In Light of a Burning Tibet

On the Eve of Valentine’s Day, the New York Times reported that the number of self-immolations in Tibet reportedly reached 100. The most recent incident occurred on February 3, 2013, and coincided with the eve of the Tibetan New Year. Tibetan monks have been committing self-immolation since 2009 to protest the political authority of the Chinese government in Tibet. The number of self-immolations, however, have recently increased and drawn more attention to the political tension between the Tibetans and the Chinese government.

Self-immolation as a form of protest, however, is not isolated in Tibet. In fact, one of the most recent incidents of self-immolation occurred in Nepal. In the 1960s, a Buddhist monk set himself on fire in defiance of the persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam.

Regardless of where and when they occur, self-immolations will always be haunting to those who witness it or hear about it in the news because they indicate that those who voluntarily set themselves on fire would rather die than live with whatever they are at odds with. What sets self-immolation apart from hunger strikes and massive street demonstrations is the powerful imagery of the burning of the human body.

Self-immolations in Tibet

Map from August of 2012

Most of the Tibetan monks who set themselves on fire have died, and these deaths have moved and inspired many people to at least remain defiant. While there is no immediate threat of self-immolation en masse, the individual incidents alone should be more than enough to provoke meaningful change or at least a valid attempt to improve the situation in Tibet. Unfortunately, this will remain unlikely as long as people take sides and argue before they look past the political rhetoric and listen to all sides and realize that in the end they all share something with one another.

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