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Long thought the exclusive purview of irksome Buddhist monks, the art of self-immolation has seen a recent resurgence in a region heretofore unknown for the incendiary form of protest–North Africa. Self-immolation, in which a person sets himself afire, is a uniquely modern form of protest in that it utilizes the power of the media like a gun, aiming not to explain grievances but to shock and horrify.
Recently, Egypt, Algeria and Mauritania have all seen acts of self-immolation, thought to have been sparked by events in Tunisia. On December 17th, 2009, Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself to death, despondent about his ability to feed his family. The riots which followed rocked Tunisia, ultimately leading to the government’s surprising implosion last week.
Some around the world are concerned that this ghastly trend will spread to other regions, perhaps reaching Europe where unrest over government austerity programs has brought tensions to a slow burn. However, most social scientists agree that Europeans, like their American cousins, relish the attention and warm, self-satisfied glow which come from political protest , but only up to the threshold of actual sacrifice. After that, it’s kinda a bummer.