50 years ago....
Vietnam war reporter Malcolm Browne dies
28 Aug 2012
A journalist who captured an iconic image of a burning South Vietnamese monk in 1963 has died at the age of 81. Associated Press (AP) correspondent Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Vietnam in 1964. His photograph of Thich Quang Duc, an elderly monk who set himself on fire in Saigon, became one of the first defining images of the escalating conflict. The image reportedly made it directly to the desk of US President John F Kennedy, who told his newly appointed ambassador to South Vietnam: "We have to do something about that regime." Within months South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem was deposed in a coup as the country's struggle against Viet Cong insurgents intensified.
Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer, 2006, Excerpt
Description of Malcolm Browne and the Photograph
The final act in the drama of Diems’ rule was unfolding. On May 8, Buddhists gathered in Hue to mark the 2,527th birthday of the Buddha. The local strongman, Ngo Dinh Can – the president’s brother – decided to enforce a old decree prohibiting the celebrants from flying the traditional blue-red-saffron Buddhist flag. Buddhists began a series of protest. Police fired on them, killing a woman and eight children.
Malcolm Browne, the Associated Press correspondent in Saigon, was still working when his office telephone rang late on the evening of June 10, 1963. The caller was Thich Duc Nghiep, a Buddhist monk Browne had come to know while covering the escalating conflict between Buddhists and the catholic-dominated government of South Vietnam. He told Browne that anyone who appeared at the Xa Loi Pagoda the next morning would witness “an important event.”
Browne had written extensively about the spreading Buddhist rebellion and sensed that it would shape Vietnam’s future. Before dawn the next morning, he and his Vietnamese assistant set out for the pagoda. They found it packed with monks in saffron-colored robes and nuns in gray ones. The air inside was hot, thick, and heavily scented wit incense. Smoke spiraled upward from a hundred braziers. Holy men and women lost themselves in ancient chants.
Browne took a place. One of the nuns approached him, and as she poured him tea, he could see tears streaming down her face. A few minutes later, Thich Duc Nghiep caught sight of him and approached. He had a simple question: do not leave “until events have run their course.”
For half an hour Browne sat amid this scene. Suddenly, at a signal, the monks and nuns stopped their chanting, rose, solemnly filed out of the pagoda, and formed a column outside. They assembled behind an old Austin sedan carrying five monks and followed it through the streets. Where Phan Dinh Phung intersected with one of the city’s major avenues, Le Van Duyet, the procession stopped. Marchers formed a circle to block off all approaches.
Three monks emerged from the car, one elderly and the others supporting him. The younger ones placed a square cushion on the pavement in the center of the intersection and helped the older one settle into the archetypal lotus position. As he fingered his oak beads and murmured the sacred words nam mo amita Buddha, “return to Buddha,” they fetched a gasoline tank from the car and splashed a pink gas-and-diesel mixture over him. After they stepped away, he produced a box of matches, lit one, and dropped it into his lap. Instantly he was consumed by fire.
“As the breeze whipped the flames from his face, I could see that although his eyes were closed, his features were contorted with agony. But throughout his ordeal he never uttered a sound or changed his position, even as the smell of burning flesh filled the air. A horrified moan arose from the crowd, and the ragged chanting of some of the monks was interrupted by screams and cries of anguish. Two monks unfurled a large cloth banner reading [in English], “A Buddhist Priest Burns for Buddhist Demands.”
Stunned by what he was seeing, Browne reflexively shot picture after picture. After a few minutes, a fire truck and several police cars with shrieking sirens appeared, but the demonstrators lay in front of them and clung to their wheels so they could not reach the pyre. Soon the flames began to subside. When they died out, several monks appeared with a wooden coffin and tried to lift the dead man’s body into it. His limbs had become rigid. As the coffin was carried back to Xa Loi Pagoda, both arms spilled out. One was still smoking.
The monk who burned himself to death on the morning of June 11 was named Thich Quang Duc. He was sixty-seven years old, had been a monk for nearly half a century, and was revered as a bodhisattva, a being on the path to enlightenment. In a statement that his comrades attributed to his death, he made a “respectful” plea to Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions.
