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December 29, 2010

The hooly blisful martir
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:56 AM * 203 comments

From the account of Edward Grim, an eyewitness (translated by Dawn Marie Hayes):

Behold the simplicity of the dove, behold the wisdom of the serpent in this martyr who presented his body to the killers so that he might keep his head, in other words his soul and the church, safe; nor would he devise a trick or a snare against the slayers of the flesh so that he might preserve himself because it was better that he be free from this nature! O worthy shepherd who so boldly set himself against the attacks of wolves so that the sheep might not be torn to pieces! and because he abandoned the world, the world - wanting to overpower him - unknowingly elevated him.

Unsurprisingly, the murder of Thomas Becket has been cast and recast over time. 870 years is a long time for people to look into the mirror of the deed and see their own times and their own troubles.

It’s easy to dismiss attempts at historical analogy, particularly since they rarely seem to require the Becket-analogue to actually get hacked to pieces. But it’s worth distinguishing between differences in kind and differences in degree. There are plenty of smaller martyrdoms out there awaiting smaller sanctities.

It’s also worth teasing out the distinction between the dedicated idealogues and the fame-seekers, who do the right deed for the wrong reason. Whatever the historical truth, Becket’s legacy now is purest holy martyr.

So who, in 2010, would you say has walked in Becket’s footsteps, for good or ill?

Comments on The hooly blisful martir:
#1 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 08:58 AM:

Bradley Manning.

#2 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 10:14 AM:

Huh. I wouldn't count Becket as a holy martyr. From what I've read, his struggle with Henry II was a legal one. He basically wanted church law to be supreme over secular law, and for criminals who were churchmen to be punished by the Church and to be exempt from secular punishment. Much, in fact, like the Church's current policy toward child-molesting priests.

Henry II wanted the criminals punished rather than being given penances or sent on pilgrimage--during which they could commit more crimes. He also didn't want his power as king undercut by the Church. (A reasonable thing for a king to not want.)

Becket's faith was never an issue, which is why I don't consider him a martyr. Henry couldn't have cared less if Becket was a devout Catholic; I think that might almost be expected in an archbishop. The problem was that both Becket and Henry were stubborn and that each was convinced that his way was the only way. Again, this isn't necessarily a religious issue. In this case, it was a political and a legal one: how much power should religious orders and organizations have under law?

Finally, he wasn't killed because of his faith. Henry didn't have a policy of killing Christians. Henry either deliberately arranged to have Becket killed or, in frustration, spoke words that indicated that he wished that someone WOULD kill Becket. Either way, the reason for his death was a political one, and his death an assassination--even though the word didn't exist at the time. And even so, the four knights who killed him left their weapons outside the cathedral to talk to him and try to convince him to come to Winchester to talk to the king--Becket's latest move having been to excommunicate the archbishop of York, the bishop of London and the bishop of Salisbury for obeying the king and crowning his successor, Henry the Young King. (Canterbury traditionally had the privilege of crowning kings. Becket got severely pissed off at having that privilege abrogated. And once the bishops fled to Normandy, Becket...kept on excommunicating people he didn't agree with, basically.)

Becket didn't accomplish anything useful; he just got in the way of compromise and progress. And the only reason he got canonized--barely three years after his death--was so that the Church could stop Henry's attempt to make members of religious orders subject to secular law, which would have been a blow to Church supremacy.

With all this, I can't think of a single person this year who would qualify as a true martyr. I can think of a few fake martyrs who are being puffed up as such by the media. But that's something else altogether.

#3 ::: Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 10:58 AM:

Tracey, I'm sorry to be pedantic, and I don't want to start a flame war but it is not the Catholic Church's current policy that child-molesting priests be exempt from secular punishment. It is now the policy that they should hand themselves over, at least in countries where the law is more or less trustworthy.

I think you're right about Becket, though. The trouble is that he was also canonised by popular sentiment, because people needed someone who could stand up for the barons, and for an idea of justice which was not just what the powerful agreed -- and the church, though powerful itself, also stood for that.

But do you have to be a saint to be a martyr?

#4 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 11:30 AM:

Andrew, 3: I do hope you meant "*to* the barons."

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 11:57 AM:

Wouldn't be the first or only time that a king's words would be acted on without the monarch's actual intent. See also: "Sorrow gin he were sodden and supped in broo."

These days, in Uncle Sam's Navy, in PCO school (that's Pre-Commanding Officer school), the prospective ships' captains are instructed, "Do not go to your stateroom, lie face down on your rack, put a pillow over your head, and whisper, "I wonder what the Wardroom would look like painted purple?" Because if you do, when you go down to breakfast the next morning, it will be."

#6 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 12:19 PM:

Henry II and Beckett had quite a little war going - since Beckett had been pro-King and anti-Church as Chancellor and then changed sides on becoming Archbishop, one can see something in the Plantagenet position.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 01:32 PM:

Andrew Brown #3: Who establishes the trustworthiness of the law?

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 01:51 PM:

#4 TexAnne:

No, he probably meant for the barons. At the time there were only two players: The King, and the Barons. The Church was the referee.

#9 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 01:58 PM:

Andrew Brown #3: Really? That's news. I hadn't heard that it was Church policy now for child-molesting priests to hand themselves over to the law. (And what counts as the law being trustworthy? Who decides? The child molesters? The local bishops and archbishops? I think that whether or not the law is trustworthy would depend on who was making the determination.)

But do you have to be a saint to be a martyr?

I think you have to be a genuinely good person, at least. And I think that your religion or ethics have to have something to do with your death. A martyr, by definition, gives everything, even his or her life, for what he or she believes. If you're alive, you can go the Galileo route (which was VERY practical of him), say that you don't believe X or hold to ethics of Y at all, and back out of it.

So being alive and suffering for what you believe in isn't enough for martyrdom. You still haven't died for what you believe in. And most people are not willing to die for their faith or for what they believe is right. That kind of self-sacrifice is rare.

#10 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 02:14 PM:

Two players? No -- three -- the Church in England was not an uninterested impartial party.

Theobald of Bec (the former Archbishop of Canterbury) helped put Henry II on the throne, just as the Bishop of Winchester aided his brother Stephen of Blois in his usurpation of the crown from Henry's mother Maude.

And where does the idea that Becket was for justice and the common man come from -- AFAICT, Becket's crusade was for the rights of the Church vs. the Crown?

#11 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 02:25 PM:

Do you have to be a saint to be a martyr?

No the first condition (sainthood) is not a requirement of the second (martyrdom).

There are many saints (Bernadette Soubirous, for one) who have been cannonized that were not martyrs, and many many martyrs who have never been candidates for beatification much less sainthood.

#12 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Tracey at 9: From the U. S. Council of Catholic Bishops website, from a policy on the sexual abuse of minors, adopted December, 2002. This is item 11.

The diocese/eparchy will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities.

The entire policy is well worth reading.

#13 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Canonization was a considerably more rough-and-ready process in Becket and Henry's day than it is now -- it was mostly a matter of giving official recognition to someone already venerated locally. (Iceland, for example, had Saint Thorlak, canonized in 1198 by majority vote of the Althing.)

That said, killing an archbishop in front of his own altar has never given anybody good press -- vide Oscar Romero.

#14 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 02:58 PM:

Andrew and Lizzy: That still does not make a statement either that the church should and will turn in suspected abusers of its own volition, or that the abusers are required by church law to turn themselves in, at least as it intersects US law.

The order "will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors" is a lot narrower in scope than it might appear, because the laws on mandated reporting vary a lot by state jurisdiction and in many cases apply only to specific professional classes of people. Moreover, about half of the states in the US (24) still do not include clergy in the list of mandatory reporters.

Here are a couple US government references:
Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect
Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect

To be cynical, that Church policy could be interpreted to say "Don't flagrantly break the laws about reporting, even if you used to, and don't pressure the victims to clam up, even if you used to."

#15 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 03:07 PM:

Clifton: you are right, the policy does not say that the church (read: local bishop) must notify civil authorities when an accusation of abuse is made against one of its priests.

I don't want to hijack this thread, especially on so sensitive a topic, so I am not going to pursue this further.

#16 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 03:21 PM:

Oops, sorry, I did want to add to the above -- some individual dioceses in the US may have such a requirement.

In the Oakland CA diocese, in which I volunteer, all people in any position of responsibility in their parishes, including lay volunteers, are required to go through yearly training in how to recognize signs of abuse and what to do. "What to do" includes reporting it to civilian authorities.

#17 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 03:32 PM:

Jim, 8: Referee, maybe, but in no wise impartial.

#18 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 04:36 PM:

Lizzy #16:

I think our certification lasts more than once year, but it's very similar in Maryland. We had to both go through training and have a background check to be allowed to volunteer with children, which I've done at my kids' school and at our parish. This is required even for stuff like volunteering to help the kids get out of the cars and into the school safely during morning dropoff.

My experience is that everyone intends to make sure the paperwork is up-to-date, but also that small schools and parishes often don't have a whole lot of staff to do that with, and the parish's fingerprinting/background check mechanism is quite backlogged. The result is that at any given time, there are likely parent volunteers at a school who haven't been through the process yet, particularly parents of new students at the beginning of the school year.

The training definitely involves encouraging you to look for known patterns of misbehavior and report them, as well as specifying some patterns of behavior to avoid in order to avoid triggering ugly suspicions.

I have no idea how effective it is. It has always felt to me a bit like getting a better lock on your front door after someone breaks out your window and steals your stereo and TV.

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 04:55 PM:

I never said that the Church was an impartial referee.

#20 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 07:04 PM:

Lizzy: I was just about to say the same. That was really nothing to do with the main thread topic, and I agree it would be better to drop it. In fact, leaving aside the question of whether Thomas a Becket really should be considered a martyr, the most interesting question to me is to slightly reword the one Abi originally posed:

Who today is living up to the ideal - or dying for the ideal - which people have ended up attaching to Becket, regardless of the actuality at the time?

I think I would nominate, as a class, Russian investigative journalists. Russia still has journalists who see publishing the truth as worth dying for, and a number of them have died for it in the past decade.

#21 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Clifton, some Mexican journalists might fit as well.

#22 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Jim, from #5. My cats are staring at me because I started laughing maniacally.

And that is probably the best thing about an antique house. Our personal spaces are pretty soundproof from the one another's.

#23 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 09:10 PM:

Theobald of Bec (the former Archbishop of Canterbury) helped put Henry II on the throne, just as the Bishop of Winchester aided his brother Stephen of Blois in his usurpation of the crown from Henry's mother Maude.

That's really the first time I've heard the story of that war from the point of view of one of the Empress's partisans.

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 10:40 PM:

Xopher, #23: It was a pretty complex situation. The Stephen/Maud conflict forms the historical background for the Brother Cadfael series, and I have no reason to doubt that the facts concerning real people referenced therein are at least reasonably accurate (IOW, I don't think Peters is making shit up out of whole cloth, although I wouldn't cite the books as a source without cross-checking; there might be some literary license). But the period as a whole definitely fits the terms of the canonical Chinese Curse.

#25 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 11:17 PM:

Who today is living up to the ideal - or dying for the ideal - which people have ended up attaching to Becket, regardless of the actuality at the time?

Dorothy Stang.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Yes, Lee, I was also introduced to these characters through Cadfael. I checked with a friend who knows English history well (an understatement), and he confirmed that most of it is pretty accurate (though of course Cadfael and his close friends have distinctly unMedieval attitudes toward women...and everything else, but especially women).

He also told me that the ultimate resolution (by the Pope IIRC) was that a) Maude was the rightful heir, but b) Stephen had been anointed King, and therefore WAS King, but c) Maude's son Henry II would inherit instead of any heir of Stephen's. Maude was furious, which seems to have been a favorite emotional mode of hers, but what could she do, declare war on the Pope?

It's also why Henry calls himself FitzEmpress in The Lion in Winter.

#27 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2010, 11:34 PM:

Maud. Sigh.

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:35 AM:

So who, in 2010, would you say has walked in Becket’s footsteps, for good or ill?

How about Aung San Suu Kyi? She may not be a Christian as Becket was, but she certainly has been speaking truth to power, and paying the price, for the last couple of decades.

#29 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 07:49 AM:

At the time there were only two players: The King, and the Barons. The Church was the referee.

True as far as it goes. But the peasants, artisans and merchants who unofficially (at first) canonised Becket would have been on the side of the king for the most part, because it was a substantial part of Henry II's political programme to establish royal authority by making the barony answerable in law to the King's Courts. This was a long way from equality before the law (which we can assume Henry would never have countenanced) but it was clearly advantageous to subjects other than great lords, because at least in principle it afforded them a degree of consistency in the measures that could be used by or against them, and it limited the extent to which they were at the mercy of the whims of the local magnate.

Actually there's a degree of inconsistency in both supporting Henry's legal programme and admiring Becket's actions as Archbishop, because the church was probably the biggest landowner in the country and in trying to subordinate canon law to civil law, Henry was trying to place the church as a legal entity on the same footing as his secular barons. But this wouldn't necessarily be apparent to a 12th century observer, because the historic importance of the church as a counter-balance to the secular power wasn't something that you would give up easily.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:24 AM:

Xopher @ 27... Ruth Gordon or Bea Arthur?

#31 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:42 AM:

I may or may not respond to comments, as I try to not escalate discussions.

Scott Roeder

#32 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:59 AM:

SamChevre @31:

Interesting choice. It also suggests George Tiller as a possibility.

(This is intended to be a value-neutral observation. I think Tracey's comments absolve us of choosing unambiguously good people, or people who did unmixed good in the world.)

#33 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 09:09 AM:

Yes, Dr Tiller would be another plausible choice (although the resistance to civil law in favor of church law is somewhat more on Roeder's side.)

#34 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 09:48 AM:

Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The point about Becket was that he didn't just speak truth to power, or make an individual stand against injustice. He was point man for an alternative power nexus which stood athwart the king's drive for complete legal control. I suspect Henry II made Vladimir Putin look like a pussy cat by comparison.

#35 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 10:46 AM:

The funny thing about the Becket/Henry II conflict was that in the apparent political context, the King lost. Becket was counted as a martyr and canonised. The King had to walk barefoot to his tomb, climb the steps to it on his knees, be scourged by the monks, and renounce his evil designs.

The church courts continued their indulgent ways with anyone who could claim benefit of clergy, neck verse and all, for another what? two centuries? (I'm too lazy to dig out the references.)

The secular state won, eventually. Sure. But the word is, "eventually".

#36 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:37 PM:

At the risk of stating the monumentally obvious: Martin Luther King, Jr.

#37 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:41 PM:

abi: do you wish us to limit ourselves to people from right now -- people whose martyrdom occurred in 2010? If so, I withdraw the two suggestions I made.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:53 PM:

Lizzy @37:

It's Calvinball rules, as usual. The notion of focusing on 2010 was mostly because it's that reflecting-on-the-year season.

