On Martyrs and Occupy Movements

My daughter lived just a block from Tahrir Square throughout the Arab Spring. She learned what it was to wear gas masks, take care of eyes that had been tear gassed, and continue daily life despite soldiers in full riot gear and tanks ready for action at the end of her street.

So when a friend asked her what she thought about the “Occupy” movement she paused before making her reply.

“It’s ok.”….”But you need a martyr”. 

He looked at her in shock.

While she doesn’t will anyone to die, I know what she meant. She meant you need a passion that hasn’t yet been identified, you need a common cause that moves people so deeply they are willing to die to see change, you need a tension that says “We feel this so deeply that we are willing to give all for this cause”.

A year after Occupy is there a passion and tension to the movement that demands action?

Protests began in Tunisia because a man set himself on fire after being systematically refused a permit to operate as a street vendor. It was corruption at the deepest level. Protests in Egypt began way before the 18 days in January, starting instead with the brutal beating and death of a young man in Alexandria, Khaled Said, who had a video that would expose police corruption. He was planning to make the video public when he was beaten in broad daylight outside of a coffee shop. He later died of those wounds. The nauseating wrong of this act was so evident it could not be ignored – so people rose up to protest his death and the environment that made his murder possible. In both cases, people could no longer be bystanders, they had to act.

So what do you do in a case where it’s “White Collar” corruption and crime? No one has died. No one has set themselves on fire. Instead the wrong is more insidious showing itself through its victims — a 26 year-old drowning in school debt, a 50-year old laid off 2 years ago who cannot get a job,  young families so busy trying to make ends meet that, as much as they may believe in the idea of an “Occupy” movement, they can’t take the risk of losing their livelihood. These are victims too be sure — victims served live on china platters at the table of corporate greed. But are they martyrs?

Indeed you don’t have to die to be a martyr. The definition also means “One who makes great sacrifices or suffers much in order to further a belief, cause, or principle”

But who is the Khaled Said of the Occupy Movement? 

Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over ...

Do too many of us still have too much that is good to give it all in sacrifice for an unknown outcome? Or Is it that we no longer know how to come together for a cause in this country? Are we so fractured politically and geographically that what makes sense in one area, namely Zuccotti Park, seems foolish in another?

A year ago I wasn’t sure what I thought about the movement. Having grown up in Pakistan as well as spent so much time as an adult in the developing world, my perspective often runs counter-culture.  I may feel like I’m the 99% and the school loans from my children may look that way, but the reality is that when compared to most of the world, I have more than plenty. And so I’m still not sure what I think of the movement.

And I’m not willing to give my all for a cause that I’m not sure about.

What do you think? Have you been willing to “suffer much for a cause”? Why were you willing? And would you give all for the Occupy movement? 


4 thoughts on “On Martyrs and Occupy Movements

  1. After reading your blog for a while and noticing what kinds of people read it, I am pretty sure that there are many who could answer “yes”, to the first few questions, (I don’t know about the ‘Occupy part of it), but they would never admit it. Suffering for a cause doesn’t seem like suffering as much when the cause is Christ, who suffered far more than any of us ever will. Even if we ever feel like we are suffering, many of us will never admit it for all kinds of reasons, ranging from pride to a desire not to complain to the realization that our suffering pales in comparison to that of many of the people we serve overseas. I bet that many read this post and shouted “Yes, I have suffered for a cause”, but they will never put it in print until their biographers tell the world of their sacrifice.


    1. As always – I love the way your mind works and I look forward to your responses. I think you’re right – when the question on suffering or giving all for a cause is raised it’s probably one of those “pondering in our hearts” moments as opposed to responding on a blog. And most readers of CAB have encountered life elsewhere so their response to anything is colored by their world view. Thanks Anne.


  2. Thank you for this post. I enjoyed reading it, just like I enjoy most of your writings. From the outset my thoughts about the occupy movement were very much in line with your daughter’s. It is probably because we have both witnessed (although in a different circumstances) what happens when true ‘we have nothing left to lose’ state of mind occurs. My thoughts then (and now) in essence remain the same; those in the so called ‘first world’ countries have: a) far too much when compared to the rest of the world, and b) their (ours) media (including social media) have brained washed them from the cradle in such way to have divided them from within, and alienated them from those in the rest of the world. At the very basic level by achieving this twofold goal and keeping the balance just so, the multinational corporation that basically run this world, ensured that those two worlds remain separated because as long as they are separated those queuing for the latest iPhone (just an example) are neither interested in how and by what kind of labour it was produced, or have any interest in reaching those outside ‘their world’, while those starving in Africa and being beaten, discriminated against, etc. elsewhere have neither energy, means, etc. to show the ‘first world’ why and how to join them. So the show goes on … for now.


    1. I appreciate this thoughtful response Daniela. And not surprised that you share my daughter’s feelings. I have never thought about the piece of “ensuring that the two worlds remain separated” but that makes so much sense to me and it is so wrong. So. Wrong. I come away yet again with this sense that I need to identify what I can do – I’m not responsible for others but am responsible to be aware myself and to have concrete ways to respond. Thanks so much for this.


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