The ruling family’s most outspoken member, Madame Nhu, replied by ridiculing the spectacle of what she called a “barbeque.” “Let them burn,” she said. “We shall clap our hands.”
Browne’s photos of the burning monk stunned people around the world. The day after they were taken, a visitor to the Oval Office noticed that President John F. Kennedy had a set of them on his desk. They seemed to symbolize the unraveling of South Vietnam and the impotence of its president, Ngo Dinh Diem. These images helped push the Kennedy administration toward a momentous decision. Diem had lost the administration’s confidence and would be overthrown.
A Woman Among Warlords by Malalai Joya, 2009, Excerpts
The hundreds of Afghan women who set themselves ablaze are not only committing suicide to escape their misery – they are crying out for justice. These heartrending cases of self-immolation are acts of defiance as well as despair, and these women are not just victims but symbols of resistance; they are the first stage of larger protests against injustice.
In the News
Two Tibetan monks in China die after self-immolations
25 Apr 2013
Two Tibetan monks have died after setting themselves alight in southern China's Sichuan province, reports say. The monks, aged 20 and 23, set themselves on fire at the Kirti monastery in Aba county, said Radio Free Asia and Free Tibet. The monastery has been a focal point of protests in recent months. More than 100 Tibetans, mostly young monks, have set themselves on fire since 2011 - many fatally - in apparent protest against Chinese rule.
Saudi dies after setting himself on fire in protest
17 May 2013
The BBC understands Mr Alhouraysi killed himself on Wednesday after being unable to present his identification papers when he was searched by police. He is said to have been previously stripped of his Saudi citizenship. Reports of self-immolation in the ultra-conservative kingdom are rare. Two years ago a man in his 60s has died after setting himself on fire in Samitah in Saudi Arabia's south-western Jizan region. The incident echoes the death of a Tunisian who set fire to himself as a protest in 2011, triggering revolution.
Tunisia Khedri: Young man dies after self-immolation
13 Mar 2013
A young Tunisian cigarette vendor has died after setting himself on fire - an act reminiscent of the event which triggered the "Arab Spring" in 2010. Adel Khedhri, 27, set himself alight on Tuesday on a street in central Tunis, the focus of protests which toppled long-time leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago. Analysts say Tunisia is deeply divided between supporters of the Islamist-led government and secularists, while youth unemployment remains stubbornly high.
Ivory Coast man sets himself alight at Rome airport
14 Feb 2013
An Ivorian man about to be deported from Italy has set himself alight at Fiumicino airport in the capital, Rome, Italian media has reported. A customs official extinguished the flames, but the young man is believed to be badly burnt. The man from Ivory Coast reportedly hid the fuel in his suitcase.
France Nantes: Man burns himself to death at job center
13 Feb 2013
A man, 43, who was declared ineligible for unemployment benefit has died after setting himself on fire outside a job center in western France. The police had been alerted by messages he sent to the media announcing his plans to kill himself publicly. The jobless number in France recently rose to levels not seen in 12 years. Last month, a jobless man in the Spanish city of Malaga also died after setting himself alight. Local politicians reacted with horror to news of the self-immolation, adding that only a formal inquest could perhaps establish the man's true motives.
Tibetans guilty of murder for 'inciting immolations'
31 Jan 2013
A Tibetan monk has received a suspended death sentence and his nephew 10 years in jail for inciting eight people to self-immolate. Tibetan activists had said the men were forced to confess to the charges. Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, many fatally, in protest at Chinese rule. Most of the self-immolations have taken place in ethnic Tibetan areas outside Tibet. Foreign media are banned from the region, making verifying the self-immolation cases difficult. The sentences are believed to be the first since a legal ruling stipulating that anyone aiding immolations would be charged with murder. Activist groups and the Tibetan government-in-exile say the self-immolations are protests against tight Chinese control of the region and religious repression. China's leaders blame the Dalai Lama for inciting the self-immolations and encouraging Tibetan separatism, a charge he strongly rejects.
