a man who may be killed by anybody, but may not be sacrificed”, a man stripped from all civil and social rights, who is in the process-of-dying but must be rescued by humanitarian intervention.

Khader reveals to us this problematic paradox of the human so clearly, so powerfully. Statements like dying to live, and khader exists are critical resonances of this paradox, where human rights can only be invoked through its absence and decline, where humanity can only become visible when it is absent or slowly deteriorating.

The problem of political action in Islam

What Khader’s hunger strike also reveals is a fascinating and important debate in Islam one what is the defining line between political action (or jihad) and suicide, a debate which is also at the core of what it means to be human and the preservation of that humanity, both physically and ethically. The fatwa issued by AlAzhar religiously forbade Khader’s hunger strike because it assumes a sort of intention to kill one’s self , to commit suicide, and this action should not be equated with jihad, which should be sought and achieved through “guns and money”.

While I am no near being an Islamic scholar, a first reading of this fatwa reflects a debate in Islam that is emerging (and i bet has been there for quite some time) on what constitutes lawful political action and what is mere suicide. is Khader’s hunger strike a political action or a de-sacration of his body? It seems that the reactions to the fatwa have undoubtedly confirmed the former, especially that many other prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails have now started a hunger strike themselves.

Finally, What makes Khader Adnan’s hunger strike so powerful in my opinion, is his persistence on intentionally threatening his own physical existence and undermining it, as a Muslim, for the sake of less immediate needs and rights for existence like respect and dignity. Khader exists, and he exists more than all of us could ever imagine existing.



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