#39 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Dave, the lawyer for the British soldiers convicted of manslaughter after the Boston Massacre invoked the benefit of the clergy. If the Wikipedia article is reliable, it wasn't entirely eliminated in English law until 1827, although it looks like the Tudors took some serious steps to narrow down its application.

#40 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 02:03 PM:

Benazir Bhutto comes to mind, as someone who was both perhaps not as pure as historical circumstance cast her, and also whose death had the effect of weakening her opposition and humbling the powerful. Not too far off geographically, Mir-Hossein Mousavi in Iran--again, a politician called to oppose the mighty less by inclination than by circumstance. Neither in 2010, though.

#41 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 02:22 PM:

abi @32 I think Tracey's comments absolve us of choosing unambiguously good people, or people who did unmixed good in the world.

As it happens, I was rereading Morris West's The Devil's Advocate in the past few days (one of my favorite faith-positive-but-not-sappy books - recommended to those who are interested in this idea of what makes someone a saint). In it, Monsignor Blaise Meredith is investigating the story of a man who was killed in Italy during World War II and is being proposed as a candidate for sainthood. At one point (on p. 114 of the version I have) he thinks "It was an axiom in the Church that one of the first marks of sanctity was the opposition it raised, even among good people. Christ himself had been the sign of contradiction. His presence was not peace, but the sword. No saint in the Calendar had ever done good unopposed. None had ever been without detractors and calumniators."

I think there's a lot of truth to this. Saints are not necessarily "nice" people and they're very seldom comfortable people. I don't think you have to be obnoxious to be a saint, but you have to be single-minded, and that means that the expectations you care about are not those of the people around you.

I'm inclined to agree with those who suggest that investigative journalists who have lost their lives in the service of the truth match the pattern.

I'm also thinking about abi's comment in the original post about smaller martyrdoms awaiting smaller sanctities. There, I think, you find the people who have given up not life itself, but life as they knew it. Most of these, I think, fall into the category of saints known only to God. You occasionally see them in the newspaper, where they are "human interest" stories. I'm thinking of the caregivers of someone with a major illness or injury. Or someone like the woman in the Washington Post this week who, after her sister was killed last year, moved into her sister's house to care for her eight children so they wouldn't have to be split up. I suspect I pass these people often in the grocery store or on the Metro and never realize it.

#42 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 03:39 PM:

SamChevre, #31: To me, there seems to be a rather significant difference between someone who dies for their faith and someone who kills for it.

#43 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 03:41 PM:

It's a tough business, naming saints, and I'm not sure I'd want any part of it. Being a saint might be even worse, but at least I'm not tempted by that.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 03:51 PM:

OtterB @41:

The Devil's Advocate is a marvelous book*; you remind me that I should reread it.

Having found it on my parents' bookshelves when I was a teenager, I went on to try a couple more West books. I have to say that Daughter of Silence did nothing for me, but The Shoes of the Fisherman, though less weighty, is still a worthwhile read. One day I'd love to have a pope like that.

-----
* even the gay character is handled more subtly than you would expect, looking at its copyright date

#45 ::: Paula Liebeman ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 04:44 PM:

#6 Henry

The Wikipedia entry doesn't much go into motivations and such.. Why did Becket do the flip-over from Henry's minion to adversary? (Although, Becket was very much not the norm for his time, one book I read about him insisted he was a lifelong virgin, and so notorious for that state that soldier in the English army in an encampment arranged for a campfollower to be in his tent one evening; she ran out in a rush crying, failing to seduce Becket which apparently she'd been paid to, and rejected presumably harshly...

#46 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Paula, 45: Isn't it obvious?* When he was the King's man, he served the King's interests. When he became the Church's man, he served the Church's interests. I do hope Henry released him from his secular oaths first...though if he didn't, that would explain his exasperation.

*I'm asking in all seriousness; it seems perfectly clear to me, but I'm steeped in the medieval worldview.

#47 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Why did Becket do the flip-over from Henry's minion to adversary?

I've always assumed that it's a mixture of "what you see depends on where you sit" and pure self-interest; whatever organization he was powerful in should be more powerful.

Yes, I'm a cynic.

#48 ::: Kyndra ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Xopher @26 Don't forget that Stephen had no heir since his son had drowned in the White Ship disaster.

Cadfael is more modern than many English people of the Middle Ages in terms of his view of women. He is a Welshman and Welsh Law (first written down in 910 AD) was always much more equal (as we would recognize it) than Germanic law. Women had distinct rights and could terminate marriages. This is one of the reasons that Llewellyn the Great didn't do anything when his wife burned their wedding bed after she caught him in it with another woman. She would have been within her rights under Welsh law to have killed the other woman without being liable for a blood-price!

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 07:06 PM:

Abi #44: I was introduced to West by a teacher when I was in my early teens. He's a habit that's been hard to break. I've found one or two books to be particularly marvellous, including The Salamander and, oddly, The Clowns of God.

#50 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 07:47 PM:

My only opinion on Beckett's martyrdom is that his widespread veneration so immediately after his death resulted in an entire wardrobe's worth of his garments being preserved as relics and thereby being available to use today for study.

#51 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:03 PM:

Lizzy #25

Beat me to it. Dorothy Stang was an amazing woman. I had her obituary from Outside magazine up on my door for all of my senior year in college and wrote about her in my graduate school application essay. Just reading that one short article really influenced my perspective on the confluences of social justice and environmentalism.

As for people who are still living, but incredible in those lives, the two nuns who run H.O.M.E. (http://www.homecoop.net/) in Maine deserve recognition. They dedicate every day of their lives to running this awesome place and I had the honor of volunteering with them for a few weeks several summers ago.

#52 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:21 PM:

#46 TexAnne
#47 SamChevre

It's been quite a while since I last saw Becket I read the play it's based on, and Anhouilh's foreward with disclaimer, that after he wrote the play he discovered that what he based it on, was inaccurate/not truthful regardign the image of Becket as carouser... Becket the bon vivant pre-priesthood does seem to have been accurate--he liked sumptuous clothing, he liked fine food and wine--and then apparently he did rejoice his divesting himself of his worldly possessions and causing consternation to Henry doing so.

The Becket image of non-Norman background was false, he was Norman; the inaccurate depiction was a sociopolitical one, created in perhaps a somewhat similar mold to that of Robin Hood or in Spain, El Cid, creating a character to rally around and use as a not-exactly-tribal touchstone and hero.

Henry II was quite a character--married to the the most powerful woman in Europe who was a power in her own right and richer than Henry, a woman nearly half again as old as Henry himself, and the mother of two princesses of France before marrying Henry and producing a brood of princes and princesses of England; father of rebellious sons, King who exiled his rich, powerful, intellectually brilliant patron of the arts wife and took up with one or more mistresses; friend and then adversary of Thomas a Becket; inheritor of the rulership of a country which had had years of civil war between two cousins each fighting for the throne

#53 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:34 PM:

Paula, 52: I'm going by my grad-school memories of the Life written very soon after he died, by a French cleric who went to England and actually talked to people who knew him (the first time that had been done in the West, AFAIK). I like Anouilh fine, but he wasn't a historian.

BTW, the "a" was never part of his name. He was just plain Thomas Becket.

#54 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 08:49 PM:

abi @44 and Fragano Ledgister @49
I also recommend Eminence by West.

I don't remember how I got introduced to him. I think I originally found either Devil's Advocate or Shoes of the Fisherman on my grandmother's bookshelf.

#55 ::: Carol Witt ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 09:46 PM:

Kyndra @ #48:

Don't forget that Stephen had no heir since his son had drowned in the White Ship disaster.

It was the son of Henry I who died in the White Ship disaster. Stephen's son Eustace died in 1153, the year before Stephen; however, a younger son, William, was still alive. He was passed over as king in favour of Maud's son.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 10:46 PM:

Scott Roeder is no martyr. For one thing, his still alive, woe to the unhappy world; and for another, he's a terrorist.

He has more in common with the people who killed Beckett.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 11:08 PM:

To clarify, if we're going to call people martyrs because they kill other people for their own deeply-held religious convictions, let's at least limit ourselves to ones who died in the process or as a result.

Scott Roeder goes way behind any number of stupid suicide bombers if that's what we're doing. If you want a list of terrorist incidents for 2010, here's one.

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 11:31 PM:

That's should be "he's" in #56, not "his."

#59 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:24 AM:

SamChevre @31

Could you expand on why you propose Scott Roeder? In what way could he be considered a martyr?

I'm not assuming you share Scott Roeder's views, but you clearly seem to think he's worthy of bringing up here, and I'm curious as to why.

Also, isn't saying "I try not to escalate discussions" before mentioning Scott Roeder's name kind of like saying "I try not to hurt people" before tossing a grenade into a crowd?

Apropos the original question, I agree with fidelio that Bradley Manning is worth consideration. He's clearly paying a heavy price for actions he seems to have taken for principled reasons, and which opposed the power of the State. Moreover, he didn't kill anyone except possibly in an indirect way.

#60 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:25 AM:

Agree with Xopher. Don't agree that Scott Roeder is a martyr -- and that's all I'm going to say about it.

#61 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:40 AM:

SamChevre, Scott Roeder is an insufferable, murderous git who tired to take the law into his own hands because God Told Him To. I have no patience for that.

I'm not going into the whole abortion issue, which I think has been warped beyond all means.

#62 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:56 AM:

Hoo boy. Scott Roeder rang a bell for me. I briefly confused him with Scott Ritter and couldn't figure out why Ritter would be considered a martyr. All those UN weapons inspectors deserve kudos, but I don't think they'd want martyrdom. Roeder richly deserves loathing and the life-without-parole that he got.

#63 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 03:46 AM:

Linkmeister @ 62

In the past I've come across suggestions that the child abuse charges against him were an attempt to smear him for not saying the right things about WMD in Iraq. (Though I have to say that the latest - 2010 - iteration of this makes me dubious about this: there seems little point in anyone smearing him at this late date)

#64 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 05:26 AM:

Although - as with everything going on at Guantanamo Bay - the exact details are murky, it strikes me as a distinct possibility that
Shaker Aamer might fit one of the profiles Abi's post bring to mind: i.e. someone being dealt with extra-judicially because their view about justice is politically inconvenient to the Powers That Be.

(Salient details about Aamer's case are that he was cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2007; was involved in negotiating the end to a hunger strike among Guantanamo prosoners in 2005; and appears to know more about some 'suicides' at Guantanamo in 2006 than might be convenient for the American government.)

(One person I haven't linked to here for fear of being spam-trapped is Andy Worthington, who has been covering Guantanamo in quite some detail recently and has written a lot about Aamer.)

(Abi - I hesitated for a day or so before posting this as I realise that the suggestion might be at least as controversial as Scott Roeder.1 But I'm guessing that you weren't necessarily expecting everyone to agree about things on this post. And since it seems as though part of the political price to pay for repeal of DADT was a worsening of the legal limbo for those cleared for release 2 or declared untriable at Guantanmo, and since there's been plenty of celebration of the former in these parts perhaps there should be some acknowledgment of the latter.)

1.Think of it as an early lump of coal for Hogmanay. (Though I'm neither tall nor dark, I'm widely reckoned to be stranger than most.)

2. Citation needed. To follow.

#66 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 06:14 AM:

OtterB @ 41
"No saint in the Calendar had ever done good unopposed. None had ever been without detractors and calumniators."

Totally aside, but I find that excruciatingly comforting tonight. Not that I'm nominating myself for sainthood (ha!), but it's nice to be reminded occasionally that disagreement, even from good people, isn't inherently a sign you've screwed up living beyond all hope.

Though personally, I have to say, I think the best way to ID a saint is to wait for them to die, pray for intercession, and see if they answer back.

I'm always a bit uncomfortable when people start getting admiring for people who are dealing with adverse situations. I feel like we get so focused on how noble suffering and loss is, that we lose sight of people as human beings, with their own loves and desires and dreams and not-so-alien motivations. But from experience, that kind of admiration isn't warming or rewarding -- it just feels like they aren't seeing you for yourself because they're distracted by trying to make you feel good about how much they think you've "lost," when it isn't like that at all.

I mean, you can focus on the sacrifices, but it seems to me that they aren't really the point. The point is whatever the sacrifices accomplished, whatever the reason was why they were made.

I feel like sainthood should be reserved for people who bring so much love into the world that it becomes pointless to try to measure it. Such that describing any of their actions isn't the point any longer, because it can't comprise the fullness of the thing, because any list you tried to make would leave things out or fail to express the surroundingness of all that love pouring out. If people remembered me for that, I could be happy. I don't think I would want to be remembered with an emphasis on how miserable I must have been, despite all the good (I hope) I did. I feel pretty sorry for martyrs, even the honorary ones who are still alive. They get appreciated for all the wrong things, despite all the right sorts of things they did while they were alive.

#67 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 09:09 AM:

Replying to #56-61 all in one go.

It seems to me reasonable, and is well within the field of nominations, to include people who are spending life in prison (Bradley Manning) or the equivalent (Aung San Suu Kyi) for acting on their principles, as well as those who have died in/for acting on them.

I find it helpful to reserve "terrorism" for attacking people who aren't involved in the issue in any direct way. A "terrorist" attack on American troops in Afghanistan is a contradiction in terms. (Yes, even on 9/11, I'll argue that attacking the Pentagon is an act of war, not terrorism.) By that standard, Roeder's actions were not terrorism.

I agree...that Bradley Manning is worth consideration. He's clearly paying a heavy price for actions he seems to have taken for principled reasons, and which opposed the power of the State. Swap in George Roeder, and I think the statement remains true.

#68 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 09:36 AM:

SamChevre @67:

Well, personally, I think it's rather against the spirit of what we're talking about to kill people, even in opposition to the power of the State. To the extent that murdering a private citizen is ever much of an opposition to said power.

Someone can feel free to list the people Becket killed to contradict me, of course.

#69 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 09:41 AM:

SamChevre, 67: If you understood the nature of martyrdom, you wouldn't be arguing that Roeder is the martyr in this situation.

#70 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 10:12 AM:

This is the point at which I say that everything I can contribute on Tiller/Roeder that is likely to be more illuminating than escalating has been said.

But I do think that the All Saints Day song is appropriate here:

I sing a song of the saints of God,
patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
for the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God--
and I mean, God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
and His love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus sake,
the whole of their good lives long.
And one was a doctor and one was a priest,
and one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there's not any reason--no, not in the least,
why I shouldn't be one too.

#71 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 10:26 AM:

SamChevre @70:
This is the point at which I say that everything I can contribute on Tiller/Roeder that is likely to be more illuminating than escalating has been said.

To be honest, I think that time came long since.

And let's be clear: this is not about brtn. As I said in 68, I just do not see that murdering a private citizen in cold blood can legitimately be cast as any form of (a) martyrdom, (b) sanctity, or (c) opposition to the power of the State*.

Ask yourself where Christ would be in that situation, and know that there you will find your saint. Would He really walk into a church with a gun and shoot a man dead?

