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Tue Jan 24, 2012, 03:21 AM

Self-immolation as protect tactic rises in Tibet, Middle East

Political suicides by fire rise among many Tibetans and Arabs as their situations grow desperate. But such a tactic often fails to ignite protest, and itself raises questions.
By the Monitor's Editorial Board / January 23, 2012

In the past two years, a tragic type of protest has become popular in two different parts of the world. Dozens of Arabs and Tibetans have set themselves ablaze in public.

Such grisly displays of martyrdom are usually designed to show a personís depth of conviction for a cause and to shock others into action. Yet only one recent self-immolation has clearly brought a result.

On Dec. 17, 2009, the Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself in the middle of a street out of economic frustration and after being humiliated by police. His mix of bravery and desperation found a moral resonance among other frustrated Tunisians. They rose up to topple a dictator in short order. The Arab Spring was sprung.


Unlike a suicide bomber who kills others, self-immolators seem to hold a special standing. Their act shows more desperation than hope. And in Tibet, desperation has clearly been the case, motiving a string of self-immolations despite a Buddhist reverence for life.


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