“When there’s nothing left to burn…”

One of the most striking things for me about the revolution in Egypt is that the Egyptians were inspired by a similar subversion of the dominant paradigm in Tunisia. This uprising was itself sparked–quite literally–by a frustrated, unemployed graduate student who set himself on fire when the produce he was selling from his unlicensed fruit cart was confiscated. Mohomad Bouazizi, in his final, desperate act, began a movement that has transformed, and is still transforming, the Middle East.

This isn’t the first time an oppressed young person has torched himself in response to interminable conditions. Reading this, I was taken back to my studies of the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and how Jan Palach became a martyr there. But nothing could fully prepare me for this list of people who have committed politically-inspired self-immolation.

When I had the idea to start writing this post, I was planning to get all judgmental and say nothing like this could happen in the US, under the assumption that we don’t feel that level of anger, we’ve never been that oppressed.

I was wrong about that.

So I don’t really have a point here.

I guess I’m awe. I can’t imagine anything political–outside of my life, my friends, my family–mattering that much to me. Or being willing to loose that much. Or (the most frightening possibility) feeling like I had nothing to loose.

Yet these actions matter. I remember reading about Palach, “he wanted to be a human torch, burning for freedom.” He may have regretted it in the end, told his friends to scrap the plan, that the pain wasn’t worth the act.

But it wasn’t in vain either. The Czechs look to him as a symbol of freedom during their darkest days. His demonstration at least got people’s attention. His legend became bigger than the regime he protested.

I leave you then, with a the song that comes into my head every time I start to think about these things. I don’t mean to say that revolutions can be summed up in pop songs. But for me, music is a way to begin to process things that are too big for me–things I am blessed not to fully understand.

Signing off in solidarity, and in remembrance.

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