-----
* Except, of course, to the extent that any act of private violence is an opposition to the power of the State to keep the peace.

#72 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 11:08 AM:

KayTei @66:
but it's nice to be reminded occasionally that disagreement, even from good people, isn't inherently a sign you've screwed up living beyond all hope.

Well, first and foremost, if you're still alive, you haven't screwed up living beyond all hope. Even if you are steeped in whatever is, to you, deepest iniquity†, there is always hope of appropriate redemption.

I mean, you can focus on the sacrifices, but it seems to me that they aren't really the point. The point is whatever the sacrifices accomplished, whatever the reason was why they were made.

Well, sacrifices can do two things. They can affect the state of the outside world (I could by a coffee, but I'll give the money to this beggar instead.) Or they can affect one's interior world (I'll give up meat for Lent, to remind myself that there's more to my life than OM NOM NOM BACON.)

This strays perilously close to "Faith vs Works", of course, but I'll haul myself back to the active side of the discussion by pointing out that if I tackle my over-dependence on things of the flesh, I'll end up with more time and energy to go out and do good in the world.

I feel like sainthood should be reserved for people who bring so much love into the world that it becomes pointless to try to measure it. Such that describing any of their actions isn't the point any longer, because it can't comprise the fullness of the thing, because any list you tried to make would leave things out or fail to express the surroundingness of all that love pouring out.

I think that's one sign of sanctity, but I'm fond of some of the more annoying saints, too. (I nearly took Jerome as my confirmation name, though he was a cantankerous old soul.) It's my belief that sanctity makes us more like the Platonic ideal of ourselves. Loving and delightful people become more loving and delightful. Active, confident, fierce people act confidently and fiercely and get good things done. Et cetera.

If people remembered me for that, I could be happy. I don't think I would want to be remembered with an emphasis on how miserable I must have been, despite all the good (I hope) I did. I feel pretty sorry for martyrs, even the honorary ones who are still alive. They get appreciated for all the wrong things, despite all the right sorts of things they did while they were alive.

One vital element of the classic* stories of martyrdoms is how joyfully they went to their dooms. St Lawrence is said to have joked with his executioners ("I'm done on this side; turn me over.") Their suffering wasn't the most important thing to them in the stories; it was merely a means to an end.

Even modern, less-mythologized martyrs like Maximilian Kolbe are valued not for their suffering and death, but because nothing, not even suffering and death, was more important to them than doing good in the world.

----
† By the way, if you are steeped in deepest iniquity it seems to be that kind of iniquity that leaves you a decent, worthwhile person on the internet. Indeed, I doubt fairly sincerely that you've screwed up living in any notable way. Obviously, I only see what you post online, but my belief is that this stuff contaminates one's whole life over time.
* and frequently mythological

#73 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 11:32 AM:

I think a better example of the distressingly blurry line that exists sometimes between martyrs and criminals is John Brown.

John Brown fought against one of the most brutal and repressive societies ever to exist in human history, but he did so by murdering civilians who had little to do with that brutality and repression. His actions were a critical piece of the chain of events that brought 4 million Americans out of slavery, but they achieved that emancipation by helping spark a conflict that took the lives of 600,000 soldiers and uncounted civilians. You could say that Brown's acts were more selfless than Becket's. As a Northern White, Brown could expect no personal gain from emancipation, while Becket was killed for trying to defend and increase the power of an institution he happened to head.

And when he was executed, those whom history has judged kindly, men like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, considered him a martyr, while slaveholders across the nation reviled him as a murderer and a terrorist.

Would Christ have been inside or outside the Harper's Ferry arsenal on October 18th, 1859?

I certainly don't know for sure, and I submit that anyone who claims they do doesn't understand Christ or John Brown.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 11:42 AM:

Chris W @73:

Actually, I'm resonably comfortable saying that Christ would not be in that arsenal. Even though it contributed to the end of slavery.

I'd be interested in reading an argument otherwise, but it has to start with how shooting Hayward Shepherd to death was a saintly beginning to the procedure.

I'll take Brown as a martyr, but not as a saint, thanks.

#75 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 11:58 AM:

Saints, as abi notes, are not universally nice people; you wouldn't necessarily want to sit down and have a beer with them. Some of them were, of course: Ignatius of Loyola, for example, founder of the Jesuit order, was a deeply loving and loved man with a tremendous gift for friendship.

Saints are human, however, which means they have the same contradictory qualities as the rest of us poor hairless apes. And often the saints among us are formally unrecognized. There's a wonderful moment in Lewis's The Great Divorce when the narrator observes a woman passing by: she's luminous, joyful, beautiful, accompanied by angelic presences, etc. He assumes he's in the presence of a saint, perhaps even the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. No, his guide informs him -- she's someone he's never heard of.

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Abi @ 72... I'm fond of some of the more annoying saints, too. (I nearly took Jerome as my confirmation name, though he was a cantankerous old soul.)

Heheheh...

This reminds me that I should watch Val Kilmer's "The Saint" again.

#77 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:15 PM:

Abi:

I agree that Brown wasn't particularly Christ-like on those days in October, but I recoil even more at the idea of placing Christ with Lee's Marines storming the arsenal and defending slavery in Virginia. (Which was the dichotomy I was trying to set up, though re-reading my post that's not at all clear.)

All of which is just to say that there are a lot of real world situations in which everyone is a martyr, and the only role for a saint is to tend the wounded and comfort the dying.

#78 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Chris W @77:

Sometimes Christ isn't in either place, I think. Sometimes He's somewhere else entirely, pursuing the good in an entirely different way than anyone inside or outside of the arsenal.

there are a lot of real world situations in which everyone is a martyr, and the only role for a saint is to tend the wounded and comfort the dying.

Agreed, entirely.

#79 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 01:01 PM:

SamChevre:

abi wrote: "So who, in 2010, would you say has walked in Becket’s footsteps, for good or ill?"

Not, as it happens, "who would someone, somewhere, say". But I suppose you had a point to make about the relativity of moral judgments etcetera etcetera.

On an related note, this West writer sounds interesting!

#80 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 01:08 PM:

It might help to note that in the tradition I instinctively side with*, both Henry and Thomas Becket are wolves, not sheep.

*Amish-Mennonite, which views politics as a concern of the powers of the world, who are definitionally ungodly.

#81 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 01:18 PM:

Abi, #68: Precisely. As I said upthread, there seems to me to be a significant difference between being willing to die for your faith and being willing to kill for it. If we're granting the latter, there's no compelling reason to disallow the people who flew the planes on 9/11.

Also, should the act of seeking martyrdom disqualify someone from receiving it? Or is that irrelevant?

Chris, #73/77: Good illustration, and excellent food for thought.

#82 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 01:42 PM:

SamChevre @80:
It might help to note that in the tradition I instinctively side with, both Henry and Thomas Becket are wolves, not sheep.

So now I, at least, feel played, given the way this conversation went.

The kindest thing I can say is that it's a charming bait and switch you ran there. Do you feel like you "won" something? Made us all think with your clever strategem? Particularly with that trollish "I know this is controversial so I may not stay to defend my views" lead-in?

The less kind thought is, what would you have said if people had agreed with you?

So was that good conversation, the best contribution you could make to this thread? Really?

#83 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 02:30 PM:

OK, I'm really not sure what went wrong here.

I'll walk through this, once, and then I'll shut up.

I think that both Scott Roeder and John Brown are significantly like Thomas Becket--men whose self-sacrificing attachment to their causes* made their cause more important than either their lives, or anyone else's interests.

I agree with abi: it isn't possible for me to see Christ as a participant in the violence that Roeder and Brown perpetrated. But for me, that judgment is significantly influenced by my history. "They are all worldly; so long as they leave us alone how they act is none of our concern" is an ethic I grew up with, still lean toward instinctively, but don't really agree with any longer.

And lastly, I'm sorry if the intro was trollish; that wasn't what I intended. My intention was to give myself a graceful out, if and when it became clear that my participation was counterproductive to thoughtful conversation, or that my ability to be polite and thoughtful was slipping.

*Just to be clear; in all three cases the causes had some significant points I agree with, and some points that I find very problematic.

#84 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 03:00 PM:

SamChevre, 83: What I got out of your previous post is that you were arguing a position which you didn't agree with; all of your posts before that one implied that you did agree with it. That, to me, made you look like you were arguing in bad faith, and made me disinclined to read you. Based on your 83, I will have to reconsider that decision, but I'm afraid it will be an uphill battle for me to trust you again.

#85 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Lee #81:

Yeah, at the very least, people willing to kill for their cause are not a particular rarity in the world or in history. People willing to die or suffer terribly for their cause are far more rare. (And some subset are willing to die and kill for their cause.)

All that is independent of the goodness or badness of the cause. You can be willing to kill for a good cause (liberating people from slavery) or a bad one (keeping slavery in place). Similarly, you can be willing to die or suffer horribly for a good cause (civil rights) or a bad one (keeping segregation in place). People have fought bravely and selflessly for every evil empire that's ever existed, and in every unjust war, insurrection, or guerilla campaign that's ever taken place.

#86 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 04:25 PM:

Is there a clear way to define martyrdom other than going willingly to your death for your cause? Does violence automatically invalidate it? (At least some people referred to Lincoln as a martyr, though he didn't die willingly and he had run a war on behalf of his cause.)

Do we only count martyrdom for good causes? Or could you call suicide bombers martyrs? How about peaceful political activists who knowingly risk death, but who advocate for evil political causes?

#87 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 04:49 PM:

SamChevre @83:
OK, I'm really not sure what went wrong here.

You declared at 31: I may or may not respond to comments, as I try to not escalate discussions.

That's like saying, "No offense, but…" or "I know this isn't a very PC thing to say…" It's generally the prelude to something offensive or obnoxious. And this particular phrasing also has the flavor of tossing a grenade into the conversation and then leaving as it blows up (as J Random Scribbler points out).

That plus your actual choice...comparing a murderer to a murdered man? A man who stalked his victim and killed him in a church to a venerated saint, however controversial? One killed in a church to boot?

It's almost poetically flamey, even without getting into brtn at all.

The only excuse would be if you meant it, frankly, and there were certainly those among us looking for you to explain in some way, to make sense of this strange choice. I did say "for good or ill," after all.

But then it turns out that it's all a clever twist, that you meant that Becket was a bad guy too in your book, the equivalent of someone who would walk into a church and shoot a man dead.

So it feels like all the patience, all the work into figuring out how a member of our community could advance this thing, all the charity and tact, was wasted.

But hey, at least you try not to escalate discussions.

#88 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 04:57 PM:

I see how people could have been misled by SamChevre's line of argument, but I also got where Sam was going with this line of argument from the moment he started. If you start from the premise (as I and I think Sam did) that what Scott Roeder did was awful enough that no one would defend it, it's clear that Sam's argument was not to defend Roeder, but to tarnish Beckett, i.e. to suggest that we should be skeptical of the moral meaning of a concept of martyrdom which potentially embraces Roeder as well as Becket.

But then, maybe I just saw it that way because I tend to share Sam's view of the Beckett controversy, though from the opposite perspective. As a person with no attachment to any particular church, I can't work up much veneration for someone who's willing to die for the principle that criminous priests, no matter how heinous their crimes, should never face secular authority or be punished with anything greater than defrocking. It just has all the wrong resonances for me.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 05:02 PM:

Chris W @88:

But there are people who defend and revere Roeder. Plenty of them.

#90 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 05:30 PM:

Abi:

Yes, but I don't expect to encounter any of them here. And I tend to assume that my interlocutors are not beyond my personal moral event horizon until proven otherwise. And if I had any doubts, then Sam's second post, placing Tiller in the same category would have dispelled them. I would be very surprised if the type of violent ideologue who was willing to defend the morality of what Scott Roeder did, would then be willing to turn around and allow that George Tiller was a martyr too. From that point on, it was completely clear to me that Sam was criticizing the category of martyr, not suggesting a complete moral equivalence between Becket and Roeder (or any other martyr).

I agree that Sam's first post pings the trolldar. And I see how you read Sam's posts in such a way that they appeared to be disingenuous. I'm just saying that it seems clear to me Sam wasn't trying to be disingenuous, even if it came off that way.

#91 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Abi @ 72

But don't you think that gentle compassion and active ferocity are both different ways of expressing the same deep abiding love, and bringing it into the world?

I'm the last person to insist that nice behavior should replace effectiveness, within reason (though I'll also agree niceness can be the most effective approach in some cases). I just think that without that basis in love, you're relatively unlikely to achieve sainthood.

I don't know. I get that there are people who find meaning in ascetism, but ... I'm just one of those who will always prefer to connect with the divine by seeking out even more new and fantastic things to appreciate. My sister is my opposite, so I should remember about these things, but they just seem to slip out of my mind betweentimes.

Also, I'm quite tickled by the notion of myself as steeped in iniquity. I keep envisioning myself wrapped in a sackcloth teabag, soaking in a teacup-shaped bath, with lots of iniquitous bubbles and oils and things floating around. I don't worry about that so much, but I do have extra empathy for your annoying saints.

#92 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 08:03 PM:

There is this much to Sam's relativism -- martyrs, like saints, are socially constructed. In fact, I'd consider both as a subset of "hero-worship", and thus intrinsically linked to tribal identity.

I've blathered about hero-worship (mostly the classical Greek version) before, but to summarize, there's a pattern across many -- perhaps most -- cultures, of worshiping or venerating certain dead people in one form or another. The exact requirements, and surrounding mythic patterns, vary between cultures, but some things are pretty general:

For the classic "hero" pattern, their actual graves or death sites (if known) become places of worship; their corpses (if available) become holy relics, and, most significantly, their spirits become available for worship as sub-deities of some sort. In some cultures, those can become demigods; in others, they become intercessors with higher powers. This pattern is not something that needs to be commanded from by the powerful -- indeed, it can't be suppressed! And sainthood patently follows just that pattern. Martyrdom is clearly a weaker phenomenon, but I'd consider them the "also-rans" of sainthood, who don't get personal cults, but do get their names and deaths remembered and venerated.

But the thing is, the choice and qualifications of who gets worshipped, are based on tribal traditions and linked inextricably to the tribal identity. Nearly all of us here are members of (inter alia) the amorphous tribe defined by social liberalism★. To social liberals, it's "obvious" that Tiller is a potential candidate for martyrdom, and the argument is about whether he "reaches the bar".

But: to "social conservatives", at least those associated with the more coercive streams of Christianity... to them, Tiller becomes a villainous, even demonic figure... and his slayer becomes a candidate for reverence.

★ : Which I'm carefully dissociating from current political divisions. This has been discussed before; there are perfectly good definitions for social liberalism as a moral stance, but in practice, it's background to our shared moral worldview.

#93 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 08:19 PM:

And going back to both the original point and the "interior" of our moral worldview, I've got a tough case for you:

Consider Dian Fossey: Certainly she had "good purposes", with her attempts to study and protect the most intelligent of nonhumans, but she was also confrontational to the point of locally undercutting her own cause, and ultimately leading to her murder. So -- martyr, or just a loose cannon?

