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Can the idea of martyrdom be saved?

I’ve got a new film review at Religion Dispatches about a category of nonviolent resistance that’s getting a new lease on life:

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.

Of Gods and Men tells the story of seven French monks who were killed during the Algerian civil war in 1996. Read the review if you like, but see the movie if at all you can.