Perpetual Insecurity 13b - The Political Dimensions of Self-Immolation


Self-Immolation: Political Dimensions

Historically, self-immolation has been a form of political protest.  In June 1963,  a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk self-immolated in a street in Saigon to protest the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. In December 2010, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia inspired the Tunisian revolution and the revolutions of the Arab Spring. Joseph Pugliese writes, ‘Mohamed Bouazizi clearly experienced the violence that proceeded from the functioning of Reason itself. Victim of this violence, Bouazizi embodied the individual conscience that would act to name, identify and shame the violent operations of the state’s instrumental reason. He proceeded, indeed, to assume an “infinite responsibility” that was marked by the incineration of his life as a way of calling to account the countless tyrannies executed by the civil servants of the state’ (Pugliese, 2014).


As a material expression of the harms inflicted by the state on their bodies, the self-immolation of asylum seekers and refugees can be viewed as a response to policies that are intended to cause harm. They send a final message, where other expressions of suffering and attempts to seek justice were ignored before the cruelty and violence of the state is embodied in this final act.

In some cases, messages left by asylum seekers and refugees or the chosen site of self-immolation have signalled – as in the case of Mohamad Bouazizi, who cried ‘If you don’t see me, I’ll burn myself’ – in part a search for visibility and accountability. Sharaz Kayani chose to self-immolate in front of Parliament House, a site symbolic of the Australian state, and Khodayar Amini’s final messages provide an explicit call for accountability and a cry for justice. Although the deaths of asylum seekers and refugees have not inspired revolution, like Mohamed Bouazizi’s did, some citizen-witnesses to these self-immolations continue to resist the state’s violence and attempt to seek justice for the dead in various ways.



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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.