Susan Sontag, writer, political activist and anti-Bush campaigner, dies at 71

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The Independent US

Susan Sontag, the writer and activist who loudly criticised US foreign policy and military action in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, died yesterday morning in New York. She was 71 and had been suffering for some time from leukaemia.

Susan Sontag, the writer and activist who loudly criticised US foreign policy and military action in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks, died yesterday morning in New York. She was 71 and had been suffering for some time from leukaemia.

"I can confirm she passed away this morning," said a spokeswoman at the city's Sloan Kettering hospital, declining to give more details.

Sontag, the daughter of a fur trader, wrote 17 books, including the influential 1964 study on gay aesthetics called Notes on Camp . But in recent years it was her outspoken opposition to the Bush administration's so-called war on terror that drew most attention.

In the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, Sontag set off a huge row with her suggestion - published in the New Yorker magazine just two days after the hijackings - that al-Qaida's action had not been an "act of cowardice".

"The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling and depressing," she wrote. "The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilise the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilisation" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world," but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?"

Sontag, who described herself as a "zealot of seriousness," was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York in 1933 and spent her early years in Tuscon, Arizona, and Los Angeles. Her mother was an alcoholic and her father died when she was five. Her mother later married an Army officer, Captain Nathan Sontag.

Sontag described her childhood as "one long prison sentence". She skipped three grades and graduated from school at 15; the head teacher told her she was wasting her time there. Her mother warned if she did not stop reading she would never get married.

Although she wrote a number of novels, it was as an essayist that she had her greatest literary impact. Notes on Camp , which established her as a major new writer, popularised the "so bad it's good" attitude toward popular culture.

From the Sixties onwards, Sontag was constantly involved in politics. From 1987-89 she served as president of the American chapter of the writers' organisation PEN. When Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses, it was Sontag who led protests in the literary community. During the Nineties she travelled to the former Yugoslavia, calling for international action to stop the civil war.

Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, once said of her: "I know of no other intellectual who is so clear-minded with a capacity to link, to connect, to relate. She is unique."

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