#94 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 08:44 PM:

to "social conservatives", at least those associated with the more coercive streams of Christianity... to them, Tiller becomes a villainous, even demonic figure... and his slayer becomes a candidate for reverence.

Yes, to hell and its denizens, saints and demons are reversed. This we know.

#95 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 10:14 PM:

Xopher #94: No. Social conservatives are not demons, or even intrinsically evil, despite the current conflict. They merely represent a cultural lineage which is disastrously maladapted to the modern world. They represent the human adaptation to isolated tribes in constant environments with limited resources. In a world of rapid change and global interdependence, they have become dangerous both to other communities, and to the world as a whole -- but for all that, they are still human.

#96 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 10:19 PM:

P.S.: I'm going to bed now (well before midnight) because I hope to make cookies for a brunch tomorrow. 'Nighty night!

#97 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 10:48 PM:

I guess I'm more on the front lines of the "culture wars." I consider "social conservatives" my enemies.

But I was employing a metaphor. People with evil views (like social conservatives) believe that people who do good (like George Tiller) are doing evil. And vice versa (like the Roeder scum).

#98 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2010, 11:52 PM:

albatross @ #86: Is there a clear way to define martyrdom other than going willingly to your death for your cause?

I think it needs to be framed a bit more subtly than that. One needs to be careful about one's definition of "willingly".

Acting on one's beliefs may carry with it an unavoidable risk of death. Accepting that risk for the sake of doing the work, and accepting death when it rises from a risk to an actuality, is where martyrs come from.

But then there's people who go out of their way to embrace death and "martyrdom", and I'm reluctant to consider them proper martyrs. Blowing oneself up is not generally an unavoidable risk, and probably does not advance the cause as much as one might do by living on and continuing to do the work. (I'm also put in mind of the parable of the luggage, which teaches that the reward for a good deed is not great if the deed was done only for the sake of the reward.)

I'd advance this as an argument against suicide bombers being martyrs before I ventured onto the uncertain ground of rightness-of-cause.

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 12:18 AM:

There is a story of a group of Christians in the early years who went to a Roman governor and asked to be martyred. He allegedly replied, "Unhappy men! Are cliffs so rare and ropes so dear that you must come to me?" And sent them away.

As far as traditional martyrs go: Father Mychal Judge.

#100 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 01:13 AM:

As far as traditional martyrs go: Father Mychal Judge.

Now I can wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.

#101 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 05:05 AM:

Chris W. @ 88: "If you start from the premise (as I and I think Sam did) that what Scott Roeder did was awful enough that no one would defend it, it's clear that Sam's argument was not to defend Roeder, but to tarnish Beckett, i.e. to suggest that we should be skeptical of the moral meaning of a concept of martyrdom which potentially embraces Roeder as well as Becket."

I don't think the problem is that Sam was criticizing Beckett and Beckett-like martyrdom,* it's how he was doing it. Bringing up Roeder as a modern analogue strikes me as Godwin-lite conversation: it will make people angry and defensive and emotionally engaged in an unproductive way. Sam's inital comment demonstrates he was aware of this from the start, and did it anyway.

* Honestly, the bulk of this thread is Beckett-as-martyr criticism.

#102 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 06:25 AM:

Xopher #97: I consider "social conservatives" my enemies.

Which in no way contradicts what I said. In this modern age, we are in the peculiar position of trying to combat tribal conflict itself. More, we are facing enemies who want us to be the implacable threat they need to whip up their followers. To avoid playing into their hands, we have to avoid demonizing them, despite their willingness to demonize us. That doesn't mean we can't recognize our enemies -- but as human enemies.

#103 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 06:33 AM:

SamChevre passim

This isn't Crooked Timber. Conversations here work differently from the way they do there1 , and conversational tactics that go over OK there don't always fly here.

On the subject of martyrdom and violence, I'm inclined to regard the people who died on the Mavi Marmara as martyrs, even if they did bring all manner of things with them to defend themselves against the IDF.2

On the other hand I'm always oddly disturbed when I see Turkish soldiers killed by the PKK referred to as 'şehit', which my brain always wants to translate as 'martyr'(since that seems like the closest English word); but which is probably better translated as 'someone who dies for a cause'. (I imagine, but am not sure that 'şehit' comes from the Arabic shaheed; and that a shaheed is someone who dies in a holy war)

Etymology seems important here: martyr comes from a word that means 'witness'. I reckon there are limits on what you can do and still be regarded as a wutness (rather than, say, a participant in a struggle). Though by that account I'm not sure Beckett is a martyr. 3

1. As an illustration of which - I've read comments you've written at (I think) Daily Kos - not recently, mind - and CT over a period of several years; without really having any sense of the person behind them; by contrast, what you've written here and on the birds and bees thread (and wherever you talked about making stock) - gives me much more of a sense that I know who I'm talking to.

2. Apologies if this is another lump of coal, and liable to bring more heat than light. Or worse still, simply to smoke unpleasantly.

3. I'm similarly ambivalent, and for similar reasons about (St.) Thomas More.

#104 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 06:35 AM:

Three/four times through preview, and I still misspell 'witness'. Sheesh. Thank goodness I don't earn my living by proof-reading.

#105 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 06:45 AM:

And more: The whole idea of an inevitable, all-encompassing war between good and evil -- that image is itself a mark of tribalism. In my experience, the truly evil disdain good ("weak", "foolish", "gullible", etc) rather than hating it for itself.

When it comes to a question of obedience to an evil master, then they trot out "disloyal" and "traitor" -- but that goes right back to tribalism. And frankly, these days I think the "good guys" need to pay more attention to loyalty! $^)#&^& Lieberman....

#106 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 07:32 AM:

praisegod barebones @ 103:

I have to disagree with you. Those who started the violence on the Mavi Marmara went into the situation NOT intending to take aid to the Palestinians, but intending to fan the flames of violence. They acted violently with the apparent intent of provoking a violent response. That their actions of battering people with iron rods resulted in their own deaths* does not make them martyrs.**

* By people defending themselves/their comrades from assault with potentially deadly weapons.
** And I'm deliberately staying with this particular incident, not the wider issues - which is another conversation not appropriate to this thread.

#107 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 09:35 AM:

DCB @ 106:

Is pacifism a requirement for martyrdom? I don't think that we'll ever know who started the violence on the Mavi Marmara, but whoever did, I'll bet they thought they were responding to deadly violence from the other side. Do you think you could reliably distinguish between a commando raid using less-lethal weapons, designed to cause confusion panic and pain , and a raid using lethal weapons? While the raid was happening and you were the target? And once the violence started are you certain that it was only those who were violent who got hurt or killed?

#108 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 09:44 AM:

Chris W. @ 107 The fact that the IDF did not harm people on the other ships shows that there was something different about the actions of some of the people on the Mavi Marmara. Why do you assume that the IDF engaged in actions "designed to cause confusion panic and pain", when clearly that didn't happen on any of the other ships? Am I certain that only those who were violent got hurt or killed? No. In which case those on the Mavi Marmara who started the violence were willfully putting peaceful activists in danger by their actions. Do I think the IDF's responses were above reproach? No; again, that's not the point.

#109 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 09:52 AM:

dcb@106

First, I'd be interested in knowing what your judgment of their intentions is based on.

Second: Do you think that if they had been able to deliver what they had to deliver, they would have foregone the opportunity in order to stage a confrontation with the IDF? If so, what's that judgment based on? If not, what do you mean by saying that they were more interested in the latter than the former?

#110 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 10:19 AM:

dcb @ 108:

Those who were on those boats beg to disagree

And I assume that the IDF took the actions that those on the boats claim they took. It's possible that those people were lying or mistaken. It's also possible that the IDF accounts of the attacks are full of lies intended to justify their use of deadly force.

My point is not to glorify or condemn either side, only to point out that making any definitive statement about events on the Mavi Marmara involves deciding who's telling the truth and who isn't. And making a statement like "That their actions of battering people with iron rods resulted in their own deaths does not make them martyrs." involves generally taking the word of those who were doing the shooting over those who were being shot at, which is the opposite of the default assumption I would tend to make.

#111 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 10:56 AM:

Picking my way carefully through this thread as there are a couple of subthreads I have no desire to engage with or even follow too closely.

Kay Tei @66 I'm always a bit uncomfortable when people start getting admiring for people who are dealing with adverse situations. I feel like we get so focused on how noble suffering and loss is, that we lose sight of people as human beings, with their own loves and desires and dreams and not-so-alien motivations. But from experience, that kind of admiration isn't warming or rewarding -- it just feels like they aren't seeing you for yourself because they're distracted by trying to make you feel good about how much they think you've "lost," when it isn't like that at all.

That's a good point, actually two good points. Sacrifices just for the sake of sacrifice are ... lacking. I have never been an admirer of the ascetic approach of deprivation as a positive good. Although, as abi points out @72, sacrifice can be useful either internally or externally, IMO it's not a goal in itself. Suffering is not inherently noble. I don't think you should go seeking it. But on the other hand, I don't think you can avoid turning down any road that you foresee contains it. Pretty soon that leaves you crouched down at the crossroads, going nowhere. If the road is worthwhile, take it anyway.

The other good point is that I know from my participation in online groups for parents of kids with special needs that it's annoying to people to be treated as "saints" in the plaster-cast definition of the term. People say, oh, you're such a saint, I could never do what you do ... but they could, and probably would if they find themselves in that situation. The people who are carrying on may be "saints" but it doesn't mean they're piously pleased with the situation. They may well be angry, sad, exhausted, or discouraged. They're just going on anyway. And for that matter, admiring them doesn't absolve the rest of us from taking concrete steps to help them, either individually or through a better social and legal environment.

Also, Kay Tei said I feel like sainthood should be reserved for people who bring so much love into the world that it becomes pointless to try to measure it. and abi @72 picked it up by talking about liking the annoying saints as well. It's my belief that sanctity makes us more like the Platonic ideal of ourselves. Loving and delightful people become more loving and delightful. Active, confident, fierce people act confidently and fiercely and get good things done.

I like that. I think that's an excellent definition of sainthood from within ... that you have become most closely the person that God intended you to be. From without, I think of it as bringing light into the world. Perhaps a small, steady clear light; perhaps a brilliant one that hurts the eyes. Maybe it's light for a small circle, one at a time; maybe it's a legacy of preaching or writing that affects millions. But in some way, you not only become who you were created to be, but you shed a light that helps others do the same.

Lizzy L @75 I like that little scene from The Great Divorce also.

James D Macdonald @99 I hadn't run across that story about the people asking to be martyred, and I'm amused. Yes, they'd missed the point. Isn't there some kind of advice in tennis or baseball or some such (not much of an athlete, can you tell?) that you're not supposed to hit the ball, you hit through the ball? Done right (for some odd values of "right," I suppose) martyrdom is not the point; the larger cause is the point.

Also, Mychal Judge, yes. Here is an article on him that I liked.

#112 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 11:02 AM:

praisegod barebones @ 109. I'm making my judgment based on the news reports of the time, the videos I've watched, and some basic logical reasoning.

If they really wanted to get humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian people, they could have simply gone to Ashdod as requested. Okay, they wanted to make a point - that in their eyes the blockade was illegal. So, wait until challenged, then, at the last minute, go to Ashdod under protest. That would have fulfilled the stated aims of getting attention and getting humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian people. To arm themselves with weapons such as iron bars, and attack IDF personnel - who had not fired a single shot at this point - as they were boarding the ship, as shown in the videos freely available online, suggests to me that at least a handful of people on that ship were more interested in staging a violent confrontation than with getting humanitarian supplies delivered.

Chris W. @ 110: And stating that they were martyrs means taking at face value the suggestion that they were simply peaceful people whom the IDF just started shooting at them, without provocation, under the gaze of all the video cameras.

#113 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 11:19 AM:

dcb:

And stating that they were martyrs means taking at face value the suggestion that they were simply peaceful people whom the IDF just started shooting at them, without provocation, under the gaze of all the video cameras.

That's exactly the point I took issue with in my original post. I don't think calling them martyrs requires making them out to be perfectly peaceful protesters, in the same way that you can call John Brown a martyr to the cause of abolition without ignoring the bloody violence he inflicted on people whose only crime was defending themselves from violent attack. As I implied in that post, I don't think pacifism is a necessary condition for martyrdom. (It assuredly is not necessary for one to be revered as a martyr.)

(I also think you're missing the substance of their criticism of the Gaza blockade which made handing over their aid supplies to the Israelis not a viable option, but just discussing the Marmara incident is enough of a quagmire without broadening the discussion to Israeli policy in Gaza.)

#114 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 11:22 AM:

David, #105: "Only the forces of evil claim that doing good is boring." - Diane Duane

OtterB, #111: The idea that suffering is good and noble in and of itself has also been abused routinely on a historical basis to keep oppressed groups "in their place".

I asked a question upthread which may have been taken as rhetorical. It wasn't intended to be, so I'm repeating it: should the act of seeking martyrdom disqualify someone for receiving it, or is that irrelevant?

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 11:28 AM:

One thing to be vividly conscious of, when discussing such difficult topics as we are now, is that sometimes, the truth really is somewhere between two dissenting views of the world. It's also possible, within the context of group actions, for "the group" to be doing many contradictory things at once, depending on what the people who make it up are doing.

I say this not because dcb, Chris W and praisegod barebones need to hear it—indeed, all three of them are doing a nice, nuanced and respectful job of working with these truths—but lest anyone reading this forget it before attempting to join into the discussion.

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 12:00 PM:

dcb, Chris: I don't have much of a dog in this fight. All in all, knowing armies in general: I take the statements of the IDF with more than a slight amount of salt.

From a personal point of view, were I inclined to try to run that blockade, I'd not want to turn my supplies over to Israel.

Why? Because the thing I'd be worried about is that, effectively, I've not given any relief to the people under siege (and that is what blockade is, and why blockade is an act of war).

They might as well (from the logical point of view of someone trying to run any blockade) have just left the stuff at home. The blockading power has the option, at any time, of allowing someone to pass the blockade. To let them take one's cargo in tow, and then judge it, is to not run the blockade. It isn't a protest, it isn't blockade running, it's accepting the right of the blockading party to maintain a blockade.

So, if they really were of the opinion the blockade is an illegal thing, then they were obliged to refuse to be boarded and taken to port.

That would put them (in my mind) in the broad category of martyr (because I am not so strict in my usage of the word, that I limit it completely to those who go peacefully to their deaths. That they do so knowingly, to some degree willingly, and that acts of moral reversal would almost certainly have saved them those are the main elements of martrydom for me. Which means Beckett can qualify, More does qualify, and Roeder doesn't. He's more Samson than Stephen).

#117 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 12:49 PM:

Lee @144 The idea that suffering is good and noble in and of itself has also been abused routinely on a historical basis to keep oppressed groups "in their place".

