I’ve spent this week kicking and screaming and weeping. I planned to write something essential and inspirational about fiction-writing, or perhaps something cute and funny about Barney Poodle. Instead I’ve done nothing but think about Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk, who set himself on fire in down-town Siagon during the Vietnam War.
All week the famous image of the burning pyre that flickered around the world on black and white television screens in 1963–a protest by self-immolation at the treatment of Buddhists in Catholic-dominated South Vietnam–has followed me around.
And although I use the word ‘immolation’, it is not a word I like: it is a sneaky, non-descriptive kind or word that subverts the very act it claims to express, the desperate, painful, terrible, political statement made when people burn themselves to death.
Inevitably, thinking about Thich Quang Duc led me to Omid, the young man who set himself alight on Nauru two weeks ago. And if Omid’s death was not distressing enough, his horrific act of sacrifice was quickly followed by a young Somalian woman attempting the same.
What does it take to douse yourself with petrol and strike a match? What level of despair? What hopelessness?
Apparently the young woman’s name is Hadon and she is still in hospital fighting for her life. She is reported as being twenty-one years of age but in fact she is only nineteen and has been locked up on Nauru since she was sixteen.
Apparently she has tried to kill herself several times before.
Apparently she had a terrible motorbike accident on Nauru and was brought to Australia for treatment and then was taken kicking and screaming from the hospital and put on a plane back to the island where she poured petrol over her young body and set herself on fire.
All week I’ve been kicking and screaming too. I have heard a lot about Budget offerings and estimates and company tax rates and housing bubble predictions. But is Hadon’s name a household word? Are we horrified as a nation that such a tragedy should happen in our care? Or have we become so heartless that out of sight has become out of mind?
How could a young girl come to our country alone, without any family support, intent on making a new and better life, a young girl who should have been studying and learning and working and making friends: how could it end like this?
How many more people will have to burn themselves before we start caring enough to close down the camps and resettle these innocent people with some humanity? How many deaths will it take?
In 1963, a wailing crowd carried Thich Quang Duc’s coffin in procession to Xa Loi Pagoda where a silent mass of mourners lay prostrate on the ground, bedecked in frangipani flowers. At sunset, thousands saw the Buddha’s face weeping in the sky.
I weep for Omid and Hadon. I weep.