Concluding Part – Self-sacrifice in the Modern Times
In the earlier series, we have read about the concept and examples of self-sacrifice from different mythologies. Let us see how the meaning of self-sacrifice has changed in the current times
The reason of taking up this aspect of sacrifice is more due to the current misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the word self-sacrifice. In recent times we have heard about soldiers who have died at the borders being referred to as given up their lives or sacrificed their selves to the nation. In a worse scenario we have seen many a terrorists using the word as a justification for all the barbaric acts of terrorism. In televised tapes by terrorist groups, we have seen that the acts of terrorism are referred to as acts of self-sacrifice by a few of them.
Just as the word ‘myth’ today implies ‘lies’ and is very commonly used by one and all, the worry is that self-sacrifice is a much misunderstood and misquoted word, which is used loosely today. Be it the authorities or be they terrorist organisations.
The meaning of self-sacrifice today is blurred with the meaning of ‘martyr’. The word martyr derives from the Greek, mytros or witness. Martyrs are those who are willing to die, to sacrifice their lives in this world, in order to be assured a place in the next world and a guarantee that they will not be condemned to hell.
The early Christians, who were tortured to death for their witnessing for Christ, became the martyrs memorialized on icons. These iconic images proved a powerful attraction both for group memory and for exciting new followers. Islam adopted the martyrdom image. The grandson of Mohammed stated that it is better to die in dignity than to live in humiliation. Those who die on the path to Allah become martyrs in Islam. Similarly, Pope Urban II recruiting for the Crusades promised that all who died in the reclamation of the
Holy Land from the infidels would be forgiven all venal sins and ascend immediately to Heaven (paradise). There is historical precedent on all sides.
In the ‘60s, there was a popular and rather accurate saying that “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” The British, for example, had to deal with many forces they labelled “terrorists”: the Americans in the 18th century, the Indians in the 1930s, the Jews, in Palestine in the 1940s, and the Argentinean’s Falkland Islands in the 1980s, as each was fighting for their independence from imperialist Great Britain.
Thus I feel that this is so very contextual. Freedom-fighter’s for a nation or for a religion? Crusade or Jihad? Can the dying of a soldier at the border due to a nation’s act of blunder be called a sacrifice or simply call of duty? Can a soldier’s knowingly going to fight a bunch of terrorists having sophisticated weapons with his archaic weapons be referred to as an act of sacrifice or simply a lack of choice? Can the shooting of the Mahatma for an individual who does not try to escape be considered an act of sacrifice for one’s own thought process or philosophy? Can the act of a suicide-bomber’s killing a Prime Minister be called an act of sacrifice for the cause of a movement? Is this a case of an angular vision, depending on which side of the ‘movement’ you are?
I don’t have answers to these. In this lies my dilemma – can today’s murderers be called heroes who sacrificed themselves for a cause in days to come? Who knows that hundreds of years later Nathuram Godse, Beant Singh and Satwant Singh, Dhanu, James Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald,* and the faceless perpetrators of 9/11 could just about turn into icons of self-sacrifice. Here I sincerely hope that none of us stay alive to see that day!
*Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi
Beant Singh and Satwant Singh assassinated Indira Gandhi
Dhanu assassinated Rajiv Gandhi
James Ray assassinated Martin Luther King
Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated John F. Kennedy