Yeah. In general I'm particularly suspicious of anyone telling me how purifying my suffering is. It may be necessary toward a larger good. It may be unavoidable, at this point, because of my own mistakes or those of others or because Stuff Happens. It may even be an occasion of growth. But it's a knife's edge to walk in telling someone else these things. On one side is the exploitation you mention: Really, it's to your benefit to stay downtrodden like this, it gives you moral purity. Bah. Oh the other side is judgementalism (is that a word?): Well, if you had more faith you'd be able to accept that God wants you to be suffering now, and then you'd feel better. Also, bah.

Is that quote from Duane from one of the Wizard books?

Re your question about seeking martyrdom disqualifying one from it, Jim's story @99 gets at that. I think if martyrdom itself is the goal,then they're People Unclear on the Concept. True martyrdom is, in a sense, a byproduct, along the lines of "It's not that I don't want to live, it's that I want X even more." Being willing to be a martyr is probably a good thing. Actively wanting to be one is ... questionable, in my book. But people nearly always do things for multiple reasons. I could see the desire to be a martyr as a way of expressing a passion for God, which, I think is a good thing, but I don't think it's directly on target. It can be harder to live for our beliefs than it is to die for them.


#118 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 01:51 PM:

Chris W @ 113: I think we have a difference of definitions here.

Terry Karney: With respect, I'm not just going by the statements of the IDF. And again, I think we have a differing opinion regarding what a martyr is.

As I recall*, on the news reports as the flotilla was approaching Israeli waters, we were repeatedly told how this was peaceful activism, that the aims of the flotilla were to peacefully deliver humanitarian supplies while protesting the Israeli blockade. When I saw the videos of supposedly peaceful protestors bashing at IDF personel with bars etc., - well, it really shook me, because I hadn't been expecting that from peaceful activists. I've since watched the Panorama programme, seen the activists preparing their metal bars - not exactly preparation for peaceful activism.

Martyrs? In my definition, no.

In my view, the activists failed at their oft-stated aim of peacefully protesting the blockade. They were fairly successful at what appears to have been their real aim - making Israel look bad. Personally (and I am trying very hard not to widen out this conversation), while I disagree with many decisions by the Israeli govenment, I don't think that demonising Israel helps the exceedingly complex situation in the Middle East.

* And I haven't kept all the news reports, and my memory is not infallible.

#119 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 02:40 PM:

dcb, my memory is telling me that those news reports were routed through the Israeli government first, which is one reason not to believe them. The other one is that the people with video devices (cell phones and cameras) had them confiscated by the Israelis when (or before) they got to port.

(And another reason: the reports are mostly by people who are usually biased toward the Israeli view.)

#120 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 03:02 PM:

The more I think about martyrdom, the more I think martyrdom can only really be achieved by those who undergo suffering or death rather than be made complicit with (what they see as) evil.

The early Christian martyrs chose death over being made complicit in paganism. Becket and More chose death over being made complicit in secular attempts to control the church. The activists on the Mari Marmara chose violent resistance and potential death over being made complicit in an Israeli blockade policy that prevented famine, but denied the Gazans any chance at economic development or self-determination. And Bradley Manning is undergoing punishment because he felt he could not be complicit in hiding the actions of the American government and military.

On the other hand, the governor in Jim's story wasn't doing anything to make the Christians compromise their beliefs. Nothing George Tiller or anyone else did made Scott Roeder complicit in brtn. And once again John Brown occupies the messy moral middle ground. Certainly he lived in a society that made all its members complicit with slavery, but lots of other individuals of his age defied that complicity in ways that didn't require their own deaths, or the murder of others.

And maybe that's the difference between a martyr and a saint. A martyr refuses to be complicit with his death. A saint refuses to be complicit with his life.

To draw some examples from a movement whose moral status I hope we can all agree on: Emmett Till was a victim of tragedy, because he never chose his fate. Medgar Evers was a martyr because his decision to brave the danger that civil rights workers faced ended up having a greater impact than anything he did in working for civil rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a saint because his legacy wouldn't have been diminished a whit if he had tripped and fallen from that hotel balcony.

#121 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 03:20 PM:

I think the crux of this is the difference in how we see martyr. I don't require they be peaceful. I don't require them to be phegmatic ("turn me over, I'm done on this side).

More is a martyr, to me, because he had the chance to recant. It's not that he didn't, in some ways, court his demise. There were a couple of ways he could have equivocated, and so signed the oath.

But he would have lost his moral standing.

In this case, to accept the right of a blockading power to enforce the blockade would be to lose that moral standing. In effect it would have been not really different from standing a an embassy, or outside the Knesset. Allowing a blockading power to enforce the blockade is ceding the moral rightness of one's position.

Because the protest (as opposed to mere cupidity, when the blockade is being run for profit) is of an act of war. It's a claim the war is unjustified. One has to resist in some way. Heaving to and allowing the cargo to be seized, and handed out at the blockader's whim, isn't a protest.

Honestly... irrespective of who is enforcing a blockade... it would be (IMO) the right of anyone who was of the opinion it was an act of unlawful war, to run the blockade with armed vessels. To actually bring serious firepower to bear.

It's not practical, it will, it might, once, be effective. Their might be good reason to do that; if the blockade is being seen as, "peacful" and the blockaders as "magnanimous" (should they be willing to pass along all "humanitarian" aid; I put humanitarian in quotes because the ways in which the Geneva Conventions define the allowable "non-military" use of prisoners is such that it can, (and does) free soldiers from duties to prisoners, so they can be send to the battle area, and medicines can be (and have been) defined as war matériel.

I am not willing to say, from the reports, and available evidence, what the "real" aims of the blockade runners was. Neither am I willing to say that "making "X" look bad" when one thinks they are doing an unconscionable thing, is unacceptable behavior.

We, as a group; here at ML, are fond of such people as Martin Luther King, Jr. Who spent a lot of time "making people look bad". I've seen claims that his "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" has no merit because he expected to get arrested.

From the point of view of someone who felt that strongly, meekly accepting the right of the power one is protesting to do the thing one is protesting, worse than useless. It grants them authority; it cedes the moral high ground. It says the thing you were fighting for, isn't really worth fighting for.

If, to get back to the specifics, the blockade runners had done as you described, we wouldn't be talking about it now. They would have failed, abjectly.

For lack of the courage of their convictions.

And that, the courage of one's convictions, even to the bitter end, is the stuff which defines martyrs.

We can, and do, differentiate different types of such people (though who go eagerly to an expected death, as part of their aims (Samson, who is the first recorded suicide "bomber"), and those who are engaged in actions which don't quite qualify (the recipients of medals of valor, e.g. the Victoria Cross, are rarely seen as martyrs), and we have gray areas (the conscientious objector, who when drafted serves as a medic and is killed while tending the wounded, or the non-CO medic who is killed while tending the wounded of the enemy).

But the question (to me) boils down to, were they looking to testify to some greater good?

Then I look to see what the good is, and what that testimony required of them. Doing that, I can look at things I don't believe in, and accept that the motives were internally consistent, and the effects not completely foreordained. There was a way to recant the belief.

If they held to their convictions so strongly, that death was an... acceptable; though not desirable, outcome, I think they deserve consideration as martyrs.

#122 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 03:42 PM:

Lee @1: If we're granting the latter, there's no compelling reason to disallow the people who flew the planes on 9/11.

Well, how about the people on Flight 93? They knew they were for it, but they found a way to protect others with their deaths.

Some years ago, I witnessed a helicopter crash. Not that I knew what it was at the time-- there was just a fireball in the night and then burning corn stubble fifty yards off the road. I found out later that a volunteer rescue pilot had been up after his day job, logging some practice hours, when he got ice on the rotors and went down. My father tells me that this kind of placement is fairly common for small craft crashes-- once the pilot realizes that "safe landing" is not one of the options, he or she doesn't quit calculating, but looks for a way to go out that at least won't hurt anyone else.

Although I suppose most of that is just making the best of a bad situation, a little short on "cause". But to connect with other discussions here, I've just had a story about my 10-year-old nephew. This is third-hand, but as I understand it, it goes like this: A kid in J's fifth-grade class had been harrassing J and several others for weeks. Reports to school authorities got no results. J was walking home with two female friends when the kid started in on the girls. J stepped in between and told him to cut it out. The kid pulled a knife and aimed it at J.

From there everything went as well as it possibly could-- the girls ran for an adult who was walking some other children along the same route while J faced this kid down. The adult a) called 911 and b) got the school crossing guard. The crossing guard was able to control the situation until the police came. There were formal reports and now a restraining order.

I don't know how all of this will ultimately resolve-- I worry about the troubles and the future of a kid who's waving knives around at ten years old-- but my nephew is the kind of person who will step between a bully and a victim. I hope he stays that way.

#123 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 04:18 PM:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

#124 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 04:19 PM:

#112 "If they really wanted to get humanitarian supplies to the Palestinian people, they could have simply gone to Ashdod as requested."

Wouldn't that be the equivalent of saying that if a Southern blockade runner had wanted to get humanitarian supplies to the Confederacy they should have gone to New York rather than to Savannah?

#125 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 04:31 PM:

P J Evans @ 119: The Panorama programme (which I watched online today) had footage from, and interviews with, both sides. Panorama (and the BBC in general) tend to be critical of Israel rather than otherwise.

Terry Karney @ 121: "the courage of one's convictions, even to the bitter end, is the stuff which defines martyrs" From that perspective, people in the IRA who were killed by the SAS or other British armed forces were martyrs, as were those who flew the planes into the World Trade Centre and those who blew themselves up in the London Underground on 7/7. I cannot agree.

"If, to get back to the specifics, the blockade runners had done as you described, we wouldn't be talking about it now. They would have failed, abjectly." If you mean, "if they had given way peacefully they would have failed", I strongly disagree. They had a lot of media attention before they decided to use violence. If they had showed unarmed resistance, and videoed it, that would have got them good publicity. As it is, they got people killed, and at least some people who were sympathetic to their cause were less sympathetic after watching them batter people with metal bars.

#126 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 04:36 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 124: There is ample evidence that Israel allows purely humanitarian aid through to Gaza. (The problem comes with materials which can be used either constructively or for destructive purposes - that's a debate which I thought had been agreed was not appropriate on this thread)

#127 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 05:00 PM:

albatross @ 86: "Is there a clear way to define martyrdom other than going willingly to your death for your cause?....Do we only count martyrdom for good causes?"

I can't see a way of naming martyrs or saints that blackboxes the particular morality they advocated. For me, whether or not I judge the cause they were championing moral is essential. If I disagreed with their cause, then the most I could grant is that they might be martyrs in the eyes of someone else, which is damning with faint praise, I think.

Otter B @ 111: "People say, oh, you're such a saint, I could never do what you do ... but they could, and probably would if they find themselves in that situation."

I've often found that people who do exceptional things tend to assume anyone would do the same. I think they are wrong, but it is by acting as if being exceptional is routine that makes it so. It is that transformative power that makes people like that--like you--so valuable. A sainthood of the categorical imperative, I suppose.

Terry Karney @ 121: "Allowing a blockading power to enforce the blockade is ceding the moral rightness of one's position."

I see what you're saying, and to a certain extent I agree. However, I feel that one can hold to the moral rightness of one's position even while allowing an immoral act to go forward if opposing that immoral act would involve acting in an equally immoral way. So whether giving into the blockade undermines the moral stance of the protesters hinges on whether you see defending oneself with violence as more or less immoral than blockading a civilian population. I can see arguments on either side of that line.

#128 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 07:44 PM:

OtterB, #117: The Duane quote is from her Star*Drive trilogy. But it would fit right in with the philosophy from either the Wizards or the Doors books.

Zelds, #122: Flight 93 is covered under my original distinction, I think -- the difference between someone willing to die for a cause and someone willing to kill for it. As you point out, they knew they were dead no matter what, but they saw a way to make their deaths mean something.

And kudos to your nephew! That's how the Culture of Bullying changes, one small step at a time.

#129 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 07:48 PM:

Zelda @ 122... The word for kids like your nephew is 'hero'.

#130 ::: Zelda ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2011, 08:14 PM:

Serge @129:
He sure is mine. But had things gone just a little differently, the word could've been "martyr"... I'm still a bit shaken.

#131 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:14 AM:

dcb: regarding the IRA: Not quite. There is a difference between defending oneself in an otherwise legitimate behavior, and being party to acts of overt violence.

Getting killed while staging an ambush isn't martyrdom, nor is a desperate last stand (a la Camerone).

As to the media coverage... no, they didn't really get much. In the first place, the IDF filtered the raw footage. In the second the accounts of IDF violence are disregarded.

In the third, even with the deaths the effect is more in keeping with a saying I've appropriated for years, "Martyrdom is not as useful as you think."

Heresiarch: If the blockade is immoral (as opposed to merely illegal), is there justification for attempting to avoid it by force?

The US fought a war over impressment/blockade. We didn't argue the blockade was immoral, merely that it interfered with our trade (the issue of impressment, and questions of sovereignity were also in play, but one can argue the same is true in Gaza). We did seem to think that not merely passive, but active violence was a just response.

One can argue the world is different today but the basic question apply.

The argument is made that Israel's actions are killing people in Gaza (just the blockade, I am not going to the question of relative harms to actual use of munitions across the border). When one looks at it in that light, the question of the morality of resisting Israeli action, by force, to continue a policy which causes that level of harm... unless one allows for no one to be at all a martyr, who refuses to eschew all defense of person/principle with reasonable force (which I don't), then I'd say the people running that blockade were martyrs.

And the issue of scale comes into it. The use of clubs to defend themselves/attempt to prevent the taking of the ship, is being used to say they don't get the benefit of the doubt as to the purity of their motives.

Had Israel hulled the ships, and they been killed in that, people would be less likely to say, "they asked for it,", even though their willingness to use those clubs was there all the time.

As with Beckett, martyrdom is very much a social construct, which is why members of an outgroup; esp. one which is villified, so rarely get the same level of consideration for the nature of their deeds. Things which would be lauded (see above with Zelda's nephew, who was being aggressive, if not actively violent), are decried, as being not pure in motive.

#132 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 04:35 AM:

Terry Karney @131 re: IRA

I'd put in a vote for James Connolly, particularly by your "chance to recant" criteria.

#133 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 10:04 AM:

Terry Karney @ 131: They didn't get much media coverage? They did in the UK - I noticed it, and we don't even have a TV. There's non-IDF-filtered footage available - I found some online without much difficulty. And why do you assume I'm discounting reports of IDF violence?

The footage of the activists before the ship was boarded, clearly shows that some individuals went in there intending to fight. They state their intentions to do so - not just to resist, but to fight. They arm themselves for this - they cut metal poles from the ship's railings, they had knives and possibly (if you believe the IDF - and there is a difference between "taking with a pinch of salt" and "disbelieve everything they say"), at least one gun. I put this together with footage showing them battering IDF personel, and with footage showing an injured (beaten and stabbed), disarmed IDF sodier having to be protected from attack down in the make-shift hospital area and no, I cannot call these people martyrs.

