A fiery protest
For most, setting one’s self on fire in protest is so far outside the realm of reality that to attempt to have any type of compassion or understanding for the individual is simply impossible. It’s an act that shows so much anger and desperation, yet at the same time so much sacrifice, it leaves the one’s who are being protested against helpless. This maybe why people do it: because it has the potential to be effective.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not approve, condone, or suggest self-immolation for anyone. It is an intentional suicide that ends a life that could have affected their society in much more positive ways than giving an afflicted community more violence. But, the point is that this form of protest happens more often than most people think, and last week in Washington, John Costantino added his name to the list.
Self-immolations have a long history of which I don’t necessarily care to go over in detail. But, in the Far East, there are old tales of demi-gods drinking oils, wrapping themselves in flammable cloth, and going aflame for the glory of the Buddha. These fables in the Far East are also the origins for the popularization of self-immolation in modern times.
Years ago, a Buddhist monk in South Vietnam protested his government’s treatment of monks and nuns by lighting himself on fire in the middle of a busy intersection in Saigon. The practiced contemplative, sitting Indian-style, kept a meditative composure about him for the duration of his combustion, which captured the intrigue of world. Pictures of the suicide began to circulate worldwide causing President Kennedy to say, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” The photographer who snapped the photos won the Pulitzer Prize.
International pressure was put on the Vietnamese government to halt persecutions of Buddhists, but the regime continued its crackdown until a popular coup took place.
Since then, a list has been collected of 533 self-immolations for protest purposes. The list includes at least 14 recorded incidences of these types of protests that helped spark the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa. But, the effectiveness of these protests are debatable.
The most frequent self-immolation protest on the list comes from China with Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting the persecution by the Chinese government. A cry that has been heard around the world, though little has been done in the effort to return self-autonomy to the country. The Dali Lama has also question the effectiveness of this effort and does not encourage the practice.
All in all, there is much more one can do to help the plight of his people than self-immolation for protest reasons, therefore, Mr. Costantino’s suicide was in vain.
But, I’m afraid the insanity shown by Costantino is simply a reflection of the insanity shown on Capital Hill. Is the diversity of political wills culminating to a point of internal combustion? I hope not, but a strong unifying force with clear direction needs to rise in this country, or we just might go aflame.
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