“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” — Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International, at a Human Rights Day ceremony on 10th December 1961
In November, 1990 a man set himself on fire in front of the U.S. capitol, the news reports from the time say that the reasons for the man’s act were unknown, no riots were forthcoming. Last year the cultural shifts in Egypt, Yemen and Algeria proved a different outcome in light of similar self-immolation. As individuals express their anger, alienation and rejection in self willed conflagration it is igniting their communities into violent uprisings shaking the foundations of global culture.
As I’m writing this a young man sits in protest in a Palestinian Mosque, part of the March 15 Youth Coalition who set up tents in the Bethlehem municipality to demand a new Palestinian national council and a unified Palestine. He is threatening to set himself on fire if the Coalition’s demands are not taken seriously. Unlike the young gunmen we have seen emerge in the United States, whose outward acts of inflamed anxiety cause communities to hold vigils and encourage greater controls, these self sacrificial immolations “change the quality of the substance,” of the estrangement, isolation and abuse, to open up the opportunity for cultural change.