I recall hearing the stories of individuals who immolated themselves as an act of protest during the Vietnam war, and as a Christian ethicist interested in civil and political engagement and activism, I have always found this practice morally problematic and practically unhelpful. However, a recent video that I watched about Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who lit himself on fire after suffering repeated injustices at the hands of corrupt government officials, has given me pause to reconsider the phenomenon. (NB: I have not undertaken a more in-depth theological or ethical analysis of the practice, nor am I suggesting that anyone should go out and try it, but it seems worth thinking about to me.)
Click here to watch the video: The End of Fear
(This picture of then president, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, visiting Bouazizi in the hospital is so full of paradox and irony that it hardly needs comment.)
As the title of the video indicates, one man’s act of desperation unwittingly sparked a revolution in which by now millions in the Arab and/or Muslim world have set aside their fear, risked their lives, and are demanding the end of unjust, autocratic regimes. (Let’s just add Syria to the list today). There is certainly much to ponder in this act. And on a related note, if such an act can be the end of fear for millions of Arab citizens, can it similarly spark the end of fear here in America (and the rest of the Western world) as well – that is, can we move beyond our fears of what a self-governing, democratic, Arab-Muslim world might entail for us and the rest of the world?
Bouazizi is certainly a challenge (a skandalon if you read my Lectionary post) to us all…