#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 10:40 AM:

dcb, are people automatically not martyrs if they fight back against unlawful action against them?

I think that's a problem. It would mean that, for example, French Resistance fighters couldn't be martyrs.

I will also note that your use of the phrase "making Israel look bad" implies that Israel was not, in fact, being bad by blockading Gaza. Did you intend that implication?

Of course, IMO people who use force to oppose the illegal or immoral use of force may not be "peaceful activists," but if they die they may very well be martyrs if their cause was just.

#135 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 10:54 AM:

126
Like spices and children's toys and school supplies?
All of those were blocked, officially.

#136 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 11:20 AM:

PJ Evans @135 (inter alia):

As dcb said in the very comment you are citing:

that's a debate which I thought had been agreed was not appropriate on this thread

This is me nodding in agreement.

Please use assumptions-for-the-sake of argument in this discussion. So either assume (and state that for the purposes of what you're discussing, you do explicitly assume) that the blockade is legal or illegal, overly expansive or not, whatever. We'll elide proof and accept for the purposes of this discussion that others may have other assumptions. Which they will state as part of their arguments.

This may, of course, prevent us from coming to a universal view of the incident in question. But who thought we were going to manage that anyway?

#137 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 11:37 AM:

Xopher @134:

I am not dcb, and I don't know what dcb is thinking, but let me take one thing you said and work with it a bit.

I will also note that your use of the phrase "making Israel look bad" implies that Israel was not, in fact, *being* bad by blockading Gaza. Did you intend that implication?

Israel can look, or be, bad for blockading Gaza*. It can also look, or be, bad for shooting protesters. These are two different, if interrelated, moral judgments.

Assuming arguendo that Israel is being bad by blockading Gaza, it's still possible to make it look bad by showing the IDF attacking and killing less-armed civilian protesters. It's a different kind of bad-looking, and it may persuade people who are mostly indifferent to the largely invisible impact of the blockade on Gazan society.

Have you read The Last Unicorn, by Peter S Beagle? Do you remember the scene where Mommy Fortuna puts a false horn on the unicorn, because people can't see the real one? Without magical intervention, all they see is a white mare.

Like that.

-----
* but vide supra regarding that discussion

#138 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 12:38 PM:

dcb: I kn ow you can't call them martyrs. I've never said you should. I have been trying to explain why I could (not that I specifically do).

The crux of it appears to be that we differ on the question of intent. You seem discount them because you question their motives i.e. they weren't really interesting in direct aid to the people in Gaza, but rather set out to make Israel look bad.

You also think that being willing to fight for the thing they were trying to accomplish invalidates any claim that they were, in some ways, martyrs.

I don't see it that way.

There are some other things which make me a bit more prone to cutting people in the position the folks on the ships were in some slack... I don't think soldiers are special.

It may be that I've spent too long in uniform, or that I have too blanket a discounting of official declarations of how the brave police/soldiers were forced to engage in bloody reprisal for the effecting of their duties, but one of the things being in the Army means is you run the risk of being injured/killed in performing your duties.

I actually get pretty upset, to the point of being rude, when I see gov't actions being justified because some soldier got killed. Too much internalisation of, "Tommy" I suppose.


You ask why I say you discount the actions of the IDF. Your comments, to the effect the IDF didn't do any harm to people on other ships, and that the people who died brought it on themselves.

Your comment at 106, where the IDF is defending themselves from violent attack, and the people being boarded weren't justified in defending themselves from a military assault.

Your comment at 108 (which Chris responded to at 110) that the other ships were not subject to violence on the part of the IDF, and so it must have been the folks who were assaulted, and killed who, "brought it on themselves".

Repelling boarders is a legitimate use of force. It's only illegitimate if one accepts the boarders have the right to board.

Giving up one's right should not be a prerequisite to moral behavior. I realise you don't see it that way. For some reason you think they should have accepted, "under protest" the authority of Israel in the blockade.

We disagree. I am not trying to get into a question of the morality of Israel's position. I am merely looking at the consistency of the protesters' position, and I don't see that it isn't, which is why I can see the case for saying they were martyrs.

I'd say the same thing if the US were engaged in a blockade and it was the Coast Guard doing the boarding.

#139 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 12:51 PM:

abi, I think the blockade is illegal and immoral in itself.

#140 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 12:53 PM:

Also, my response was to this
There is ample evidence that Israel allows purely humanitarian aid through to Gaza.

#141 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:24 PM:

abi 137: I agree completely. It's possible to be made to look bad even if you really ARE being bad. However, I would maintain that that phrasing implies otherwise, just as "I did not take the cash or the bonds" implies, but does not explicitly state, that I did not take the cash AND the bonds (since OR and XOR are ambiguous in English).

That said, however, I have vided your supra* and will let that wider matter drop.
____
*and if that doesn't make the Latinists cringe I don't know what will

#142 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:26 PM:

PJ Evans @140:

Noted. But now that the matter is balanced, we walk on and dig no further in. As, indeed, you've done in comment 139; there's your starting assumption for any arguments about what happened next.

Everyone:

I'm just trying to limit this discussion to something of manageable size and heat. So I'm asking people to tread carefully, listen generously, and not make assumptions about the others in this conversation. Trust each other to be doing the same.

Remember that we are a community.

This also means not piling onto one side or other of the discussion. Tensions are high enough without anyone feeling like their backs are against a wall.

#143 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:28 PM:

Xopher @141:

I would be interested to see how you could phrase it to convey the meaning more clearly.

#144 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:39 PM:

abi: either

draw international attention to the egregious bullying behavior of the Israelis (i.e. the blockade)
or
cause the Israelis' lawful defense of their home territory to look like egregious bullying behavior
depending on which is meant.

#145 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Xopher @144:

I meant, phrase something to mean, "Notwithstanding the rights or wrongs of the blockade, which we are not discussing here, this was intended to make Israel look bad for attacking civilians." But, you know, more gracefully put.

Either of your phrasings invites discussion in areas we're not going into in this thread.

#146 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 01:55 PM:

Xopher, #141: Black Widowers reference FTW!

#147 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 02:11 PM:

Terry Karney @ 131: "If the blockade is immoral (as opposed to merely illegal), is there justification for attempting to avoid it by force?"

I don't know--it depends whether using force to run the blockade is a more moral act than allowing the blockade to go forward. Even agreeing that the blockade is (the same level of) immoral*, people might still disagree simply on the basis of how moral they judge their own use of violence. My point is that there is a lot of variability in moral judgment here, such that a simple equivalence of "allowing a blockade to be enforced = ceding the moral rightness of your position" is impossible to support.

Is it the wiser course to refuse to ever act immorally oneself, or to commit smaller sins to prevent greater ones?† Both sides have prominent failure modes: personal virtue falling into narcissism or functioning as a cover for cowardice; a willingness to "get one's hands dirty" becoming a tolerance for unspeakable means because of their noble ends or working to disguise pure brutality and sadism. I don't know which of those paths leads more surely or rapidly to a moral universe, and my experience is that there's enough variation from situation to situation that no one can claim that either is always superior.

Nor am I willing to allow that struggling against immorality even when it leads to death is necessarily the maximally moral choice. Survival is also a virtue, and sometimes what must be sacrificed is one's own sense of incorruptibility.

* Legality is an entirely separate issue in my mind, and indeed ought to be.

† Assuming here for the sake of simplicity that everyone gives the various acts the same relative moral weight.

#148 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 02:18 PM:

dcb:

I really don't intend to put words in your mouth, so please let me know if I'm misrepresenting your position, but it seems that there are three premises potentially behind your rejection of the word "martyr" being used to describe the people who were on the Mavi Marmara.

1) No one can be called a martyr who resorts to violence, even if that violence is in response to a threat of violent coercion.

This is what I meant when I asked "is pacifism a necessary condition for martyrdom?" This is certainly a defensible moral and definitional stance to take. But lots of people in this thread have offered examples and arguments which disagree with this premise. I think there is an interesting conversation to be had on this point, but it's a definitional conversation that runs much deeper than the discussion of this one incident. (Though possibly more in keeping with the original intent of this thread.)

2) The leaders of the flotilla could have achieved their humanitarian goals just as well by handing over the ship.

As others have pointed out, though, the goals of the flotilla were a lot broader and more complicated than simply feeding starving Gazans. I think most of the people on that ship would say that even granting that the Israeli blockade allows humanitarian aid through, it is still an immoral and illegal act of repression against the Gazans. The argument about whether they were right about that or not is beyond the scope of this thread, but it has to be recognized that the people on the flotilla believed this, and they did not do so because they were deluded, stupid or evil.

3) Even granting that those who use violence may be martyrs and that the cause of the Mavi Marmara was justified in the eyes of those who piloted her, the end still did not justify the means.

I think an argument could be made on this point, but not without making judgments about who did what, when and why on that boat, and also assigning relative values to the violence inflicted versus the cause of Palestinian freedom and self-determination (not to mention the relationship of the Israeli blockade to that cause). All of these are extremely sticky topics, and completely irrelevant to the broader discussion about the nature of martyrdom that this thread is supposed to be about.

#149 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 02:40 PM:

abi: Yes, I was trying to nail dcb down on that issue, but that's the wider matter I'm instead letting drop. I asked him before you issued your cautions on the matter.

My phrasings each take a position on a matter we're not (now) going to discuss. I was trying to get clarity on that issue, but that would have widened the discussion, which is why I said I was letting that drop.

Given the desire to avoid such widening, dcb's phrasing now seems fine.

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 03:31 PM:

Lee: Caught! *hand to forehead*

#151 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 04:30 PM:

Xopher @ 134: "are people automatically not martyrs if they fight back against unlawful action against them?" / Terry Karney @ 138: You also think that being willing to fight for the thing they were trying to accomplish invalidates any claim that they were, in some ways, martyrs. I never suggested that. Turn it around: Does the end always justify the means? Is someone always a martyr if they die in pursuit of a just cause, however monstrous their acts in pursuit of that cause? No. There's a lot of room between those two suggestions - that violence is never justified, versus that the end always justifies the means; and I would appreciate it if people stopped loading assumptions onto me. Nor, in my opinion, does dying while doing something laudable necessarily make someone a martyr.

Chris W @ 148: re. your suggestion (1), see my first paragraph above. My viewpoint is closest to your suggestion (3).

Given that the Israeli government has decided that they have a need, for the safety of their citizens, to blockade Gaza*, the people on the ships in the flotilla knew that they would be stopped by the IDF. They brought gas masks along to defend themselves from tear gas or similar: fair enough. They used items available, such as chairs, to throw at the Israeli forces: fair enough. But if you go into such a situation intending to use violent means**, if you start attacking soldiers with iron bars and knives, then you accept/ought to expect the possible consequences of those soldiers defending themselves. If you attack soldiers in such a way while saying at the same time that the soldiers cannot fight back because you have women, children and the elderly on board, then you're using such people as a human shield - which is reprehensible. Additionally, to claim that you are peaceful activists while going into a situation armed for, and looking for, a fight, is two-faced - so (re. Terry Karney @ 138 again), I don't see their position as being self-consistent.

Abi: @ 145: "Notwithstanding the rights or wrongs of the blockade, which we are not discussing here, this was intended to make Israel look bad for attacking civilians." Yes, thank you.

* Personally, I think that Israel's blockade is wrong for a variety of reasons, which I shall not go into here, but not illegal.

** I've already indicated evidence which I think shows such intent.

#152 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 07:29 PM:

I see that the SamChevre/Roeder subthread is pretty much resolved, so I'll avoid most of the replies I thought to make. Still, I want to address one last possibly confusing point.

SamChevre @80
It might help to note that in the tradition I instinctively side with*, both Henry and Thomas Becket are wolves, not sheep.
*Amish-Mennonite, which views politics as a concern of the powers of the world, who are definitionally ungodly.

Having been raised Mennonite, complete with reading large chunks of "The Martyr's Mirror", I am disturbed to hear Scott Roeder proposed as a martyr by someone claiming to instinctively associate with the A/M tradition. Violence, especially as an act of interference in a political cause, is anathema to Mennonites.* Though I am no longer part of any religion, I feel enough loyalty to my root tradition that I want to make sure nobody came away from that conversation with the wrong impression of it.

That said, Sam is right that both Henry and Beckett would be considered wolves rather than sheep in that tradition. And in all fairness, despite how Sam's first post scored an instant troll bingo, I read some of his history before replying and got the distinct impression that he was being honest rather than trying to set a conversational trap.

* Excluding, of course, a few in the sort of odd fringes that seem to exist in any group. No group of humans is homogeneous and Amish/Mennonites even less so than most.

#153 ::: J. Random Scribbler ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 07:38 PM:

Actually, some futher explanation of "The Martyr's Mirror" is probably relevant here. First published in 1660 by Dutch Mennonites, it is a large compilation of martyrdom stories* from the perspective of Mennonites and their Anabaptist forebears. It is full of stories like that of Dirk Willems, a Dutch Anabaptist who was pursued across a frozen river and only caught because he turned back to help when his pursuer fell through the ice.

Certainly some -- and most of the early -- stories are mythologized, though in such a way that only underlines the Mennonite/Amish/etc. tendency to believe that only the innocent are martyrs, and that no martyrs are self-serving. Notably, the book does not contain the story James D. MacDonald mentioned in #99; it takes itself entirely too seriously to admit there could ever have been such a case. Anyone interested in more can take a look at this online version.

The only mention of Thomas Becket in the Mirror is that one of the accusations against a certain group of executed English nonconformists was that they held his death as "neither meritorious nor holy".

However, I've moved far enough beyond the A/M tradition to see that there are equally legitimate definitions of the word "martyr" under which Becket would indeed fall, so I have no issue with the premise of this thread. It's interesting to see the different definitions in play here, even when they lead to conflict.

And, OK, in all honesty there are definitions of "martyr" that include Scott Roeder or the 9/11 attackers, though I don't see them as equally legitimate.


* Complete with gory woodcut illustrations, which I have to admit is what first drew me to it in the church library at the age of ten or so; only later did I actually start to get the real point of the book. The online version to which I linked excludes the illustrations and is SFW.

#154 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 09:45 PM:

dcb @151: But if you go into such a situation intending to use violent means, if you start attacking soldiers with iron bars and knives, then you accept/ought to expect the possible consequences of those soldiers defending themselves.

Is that a problem? I mean, surely the word "martyr" is better used to describe someone who knows death might result from his or her actions, than someone who doesn't, right?

#155 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2011, 09:59 PM:

And is there a reason to assume that a martyr must be admirable? I have no problem saying that someone martyred him or herself for some cause, even if it's a cause and a person I dislike.

Maybe this is a bigger problem for Christians? Does "martyr" always have connotations of holiness for y'all? (I guess the title of this thread implies so.)

#156 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 01:34 AM:

Xopher @149:

Yes, I was trying to nail dcb down on that issue, but that's the wider matter I'm instead letting drop.

