The idea of martyrdom hasn’t been in very good shape lately. One common usage of it—“I’ll not be made a martyr!”—refers to the prospect of somewhat tragic but mostly useless suffering, perhaps in the service of a delusional cause, religious or otherwise. Another appears regularly in the news with reference to Islamist terrorists, especially suicide bombers. Still, despite these entrenched negative associations, the idea may be on the mend.
One obvious reason for this is the dramatic reversal, happening now around the Arab world, in how political resistance is done. When plainclothes agents provacateurs instigated by a corrupt government kill an unarmed protester, and the word “martyr” is used, it takes on a wholly different meaning than it would in reference to somebody blowing him or herself up on a bus. It even starts getting closer to the word’s original meaning in Greek: “witness.”
Another thing that bodes well is the US release of Of Gods and Men, an award-winning French film which might be, despite a so-so title, good enough to make you change your vocabulary.
Recent criticisms calling the founder of nonviolent theory a Cold Warrior are way off the mark. To rightly evaluate him, we need to understand the role he chose for himself.
A six-week strike by teachers has bolstered a movement against proposed austerity measures targeting Lebanon’s dangerously underfunded education system.
Drama helps movements draw attention to their issues, but it won’t come without creativity and direct action tactics that reach beyond the choir.