I feel the time has come to project my own inadequacies and dissatisfactions into the socio-political and scientific schemes. Let my own lack of a voice be heard. - Character in Waking Life, as he prepares to self-immolate

If throwing stones through the windows of corporate fast-food restaurants is radical protest these days, what can we say of the practice of killing oneself - by fire, at that?

It is too easy for people to brush something like that off as the action of a crazy person, and if we define "crazy" as "socially aberrant," it's uundeniably so. Yet self-destruction of this type tends to be triggered by strong feelings of morality. It was June 11, 1963 when Thich Quang Duc, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, brought self-immolation into the realm of public discourse. The Vietnam war was on, but that was not his issue - he killed himself in protest of religious persecution going on in his country. As an act, it demonstrates a level of absolute belief and it, the flame, the smell, the plume of smoke, cries, like no other banner or picket sign, for attention. Perhaps it is to guilt the perpetrators of badness. Perhaps it is to wake an apathetic or slumbering populace or inspire a fearful one to action.

At any rate, it is an individual action. Those that sacrifice their lives this way do not get the camaraderie and courage in numbers that go with sacrificing one's life in a war. Self-immolation would not be necessary if one were supporting those in power. It was adopted as a technique (an extreme technique) by American protesters of the Vietnam war. Several were explicitly emulating Thich Quang Duc. Of those, several were also Quakers or otherwise known for and motivated by their strong religious and moral beliefs.

To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. -Thich Nhat Hanh


Self-immolation is not only the act of setting yourself on fire, but also of sacrificing yourself this way. Though self-immolations are quite rare, they are almost always carried out in public, to point out your discontent with a current (political) situation and how sure you are about your point of view. Most self-immolations in modern history happened between 1963 and 1979. Here's a list of the most memorable and important ones:

Though self-immolation is a very painful and slow process it is sometimes also used to commit suicide without any form of political protest (suicide itself is always a protest).

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