A long and noble tradition

We live in an era of mini martyrs. All the big issues have been dealt with and nobody gets burned. (Not in Europe anyway) Martyrdom is like a cell phone. Once upon a time it was the few but now everybody does it. It is so commonplace that it now no longer is the preserve of the noble and innocent.
Specious martyrdom, the kind that encourages young men with a death wish to destroy not only themselves, but innocent people, is a travesty of the concept and so, to some extent is the mantle that gay men take on in order to embarrass and bully those who disagree with their lifestyle. It is the process of replacing one putative victim with another.

For a true martyr does not seek martyrdom or harm to others. A true martyr wishes only to stand up for a belief and ultimately to die for it if absolutely necessary but never, ever plots and plans to overthrow, destroy or otherwise foment acrimony.

Three examples come to mind of modern day martyrdom.

Let's start with Dick Puddlecote type martyrdom. Dick appears to be on a crusade, a libertarian crusade, to counter what he and others see as the unfair treatment of tobacco users. There are some hair raising examples on his blog, sound recordings, of people who, quite legally wish to bring cheap tobacco from the EU into Britain, which, as we know, is also in the EU. By anybody's standards these people are hassled and treated like criminals. They do nothing illegal and seek to assert their rights and yet the UK Border Agency is pursuing a vendetta against them. To some this issue may appear trivial and you may not be sympathetic, but Dick and others have said "enough is enough". They object to being scapegoated and incarcerated which is fair enough. I could not be bothered with this kind of thing personally but if Dick and his colleagues succeed it will be a victory for the little man against leaden bureaucracy and ultimately it will change the balance between them and us. It is macro-martydom, but it is martyrdom nevertheless.

The second is another story, another trivial story of a Chicago man who may face 15 years in jail for recording his own arrest. This is down to an unusually severe Illinois law. The state is one of twelve that requires "two party consent" for recording of persons to be legal. Nine states make an exception, an important exception, in the case of the Police, in favour of arrestees. Chris Drew was a street artist and vendor who has been arrested several times for selling things, earning a living. He knew that ultimately his insistence on selling innocuous silk-screened patches for a dollar was going to land him in trouble but he felt that he should be able to do it. He did not insist people buy them or sue anybody that told him it was wrong. He merely felt he had a right to earn a living. This too is an example of how thousands of people around the world are refusing to bow down to rulers who have no right to rule us.

The third example is perhaps of the more traditional kind of martyr:

The riots and demonstrations that have swept through Tunisia during the past 10 days also began with a small incident. Twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.


One man has been the catalyst for a revolution. Nobody could have predicted this. He might have died and faded away. For nothing.

In all three examples individuals and groups of individuals have become so committed to a cause that they are prepared to accept personal discomfort and worse for their beliefs. They have the potential to become change agents and yet they do this without trying to preach to others or taking others down with them.

We must understand what contemporary martydom means and be sure that those who merely seek to impose their will on others are exposed for what they are, lest those who make sacrifices for the cause of freedom are sullied by association. The cause may not be the biggest cause and the effect may not be the biggest effect, but it is the tenacity and strength of the human spirit that says, "I shall not bow down before another human" for we are created equal and have a basic right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Rosa Parks
Martin Luther King
William Tyndale
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Aleksandr Solzenitsyn
Aung San Suu Kyi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
The Pilgrim Fathers
Emily Davison
Jeffrey Glenn Miller
Alison B Krause
William Knox Schroeder
Sandra Lee Scheuer

And if you don't know who any of these people are, you should.


Jim Baxter said...

Thích Quảng Đức

Jan Palach

Span Ows said...

1st example (sorry Dick P) sounds more like Jihad. 2nd example is well, hoist by his petard, not really a martyr; the 3rd, he was angry and frustrated; certainly a catylyst and probably the most like your definition.

Foxy Brown said...

May I add this unsung heroine to the list:

Sophie Scholl

Apologies for the Wiki reference - it's not the most reliable source of information.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Thank you for your worthy nominations Jim and Foxy.

Span Ows, I feel I might agree with you on some level. If anything your analysis illustrates how degraded the concept has become, but we live in a different era now and perhaps I should ahve found another name for the expamples.

What they have in common is a refusal to be bowed by petty rules and regulations and to some extent all three suffered. Sometimes you only get martyrdom in retrospect.

Brian said...

Henryk Goldszmit

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Thankyou Brian. An interesting example. If I had listed all the individual acts of bravery and self-sacrifice that emerged as a result of the Holocaust it would have been a very long post. Martyrs there were, but mostly, they were scapegoats, designated as sub-human pariahs by years of propaganda and hatred. Lambs to the slaughter. It was probably the last noble cause worth fighting for.

Daddy said...

Super Post, WW.