I'm not dcb, but even to me it felt intrusive, like worms in the head, or a shoes that pinch in the wrong places. Next time maybe just ask a straightforward question?

That's been a big problem throughout the thread: people getting tied up in unstated assumptions. Really, it's not that tricky.

1. If you are assuming something that others don't seem to be, state what it is you are assuming.
2. If you think that, or wonder if, someone else has views relevant to the discussion, ask what they are.
3. If you think other people are assuming something you are not, state that, preferably with a "seem to be" phrasing that doesn't claim to be crawling into their heads.
4. If you would rather not have the discussion go in a particular direction, state that openly.

#157 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 01:34 AM:

heresiarch: I'd say that in the case of trying to run a blockade; yielding, at the command to heave to and be boarded = ceding the cause.

Because that's not really running the blockade. If the blockade were unknown, and one is trying to make it known, it's a different matter, but the blockade of Gaza was known... it was just being ignored.

Had there not been violence, it would still be being ignored.

Even with the violence, it is largely ignored.

So yes, I still think that the situation, as known, pretty much requires someone who wants to make a moral point to actively resist attempts to enforce the blockade.

It's not as if patently legal blockades e.g. England of France, ca. 1795-1815, don't have a lot of question as to how they are run (the Scandanavians, in particular decrying the limits on their trade from being searched for contraband).

Ignoring, as I said, the question of actual harm to Israel being done from Gaza (and the related question of response), and accepting, arguendo, that the blockade serves a legitimate purpose in preventing arms from entering Gaza; a simple list of munitions, a stop; and immediate search, and then passing the ships to Gaza, would have prevented the problem.

Because that would be a blockade which is defensible. One which is listing coriander, and cumin, as contraband, which demands that all good be surrendered to the blockading power; for them to dispense as they see fit... isn't defensible.

That sort of blockade probably deserves to be broken, not just avoided.

#158 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 01:38 AM:

point of clarification: "how they were being run" = they way they were administered: not how those who wanted to avoid it were attempting to slip past the blockading squadrons.

#159 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 02:23 AM:

Terry Karney @ 157: "I'd say that in the case of trying to run a blockade; yielding, at the command to heave to and be boarded = ceding the cause."

Would you say that yielding, at the command to heave to and to be boarded would be ceding any moral standing were the command-issuers pirates threatening violence? Heaving to isn't the recognition of moral superiority, just a compromise they are forced to make with an unpleasant reality. It does not endorse that reality.

#160 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 03:37 AM:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't one of the things that make international law (especially relating to wars and other kinds of conflict) so different from most domestic laws (and in some people's eyes probably crazy) that under international law, in some contexts, two people or two groups of people can try very hard to kill each other (with or without success), and still, neither of them is breaking laws by doing that? Then I'd say that a confrontation between a ship trying to run a blockade and a ships trying to maintain a blockade (or people from these ships) would be one example of that.


However, there's the whole matter of the US citizen who was found to have four bullet holes in his skull, which clearly shows a crime even if we assume that everything else in that incident was legal.

#161 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 04:21 AM:

A relevant anniversary. You can see so much of current media, police, and general political, thinking.

It's also pretty clearly on the non-martyr side of the line, though the three policeman killed during the initial robbery, and the fireman who died, deserve a moment of remembrance.

I can't help but think that the modern media are too inclined to push forward words such as "martyr" and "hero". They suggest something a bit more than somebody who was doing something routine. What word should we use for men such as Warrant Officer Karl Ley? Superhero?

(The British Army has started issuing bullet-resistant underpants, but they're still worn under the camouflage pants.)

#162 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 11:20 AM:

Lee@128, Zelds@122: I think you have facts wrong on Flight 93. I think what they did was both their best chance of personal survival (I disagree that their lives were already gone; they were merely at very high risk) and their best chance of preventing harm to others. There was no conflict between the personal goal (most people prefer to live, other things being equal) and the larger moral goal (preventing the hijackers from harming others). (I do agree that the odds of personal survival were small; I just believe they were larger taking action as they did than they would have been doing nothing.)

And, different part of Zelda@122: On the facts as given, it does seem to me that your nephew was acting as a hero. The line between hero and martyr can be narrow and quick; he's a lucky hero.

dcb@125, and others: For a broad, complete discussion of martyrdom as a human endeavor, it seems to me absolutely essential to avoid the qualification "and I agree with their cause". To do otherwise is "othering" our opponents, denying that they too might have strong moral beliefs and might act on them. This can lead to fatal levels of misunderstanding.

If you're arguing that that particular one is still so hot for so many people that there's simply no chance of a sane and sensible discussion including it -- well, you may be right. Possibly we (broader we, not just me and those I'm specifically addressing) can agree on many points, and still have to say "these particular incidents are so emotionally hot to various participants that we simply must omit them; we recognize this is a sign of our human frailty, and they should definitely be considered in the future when judicious consideration is possible." If you're arguing for a temporary and provisional omitting of certain events from consideration, that may be wise.

heresiarch@147: The right answers here are intensely personal, not general (and can only be reached by actually knowing yourself). One must always be on guard against moral error in general, but specifically one must guard against ones characteristic failings.

Raphael@160: I may be missing nuances of international law, but don't you have to be formally at war before the kind of conflict you describe is legal for both sides? Until then, I think somebody is always in the wrong.

#163 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 01:44 PM:

Dave Bell @161:

I don't think we really have a good term for that. Terms like "martyr" and "hero" generally assume that one is doing something above and beyond what is asked of them. There isn't really a category for people who achieve great things just by doing their assigned duty with extraordinary skill, determination and luck. (I might propose "Stakhanovite" if that term didn't carry unfortunate connections with Stalinist propaganda.)

#164 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 03:02 PM:

OK. First, a couple of (or three) apologies. First, to dcb for starting a conversation, and not following through on it; and second, to Abi for starting a fire on New Year's Eve and leaving you to put it out. I realise that it probably looks as though I simply threw a match into a waste bin and ran away giggling, but that wasn't what I meant to do - my weekend didn't develop in
quite the way I expected.

(While I'm at it I probably owe a further apology for raising this topic on a Saturday, since I know there's at least one active commenter here who probably has strong views on this issue and who wouldn't be able to comment on it; and suspect there are others. But I'm not sure who that apology is best addressed to.)

Next - a query as to the operative rules of order in the discussion. Abi: your 141 looks like it might be intended to deem as inappropriate for this thread not only discussion of the question of whether the blockade was justified, which - modulo a response to heresiarch@127 - I'm happy to leave on one side, but also the more narrowly factual question of what was and wasn't being let through.

As far as I'm concerned that narrow factual question makes a big difference to the question of whether the fact that the people on the Mavi Marmara weren't prepared to take their cargo to Ashdod establishes that they had other intentions than simply delivering their cargo. (I think that what is relevant is both what sorts of items were on the list - a relatively straightforward question, and also what one might infer about the purposes of the list given what was and wasn't on it - much more fallible.)

As far as the question of 'making Israel (or the IDF) look bad' is concerned, I think one needs to distinguish two things that someone might mean by this.

It might mean: 'the people on the Mavi Marmara wanted to make the IDF look bad at all costs.' I think that's implausible - given a choice between landing their goods - or at least landing their goods without ceding to the Israeli Army the right to decide what could and could to go ashore - and scoring a propaganda victory, I suspect they would have chosen the former; and the claims to the contrary I have seen seem to rely on the sort of conspiracy theorising that I'd regard as disreputable in other contexts.

But it might mean - 'they wanted to make the IDF look bad for imposing the blockade.' And about that I've got a point to make which I haven't seen made yet. (Maybe it's too obvious). 'Imposing an armed blockade' means this: 'threatening to kill, and being prepared to kill people who don't want you to have the final say over what goes into Gaza'. So if there was anyone who wanted the IDF to ended up looking bad for killing a civilian, what they wanted was for the IDF to look bad for actually doing what they had already stated they were committed to doing.

I'm inclined to think that some people could have been aiming to do this: in other words, to show, very graphically, that that's what an 'armed blockade' is: a commitment to kill, if necessary, in order to enforce the power to decide what can and cannot pass. (And for what its worth - it's not obvious to me that that's not worth showing: I feel as though a lot of discussions of blockades proceed as though this were not the case. Worth a life? I don't know). And that makes me more inclined, not less inclined, to see the people involved as martyrs, in a very traditional sense: by their deaths they were bearing witness to something.

Now, as to heresiarch's question @ 127 as to whether one can think that someone is a martyr without agreeing with their cause, I've got two things to say. First, if that's going to be a requirement, then I'd better bow out of this discussion, both because lots of the paradigmatic examples of martyrs died for causes I don't think worthy (More, Beckett); and because its been agreed that we aren't going to discuss the rights and wrongs of this particular case.

Second, as it happens, I think the blockade is unjustified. And it's possible that I wouldn't have had the patience to pursue the line of thought I've outlined if I didn't think that. But I don't think it requires me to think that; and I'd like to think that if someone convinced me the blockade was justified, I'd still think something like this.

Thirdly, I'd like to suggest not abandoning heresiarch's point, but amending it: I think that to regard someone as a martyr, one must at least be able to sympathise imaginatively with their moral outlook.

(Go back to the case of Shaker Aamer: as far as I've understood his story it looks as though (he says) he was initially held because he refused to spy on violent groups meeting in various mosques. I guess I don't agree with that refusal, but I understand, in particular, why someone might refuse to deceive people as to their commitments in a religious context.)

#165 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 03:06 PM:

OtterB @111: you not only become who you were created to be, but you shed a light that helps others do the same.

This is a life ambition I could decidedly get behind. Needless to say, by preference, doing so without achieving the "martyr" thing.

#166 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 03:37 PM:

praisegod barebones @164:

a query as to the operative rules of order in the discussion. Abi: your 141 looks like it might be intended to deem as inappropriate for this thread not only discussion of the question of whether the blockade was justified...but also the more narrowly factual question of what was and wasn't being let through.

Much as the topic of the Mavi Marmara is a gripping and engaging one, I'd rather get into neither the justification nor the narrowly factual question of what was and wasn't being let through.

Because, you know, it won't stay narrow. This is not a topic that does. But the numbers aren't right to pursue the discussion where it will run. We have too many people on one side of the discussion, too few on the other, and way too little moderatorial energy to keep the balance. I'm keenly conscious of the cost to dcb, in particular, of pursuing this subthread, and frankly, I'm not willing to spend anyone's joy like that.

This is partly because it is such an emotional topic. People with great passion for justice and history, great convictions of their rightness, differ to one degree or another over it. But that emotion makes it hard to see the reasoning or the reasonableness of anyone on the any side but their own.

So could we move the Tour Of Flammable Topics onto something else? Gun control? Pluto? Centrifugal force?

Or we could talk about the borders of martyrdom and sanctity. That might be entertaining.

#167 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 03:58 PM:

Martyrs on "the other side" tend to look like fanatics.

There's a reason for that, I suspect. Martyrdom requires a level of commitment to a cause that's unusual at the best; it's inherently within stepping distance of fanaticism.

And I think it's probably a good idea to look rather closely at the martyrs on "your own side", and consider whether they, and perhaps even you yourself, might be tending towards fanaticism.

Saints, now; saints would be the ones who had that level of commitment without ever becoming fanatics, wouldn't they? (Having the commitment doesn't mean you'll necessarily run into a situation where the combination makes you a martyr.)

#168 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 04:23 PM:

Thinking about the definition of martyrdom and, for that matter, of sanctity.

There's a thread that includes (at least) albatross @86, heresiarch @127, avram @155, and praisegod barebones @164 talking about whether one has to be dying for a morally justifiable cause to be considered a martyr. I was originally thinking you did, but as avram suggested @155, that's carrying over the Christian connotation of martyr. And now that I'm thinking about it, I think that martyrdom is at least to some extent in the eye, not of the beholder, but of the martyr.

1. I think being a martyr requires that you die, not necessarily deliberately, but to some extent knowingly and willingly.
2. And I think it requires that you make that choice because you think it is in the service of a good cause.
3. And people who agree with your cause or at least sympathize with it, and who agree that your action has served the cause, may think you are a martyr, but those who disagree may consider you at best tragically misguided and at worst downright criminal, but not a martyr.
3. And I don't think the cause necessarily has to be a religion, but I think it needs to have a connotation of "higher power" to it. As an example: I think that someone who is killed trying to rescue a child from a burning building is a hero, but not a martyr.

I'm starting to envision a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles: saint, martyr, hero. I think it's possible to be any one of the three without being the others, two of the three, or all three. But the overlaps are tricky.

And I'm going to agree with Dave Bell @161 who said I can't help but think that the modern media are too inclined to push forward words such as "martyr" and "hero".

#169 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 04:27 PM:

crosspost with ddb, but thinking along parallel lines. It starts to sound like one of those multiple definition games. I am a martyr, you are a fanatic, he is a terrorist.

#170 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 04:48 PM:

Otterb@168: I'd quibble with "higher power" since it's animist / religious already, and I think people martyr themselves (or walk, eyes open, into martyr-risk situations) for non-religious causes. But I do think you have a point, if we can find a different way to express it. The difference I see is the size of the cause. You can be a dead hero trying to rescue three cub scouts in a boat; you can become a martyr trying to end slavery. Trying to rescue three ordinary individuals is hero-level, working for an entire class (or race; the USA's race-based slavery was weird) is potentially martyr-level. (In the real-USA civil rights movement, there were religious and non-religious people on both sides, of course. King, the most famous martyr candidate, was religious himself.)

So can we have some version of "much bigger than yourself" instead of "higher power"?

@169: Yes, clearly processing related bytes there.

#171 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 05:16 PM:

ddb @170. Agreed it doesn't have to be an animist/religious higher power. I'd originally typed "higher cause" which aligns more closely with your notion of "larger than yourself". There had been mention earlier in the thread of investigative journalists as martyrs ... I would agree that many of those cases fall under martyrdom in the service of the cause of truth. I'd accept your example of trying to end slavery. I'd accept a medical researcher who was infected with and died of a disease he/she was trying to cure. And yet I think that "your country" is much bigger than yourself, but dying for your country, while often admirable and heroic, is not martyrdom. But I'm having trouble articulating the difference.

#172 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 05:51 PM:

I'm bowing out of this conversation. Sorry Abi, but despite your efforts, this thread has become an unpleasant place for me to be.

#173 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 06:11 PM:

OtterB@171: Provisionally and instantly off the top of my head, I share your suspicion of "your country" as a cause bigger than yourself that would qualify you for martyrdom. So, yeah. (Last refuge of scoundrels, etc.) So I'm not quite sure how to phrase it now. "Higher" both triggers my anti-mysticism triggers, and (perhaps more importantly) doesn't for many people rule out their country.

Of course, "martyr" was basically a religious concept since long before my birth (possibly since the invention of the word, dunno). But I don't do religious concepts.

dcb@172: Sorry you're getting crisped (I'm so newly joined in this conversation that I don't think I can be part of the problem here, but if I'm blind enough to have missed that, double apologies!) That takes some of the savor out of this for me.

