Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd January, 2011
Hardly a day goes by in these febrile times than somebody sets fire to themselves in an act of protest or desperation, sometimes fatally, sometimes not. Either way, it’s a drastic step to take. In the case of Mohammed Bouazizi, the youth from Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, who set himself alight after police stopped him selling fruit from his cart, the action helped precipitate the public protests that led to the exile of dictatorial President Ben Ali. Copy-cat self-immolation has occurred across North Africa and beyond sine then, though so far without such a dramatic outcome. Of course, the tactic is not new. When I was a journalist in Saigon, several Vietnamese monks torched themselves in the street in protest at the oppressive South Vietnamese regime and the civil war. Whatever the political consequences of such protest action, it comes at a terrible price. Even if the person who has set fire to themselves does not die, he or she is nearly always horribly disfigured and condemned to excruciating pain. It is a testimony to the anguish within that they can put themselves through such torment.