The “Flame of Change” from Tunisia to… Vietnam?

Imagine living in a country where Freedom did not exist. Most of us can’t. Most of us live every moment of our lives in a Freedom that others have never known, but we take it for granted because, just like breathing, our right to live free belongs to us so naturally. We never think about it, and thus most of us never truly think about our brothers and sisters who are thirsting for the kind of Freedom that is so readily ours.

Now imagine living in a country where Justice did not exist, either. Imagine that not just your Freedom, but also your career and your home and your very livelihood have been stripped of you. And what’s more, there is nothing you can do about it but watch your life dwindle away because, in your country, the word of the government is LAW no matter how unjust or corrupt it clearly is.

And you look around you and see that all your countrymen quietly suffer just the same fate for no good reason, though beyond the borders of your country others are living where Freedom and Justice are never such an issue. Your voice is weak and easily drowned out by the oppressive government, yet nonetheless you wish with all the hurt in your heart that something could be done. And then you remember that actions speak louder than words

In that case, could dying for something be better than living for nothing? Do you believe you could have a louder voice in death than in life?

In Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi, a humble street vendor, committed suicide one morning in front of a government building by setting himself on fire after government officials publicly humiliated him, beat him, and confiscated his livelihood. Mohammed Bouazizi’s protest by self-immolation was tragic but subsequently inspirational, and certainly instrumental in setting off the revolution in many autocratic Middle-Eastern countries that followed. Since then there have been a handful of copycat suicides, all striving to spark the same “fire of change” in the hearts of their people and for the greater good of their nations.

Most recently in Vietnam, Phạm Thành Sơn, an engineer, ended his life in the same way after (according to online sources) the government demanded his family give up their home so that they could use that land for their personal gains. Some video footage captured Vietnamese police casually standing by and watching as the 31-year-old man apparently set himself ablaze in front of a government office in the city of Đà Nẵng, while the crowds of shocked people built up around the scene. Afterwards, authorities reported his death as an accident. His vehicle’s gas tank had exploded, they said. He had a mental illness, they said. But the communist government’s expertise in blurring the truth is already too well known…

What will this mean for Vietnam? Not to be cliché, but I guess only time will tell. Actions speak louder than words, and I believe that Phạm Thành Sơn’s actions have lit a candle in even the most reluctant hearts, if not yet a flame. I hope the Vietnamese people will be empowered to rise up for the Freedom, Justice, Democracy and Human rights they deserve.

Now is the time to act.

I for one am still utterly in awe that what keeps being described as “18 short days” was all it took to write a whole new page in the history of Egypt and forever liberate its people. I’m sure their victory will be a story for Egyptians to pass on for generations to come. Sort of like how South Vietnamese parents and grandparents tell my generation about their harrowing journeys to escape the clutches of communist persecution after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. No doubt their words are an inspiration to us, but I don’t want those to be the only stories we have… I want to be able to tell my children or grandchildren about how Vietnam was able to rise up against corruption and injustice, and with their own strength take back their Freedom and their rights, just like the people of Egypt have.

And yes, I believe that Mohammed Bouazizi, Phạm Thành Sơn, and all those who have died in the name of Freedom will rise out of the flames–to live in the hearts and triumphant cries of the people.

Edit: Visit Global Voices for a more detailed and accurate report of Phạm Thành Sơn’s story (in English, by VT representative).

Thank you to the online writers and journalists who shared the news story.

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