It seems the revolution in Tunisia that ousted a long-standing government all started with a 26-year-old who burned himself to death in protest.
Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Friday, 12/17 to protest what he saw as government corruption and rampant unemployment. Bouazizi reportedly had a degree in computer science, but operated a fruit stand on the streets of Tunis. His cart was regularly upturned and confiscated by Tunisian authorities who claimed that operating such a cart was illegal.
Out of frustration, Bouazizi set himself alight, and later died on January 4th. His death not only started protests that led to the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, but also spurned a rash of copy-cat self-immolations in other countries in the maghreb like Algeria and Egypt.
A CNN article points out that such extreme acts of protest have happened in the past, most notably the self-immolation of Buddhist monks in Vietnam, but self-immolation also happens in places like Afghanistan where desperate women burn themselves in self-punishment rather than face the torment of strict religious laws.
I can't imagine setting myself on fire out of protest or desperation, the pain of flames consuming my flesh just because I objected to a political or economic situation. I wonder whether there is another underlying condition, whether cultural or medical, that leads to this kind of protest.