As I have noted earlier, death is an ordinary occurrence.  For instance, two days of fighting in Syria since Friday left more than 470 people.
Death through self-immolation, however, is extra-ordinary.  
On 11 June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc, burned himself to death on a busy Saigon street to protest

Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation

the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem.    Duc’s courageous act triggered international pressure on Diem to reform.  However, Diem simply temporized and continued to terrorize the monks.  Several monks followed Duc’s example, also immolating themselves. Eventually, a military coup toppled Diệm, who was assassinated on 2 November 1963.

The most famous self-immolation in 2010 was that of Mohamed Bouazizi, the despondent vegetable vendor, whose death led to the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.  Tunisian protests inspired similar actions throughout the Arab world–a phenomenon known as the Arab Spring. 

Mohamed Buoazizi

The Arab Spring overshadowed protests which begun in July 2011 in Tel-Aviv, Israel collectively known as the ‘social justice’ protest movements.  Soon, the protests spread to Jerusalem and other major Israeli cities.  The political actions involved hundreds of thousands of protesters from diverse religious and socioeconomic backgrounds opposing the continuous rise in the cost of living (especially housing) and worsening public services (health and education). 
The Israel protest movements were soon weakened by a split.   As a result, two separate social justice demonstrations were held in Tel-Aviv on July 14, 2012, to commemorate the first anniversary of the movement.

Moshe Silman in Haifa

Yesterday, Israel was rocked by news that J14 activist, Moshe Silman from Haifa, finally succumbed to his second- and third degree burns after setting himself on fire last week.  Silman was once  a small business owner who got suffocated by a grinding debt, to the point of homelessness.  Apparently, Silman burned himself to mark the anniversary of the protest movements. 
According a Sunday afternoon report of PressTV, Iran’s television network, another Israeli man has set himself on fire in the city of Yehud, two days after Silman died of burns.  The 45-year-old disabled man self-immolated at a bus stop in Yehud, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Tel Aviv.  The identity and circumstances of the man are unknown as of this writing.
It may be too early to predict how these two self-sacrifices will affect the Israeli protest movements.  However, it may be safe to say that the movements cannot be unaffected by the developments.  Already, many Israelis are carrying posters which read “We are all Moshe Silman”,  a copy of a familiar meme from the Tahrir Revolution last year.  
In Moscow, meanwhile, three young women belonging to the all-women punk-rock group naughtily named Pussy Riot, had been ordered to stay jailed for six more months.

Pussy Riot in an outdoor performance




The three–Yekaterina Samutsevich, Nnadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Maria Alekhina–together with an unidentified Pussy Riot member performed in Pussy Riot’s signature miniskirts and balaclavas a raucous song against Russian President Vladimir Putin on the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow’s most important church, last February 2012.  The three were arrested after the performance and had been held in custody since then.  If sentenced, they could sent to prison for seven years.




Samutsevich, Tolokonnikova, Alekhina

The criminal prosecution of the three women rests on the notion that their performance incited religious hatred.  Witnesses were presented in court and said they have suffered moral damage as a result.  A cathedral security guard claimed he had trouble sleeping after the Pussy Riot performance.  Lawyers for the witnesses also claimed that the Pussy Riot performance unleashed a wave of extremism.

Pussy Riot three behind bars






Today’s The Guardian report that supporters of the three believe that the Russian Orthodox Church, which is close to Putin, is behind the campaign to keep them in jail.  Another prominent dissident warned of some kind of ‘Orthodox Taliban’.





So, is it a case of religious desecration or an assertion of the freedom of political expression?



The answer is crystal clear.



The monk Duc, the vendor Bouazizi, the impoverished businessman Silman, and the Pussy Riot three–all wanted to communicate what was in their hearts and minds.  


They may have done so in dissimilar ways.   We may not approve of self-immolation and raucous performances on church altars.

Still, we must salute their courage and pray for the departed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s