When we hear about religious fanatics we often think of Islamic extremists burning American flags and suicide bombers. Some people may think of fanatical Christians attacking pro-choice clinics and killing their staff, or maybe cults. But not many people think of the gentle, meditating, Buddhist monk committing suicide. Does anyone remember the Vietnam War?
In the above photo (taken in Saigon on June 11, 1963), Thich Quang Duc, age 67, is “protesting” by means of self-immolation. Duc was protesting against the Roman Catholic persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem’s Roman Catholic administration. The Catholic and corrupt regime had cracked down on practicing Buddhists by banning the flying of the traditional Buddhist flag; prohibiting Buddhists from exercising the same religious freedoms as Catholics; and the detainment of Buddhist monks and nuns. Ironically, in a land that was 95 percent Buddhist, Diem was the leader the United States financially and militarily supported as President of South Vietnam (1954-63) – obviously one of the many mistakes the United States made during war, and clearly one of the big reasons why the National Liberation Front (aka Vietcong) was able to gain support.
Like many other religions, Buddhists celebrate their martyrs and human relics. And, if you think self-immolation as a method of protest is a thing of the past, you should see what is happening in Tibet. It would appear that Vietnamese Buddhist monks from the 1960’s have inspired a whole new generation. Self-immolation is currently going on in Tibet where over 120 people, mainly youth and Buddhist monks, have taken their lives in protest of the Chinese control of their country. The Tibetan Youth Congress website states that “These brave men and women who set themselves on fire have called for the return of the Dali Lama to Tibet, Independence for Tibet, and Freedom in Tibet.” My concern, if the brave youth of Tibet are killing themselves off in protest, who will be left to carry on the struggle for Tibetan independence? And, more importantly, what does it say about any faith or religion that condones suicide as a method of political protest?