Sometimes an image just leaves me speechless. Here’s one like that:
Here’s another view of the same scene:
The smile on the face of the burning man continues to haunt me. It is like the beatific smile of an angel–or of a martyr who goes happily to his death hoping to advance a worthy cause.
Jamphel, who died of his burns, is one of 30 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest China’s brutal treatment of Tibet, and to call for the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland. Twenty of those incidents occurred in the past year, and of those 18 of the victims have died of their wounds.
As Melinda Liu reports in The Daily Beast, “Committing suicide is a last-resort measure in any society, but it’s seen as especially extreme for Tibetan Buddhists. Because their religion reveres all living beings, many Tibetans believe those who take their own lives will not be reincarnated. That’s a grim fate for religious devotees who aspire to be reborn, again and again, in more enlightened forms. “But what else can people do? We don’t have guns. We don’t want to harm other human beings. Yet we can’t stand to see our religion and culture being crushed,” lamented one Tibetan man from Lhasa, who requested anonymity because he feared China’s massive security crackdown.”
There are other examples around the world of people taking drastic stands to protest brutality and stand up for civil liberties and human rights. In Israel, several Palestinian prisoners who are being held without trial have begun hunger strikes, the most extreme of which has been carried out by Hana Shalabi, who just today agreed to end her 44-day hunger strike in exchange for being released to the Gaza Strip.
In the U.S., such extreme tactics are very rare, probably because we are led to believe that we have other avenues of protest open to us.
It’s true, we do have other avenues of protest open to us. We can rally in the streets, we can sign online petitions, we can call our elected representatives, we can pressure the media into reporting on issues we deem important.
We can write blogs like this one, without fear of being summarily arrested and imprisoned for criticizing the powers that be, as happens routinely in many other countries.
But when it comes right down to it, I wonder whether all these various forms of protest really get us anywhere, or whether they are so many steam valves, designed to allow us to vent our frustrations without really rocking the boat.
What do we have to do to accomplish the big changes we want to see in the world? How far do we have to go? To what degree to we have to put our own security and well-being on the line?
Tim DeChristopher, the environmentalist activist who disrupted a federal mining auction to protest the sale of public lands to corporate interests, made his point, but landed swiftly behind bars. He emerged into the news again this week when prison authorities, for some unknown reason, transferred him from minimum security to a lockdown cell. His friends and allies went ballistic, beseiged Congress with calls and online petitions, and got him transferred back to more comfortable quarters.
But he’s still behind bars.
And the mining companies are still out there digging up the wilderness as we speak.
Obviously his action, however noble, was not enough to truly change the rules of the game.
If we want to see deep, systemic change in the way governments and corporations do business, especially in regards to human rights and environmental justice, we may need to take a giant leap forward in our radicalism.
I am not saying we should set ourselves afire. Heaven forbid! But it’s going to take more than weekend protests or online petitions to drive a wedge into the status quo power structures and open up new pathways that will lead us to real transformation.
What will it take? I wish I had the answers; I don’t. All I know is that enough of us have to get deeply dissatisfied and fed up with the way things are, and be willing to run the serious risk of undertaking revolutionary action for change.
It happened back in 1776; it happened in 1865; it happened in 1968; and it may very well happen again in this magical year of 2012, the prophesied beginning of the Age of Aquarius.
We know we are at a transition time; every indicator points to it, whether social, financial, political, scientific, astrological, astronomical…you name it.
We know where we’re coming from. The question of the moment remains: where are we going?