China jails six Tibetans for inciting immolations
01 Feb 2013
Six ethnic Tibetans have been sentenced to between three and 12 years in prison in China's Gansu province in connection with a local man's self-immolation. Four were found guilty of "intentional homicide" at Thursday's trial and two of "picking quarrels and provoking troubles". The convictions are believed to be the first since a legal ruling in China stipulating that anyone aiding immolations would be charged with murder. Nearly 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, many fatally, in apparent protest at Chinese rule.
Spain Malaga: Jobless man 'burns himself to death'
04 Jan 2012
A jobless man in the southern Spanish city of Malaga has died in hospital a day after apparently setting himself ablaze in the street.Neighbors and witnesses told Spanish newspapers that the 57-year-old, of North African origin, was suffering from financial problems. Another man is being treated in the same hospital apparently after setting himself alight in Malaga on Thursday. The 63-year-old was found with serious injuries beside his burning car under a road bridge, police said. Spanish media have reported a number of cases in recent months of people facing poverty in the country's recession killing themselves.
Tibetan students protest, as four more self-immolations reported
27 Nov 2012
The four self-immolations occurred in Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces on Sunday and Monday. Of the four Tibetans who set themselves on fire in separate incidents, three are reported to have died. Teenage nun Sangay Dolmas died in Qinghai on Sunday. Kunchok Tsering, 18, and Gonpo Tearing, 24, died in Gansu on Monday. Wang Gyal, 20, a former monk, set himself on fire in Sichuan on Monday. His condition is currently unknown. More than 80 Tibetans have set themselves alight since 2011 in what activists say are protests against Beijing's rule. More than half are believed to have died.
Tibetan immolations: China offers rewards for information
25 Oct 2012
Police in China's Gansu province are offering rewards for information about planned self-immolations by Tibetans. The authorities in Gansu's Gannan prefecture say recent immolations affected social stability. On Monday a man, believed to be in his 50s, died after he set himself on fire near the Labrang monastery. A day later another Tibetan set himself on fire in the same region. China's leaders blame the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' exiled spiritual leader, for inciting the self-immolations and encouraging separatism. He rejects this, and both activist groups and the Tibetan government-in-exile say the self-immolations are protests against tight Chinese control of the region and religious repression.
Gaza teenager dies after self-immolation
03 Sep 2012
A man has died in Gaza after setting himself alight in apparent protest against his family's living conditions, Palestinian officials say. Mohamed Abu Nada, 18, had poured petrol over himself after walking into the morgue at Shifa hospital in Gaza City last Thursday, doctors said. His father said he had sent his son out to look for work because the family was struggling to make ends meet. In recent months, two Israelis have died of their injuries after setting themselves alight in protest at government welfare cuts and the rising cost of living.
Two Tibetan teenagers die in self-immolations
28 Aug 2012
Two Tibetan teenagers have died after setting themselves on fire in Sichuan province, outside the Kirti Monastery in Aba county, where many of the self-immolations have taken place. This brings the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire since 2009 to 51. The young men were shouting slogans against Chinese rule and policies in Tibet as their bodies burned.
The event that sparked the Arab Spring
17 Dec 2011
Rallies have marked the first anniversary of the event that triggered the Arab Spring uprisings. Young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after he was banned from selling fruit to earn a living. His extreme act sparked the first open protests against the Tunisian government, which in turn set off demonstrations around the Arab world.
Why do people set themselves on fire?
18 Jan 2011
The spectacle of a violent death in a public place can also have an enormous impact. Over the past few decades, hundreds of people have sacrificed their lives in this kind of protest, including Vietnamese Buddhists, Lithuanian nationalists, South Korean leftists, upper-caste Indian students and Kurdish nationalists in Western Europe. Photographer Malcolm Browne's picture of an elderly Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, engulfed in flames as he burned himself to death in Saigon in 1963, has become one of the iconic images of the war. In 1965, Alice Herz, an 82-year-old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner in an act of protest against the Vietnam War. This was followed by the suicide of Norman Morrison, who set fire to himself on the steps of the Pentagon. And in 1969, a young university student named Jan Palachinitiated the use of this form of protest against the Soviet Union, in an act of self-immolation in Wenceslas Square in Prague. Palach became a legend almost overnight and still has a significant place in Czech mythology.