#174 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 06:17 PM:

OtterB #171: What about "for science"? Consider the "fluorine martyrs" and Marie Curie....

#175 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 06:51 PM:

abi @156: If you are assuming something that others don't seem to be, state what it is you are assuming.

This only works, of course, if I notice I'm assuming something others aren't. ;-) Ahem.

#176 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 08:21 PM:

ddb #167, OtterB #168 (point 3):

Let me refer you back to my comments at #92, especially the choice and qualifications of who gets worshipped [or venerated as a martyr] , are based on tribal traditions and linked inextricably to the tribal identity.

I should have added that people can have several loyalties to overlapping tribes, but they also have priorities among them.✣

Thus, my judgment of the Mavi Marmara incident is colored by my loyalty to social liberalism being far stronger than to "Judaism" as a tribe❄. Terry's judgment is colored by his military background -- his immediate concern was whether the MM folks were justified under "laws of war". (He also explicitly recognized that his priorities were different from those of others here.) On another tack, ddb at #173 is essentially saying that he doesn't "identify with" abstract patriotism any more than he does with religion. As with so many other things, it comes down to "where you stand depends on where you sit".

ddb #170: I'd say the scale issue has more to do with how far, and for how long, your martyrdom/heroism is recognized. Saving three cub scouts from drowning might get you a plaque locally, but won't be memorable for long. That teacher who saved their class from one of the school-shooting gunmen was known nationwide for a while, but their veneration was limited by the notoriety of the incident itself. John Brown -- well, many would say we're still fighting that war. George Turner -- we're certainly still fighting that fight. Which is why their names came up fairly early in this discussion....

✣: And if someone's loyalties don't form a straight priority list, they're ripe for manipulation....

❄: Which leaves me personally offended at Israel's overall behavior vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

#177 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 08:26 PM:

Bah, four previews and I still missed the broken italics in my first sentence -- italic should extend from the close-bracket to the end of the sentence.

#178 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2011, 11:17 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 164: "Thirdly, I'd like to suggest not abandoning heresiarch's point, but amending it: I think that to regard someone as a martyr, one must at least be able to sympathise imaginatively with their moral outlook."

*cogitations* There are people I'd call martyrs and/or saints†, there are people I'd be willing to grant are martyrs and/or saints within a certain vantage/tradition, and there are people I'd not be willing to grant either label at all. I think the difference between the second and third categories is probably strongly influenced by the moral scope of my sympathetic imagination‡, but I feel the difference between the first and the second is at least as tangible. Does that make sense?

† For certain non-divine values of saint.

‡ Although there's a component of "But it doesn't matter how good a person she was, she was hit by a bus not martyred for her beliefs" in there too.

abi @ 166: "So could we move the Tour Of Flammable Topics onto something else? Gun control? Pluto? Centrifugal force?"

If only Pluto had a gun, it could use its centrifugal force to fire projectiles at the IAU and no one would dare call it a dwarf planet. I demand Second Amendment rights for Vertically Challenged Planets!

#179 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 12:00 AM:

heresiarch: If my stated goals were to in some way stand up to the pirates, then yes.

If one is running a blockade, because one feels it is immoral, and unlawful, then to just say, "Why yes, you do have a blockade, how silly of me... let me give you the cargo, so you can take it to the port you said was required, and do with it as you see fit" is to cede one's standing.

Because it's giving in to the bully, when one has said, "I'll stand up for you."

David Harmon: I think you have conflated two things... my arguments on this case (which are colored by my reading of history, more than my understanding of present actions; though praisegood barebones makes good points about just what it is "Blockade" means, and I might have done better to point out that I see all of that when I see the word. I think the general idea is sort of like Embargo, with civil penalties, or at most white collar crime sorts of punishments, not capital; and summary).

My reaction to the Mavi Marmara incident was colored by knowing it was a blockade; and that blockades have certain requirements to be legal (i.e. a declared war; justifiable sorts of contraband)

My comments about my military mind affecting things is on the other side of the coin... I am sick, unto death, of the sactification of troops. I get pissy when I see their deaths being used as some sort of moral value: i.e. since "x" group/person killed soldiers, they are Evil (I see this, a lot, when people are talking about Iraq insurgents, or, "Taliban" fighters, as if they somehow lose the right to be patriotic to the point of taking up arms because they are shooting at Americans (I don't the same sort of thing happens in the UK. I have seen strains of it in Canada).

One and all: This has been (and such conversations in general are) hard for me. I have strong feelings on the general subject, and moderate ones (usually) on the specific cases. I know that the ability to make that distinction is hard for me to manage, and I am sure it is harder for those who feel put upon by the ways in which I state the aspects I am strongly for to see.

I don't like feeling that I am beating on people. I also understand what abi is saying about the few and the many. I know that this is an asynchronus forum. I know that there will be several people who want to talk about (or attack) pieces of my argument, but it doesn't mean it's not hard on me to come in (esp. when I am travelling, and so get it in larger doses) and see several people taking me to various levels of task (or being upset at what/how I said something).

That I may be in the majority (this is true of more than just this topic) does not make it easier. We are, each of us, only one person, and the topics which incite passionate response are 1: often quite close to home, and 2: don't always have the passion it evokes displayed on the page.

To the general topic:

On the whole, I think martyrdom is most functional when it's accidental. Turner comes to mind, so too Medger Evers, as does the talk radio guy in Dever (Berg?). They knew there was a risk in what they did, and they chose to do it anyway.

The completely innocent (the girls it the church) seem to be less the stuff of which I call martyrs. They didn't accept that doing what they did might get them killed.

Soldiers, well that's a different ball of wax. That takes special circumstance (the 300 at Thermopylae), where death is pretty much a forgone conclusion, and not to stand and die would be disaster beyond bearing. It doesn't happen often.

My ability to walk in others' shoes serves me well, but it can make me hard to argue with. I have (I think) refrained from making a judgement here on the actions of Israel. I have been looking at, as best I can, the actions; the stated motives, the reasonable justifications from those motives, and explanations, of those on the ship; because the question I was trying to answer was, "Did what they did meet my definitions of martyrdom."

It doesn't require that I share their beliefs to answer that question.

#180 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 12:39 AM:

ISTM that a lot of the impact of martyrdom is the fact that it demonstrates, by action, that at least this person held this cause or principle to be more important than his own life.

Now, how much that matters to you depends a lot on how you evaluate both the cause and the person. The social process of making a dead person into a martyr is, I suppose, intended to build the person up into a model for others to follow--not necessarily to follow into martyrdom, but to follow in the sense of saying "this admirable, worthy person believed cause X was worth his life; I should also value cause X."

And we tend to honor people who faced hardship or risk that never added up to death for their cause. Most civil rights leaders and activists didn't get murdered, but a lot of them got the hell beat out of them, or got sent to jail, or lost their jobs, or got run out of town. All of those people did something of the same kind as what we're talking about w.r.t. martyrdom.

And I suppose that people who want to decrease the impact of a martyr tend to want to find things to tarnish his image, to make him seem less admirable and worthy, so that his example of sacrifice will have less impact.

Perhaps there's also a kind of anti-martyr effect, when someone is willing to give his life for an apparently evil cause. It's not saying "I'm the kind of person you admire, see my example and follow it, take my sacrifice seriously." Instead, it's saying "I'm the kind of person you fear, see my example and know how determined my kind of people are, take my sacrifice seriously."

#181 ::: J Homes ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 01:13 AM:

Following on from #168 and replies.

To me, the critical difference is the intent of the consequences. The person who is killed trying toi rescue someone from a buring building is a hero but not a martyr, because the building does not mean to kill anyone; it is just dangerous of itself.

An essential part of martyrdom is that "somebody wants me dead for this." It is of course not the only part of it.

J Homes.

#182 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 07:12 AM:

You say a martyr,
And I say to Mater,
"That ain't no martyr!"
"But Pater," says Mater,
"A martyr to Mater's
Ain't martyr to Pater,
Let's call the the whole thing off!

(Forgive me.)

#183 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 07:19 AM:

David Harmon @174 I think it's possible to be a martyr for science, but I don't think Marie Curie qualifies. I was trying to think why, but J Homes @181 has identified it: martyrdom implies a deliberate agency of death.

And David Harmon @176 and your earlier post about tribalism. I'm still thinking about that one. I think it's true in some ways but it bothers me in others that I'm having trouble defining - perhaps the implication that all respect for martyrs or heroes is based on tribal loyalty rather than more general principles. I need to think about it some more, but I see on the open thread that you're going to be offline for a while. Have a good trip.

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 09:03 AM:

Dave Luckett @ 182... Let's see. We already have a Ginger. We need a Fred.

#185 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 09:08 AM:

OtterB #183: A quick note: Consider that I'm using the term "tribe" very abstractly, indeed I referred to one defined by social liberalism! And many of the "higher principles" you're probably thinking of are both newer than you might think, and (still) less universal then you might hope. Allegiance to them surely defines a tribe.

#186 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 09:50 AM:

Terry, the sanctification of soldiers gives me the creeps, though not in the same way it does for you. Not only does it turn soldiers on the other side into murderers, it means that each dead soldier becomes an incentive to create more dead soldiers.

I'd say he was a martyr, though I realize there could be some argument about how much he knew about his risk level.

#187 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 03:58 PM:

*Deep breath*. Abi thought it might be worth my giving this one last try, so here goes.

As you may be aware, I do not, normally, shrink away from contentious topics, or mind not being on the majority side of a discussion. However, when I bowed out (@172), more than 25 hours after my previous post (@151), nobody had taken the time to acknowledge that they might have been making erroneous assumptions about my viewpoint, or that they were making statements about my thoughts that were not actually indicated by what I had written. It seemed to me that nobody accepted/appeared to hear the fact that I was not saying the people on the Mavi Marmara were wrong to try to run the blockade, or wrong to resist the IDF (or that the IDF's actions were above reproach) - merely that, in my opinion, the way some of the activists on the Mavi Marmara went about it does not qualify them as martyrs. I apologise if I was not clear about these things - but I did try to clarify that - and I thought I had done so, particularly @ 151.

To quote Terry Karney @ 179 I, too, "have been looking at, as best I can, the actions; the stated motives, the reasonable justifications from those motives, and explanations, of those on the ship; because the question I was trying to answer was, "Did what they did meet my definitions of martyrdom." I just came to a different conclusion.

I decided to come back and make this post because otherwise the effect this discussion has had on me is going to fester and affect my ability to join in difficult discussions in the future.

I'm not trying to re-start the discussion about the Mavi Marmara (and to be perfectly clear, I really don't want to restart that), because I don't think further discussion would be productive.

(ddb @ 173: No, you were not part of the problem - but I was feeling so low, and so conscious of being misunderstood, by the time I read your post @162 that it took me three or four readings to recognise that you were not having a go at me...)

#188 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 04:04 PM:

dcb@187: Thank you for reading carefully! Sorry I didn't manage to be clearer.

#189 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 05:40 PM:

Nancy, he'd expressed the opinion that he might be assassinated.

#190 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 05:46 PM:

Otter B @ 183: "I think it's true in some ways but it bothers me in others that I'm having trouble defining - perhaps the implication that all respect for martyrs or heroes is based on tribal loyalty rather than more general principles."

Bouncing off of J Holmes @ 181, it seems to me that the one of the characteristics of martyrs is that they go against their society in a major way, inviting pushback from those their example indicts. That's precisely the value of martyrs and saints--they represent some principle so clearly as to risk even their own death to honor it. It's in some ways precisely the opposite of tribalism. But then, in the veneration stage, that gets inverted: either the criticism is internalized by the society and the martyr becomes the one who saved us from ourselves, or part of the society splits off and the martyr becomes the one who opened our new sub-tribe's eyes to that iniquity. But then identity and values are always entangled.

#191 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2011, 10:26 PM:

Praisegod at # 64-65: I read your cited article about Guantanamo. Perhaps I misunderstood you, but I was expecting a cite for linkage between extension of Guantanamo and repeal of DADT.

#192 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 03:20 AM:

ddb @ 188: no, thank you for being concerned.

#193 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 06:57 AM:

heresiarch @190 it seems to me that the one of the characteristics of martyrs is that they go against their society in a major way (snip) It's in some ways precisely the opposite of tribalism.

That role of going against society is, of course, in Judeo-Christian terms, the role of prophet. I used to think of prophecy as foretelling the future, but the root of it is saying what God tells you to say, with the implication that your compatriots probably aren't going to like the message. It doesn't require martyrdom, but it does carry a higher-than-average risk of it.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it seems like David Harmon is right about tribalism: martyrdom almost requires two tribes, one to do the martyring and one to venerate afterward.

I suppose that implies that if we ever managed world peace, we might still have prophets, saints, and heroes, but we would have no more martyrs.

But then identity and values are always entangled. Yes, this. Part of your identity are the things you value strongly enough to die for, or kill for. Though I think the identity-values causality goes in both directions. You learn values from other members of your group, and you choose groups based on your values.

#194 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 07:09 AM:

dcb @ 187

I haven't had time to read through all the comments posted in the last twenty-four hours; but I wanted to say, before getting distracted, that I'm glad you're back, and sorry you felt you had to leave in the first place.

(I'd also like to say that I don't think I misunderstood you: I did think that we were differing about what qualified as martyrdom as well as what happened on the Mavi Marmara - and I'm sorry under the circumstances, that I pursued the second conversation rather than the first. I can also see that this wasn't apparent from my post at 164. And having said that, I won't revisit the topic of the MM.)

#195 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 07:20 AM:

While I'm here, and in response to Allan Beatty @ 111: I'm not sure which of the three links I gave you read, but here's a quotation from the first.

'Frank told POLITICO agreeing to ban detainee transfers was part of a larger House-Senate compromise that also involved passing "don’t ask don’t tell." (That's Barney Frank, D-Mass for those who don't want to click and check.)

Not transferring them means, as I understand it, the following: not transferring them to the mainland for civilian trials; not transferring them as detainees to the mainland; and not allowing release of some of those who have won habeas corpus cases or been otherwise cleared for release. (That's not all in the quote, of course: the links I've provided give some background; and the thrid comment from the Emptywheel post is what out me on the source of the other sources.)

#196 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 07:52 AM:

And as an addendum to my previous, pre-lunch comment: I didn't talk about this on the DADT thread, because it seemed wrong to do so in the midst of so much (justified) rejoicing over the repeal.

But on reflection, and especially in the light on the way the discussion of the Mavi Marmara turned out, I don't think it's a terribly appropriate topic to discuss on this thread either. So, in the absence of Abi - or some other moderator - turning up and explicitly saying they have the time and energy to deal with it...please don't. There will, I'm sure, be other times, and there are certainly other places. (fwiw - one such place where I read regularly, and have an account - though I rarely use it - is Emptywheel. I suspect the thread that I linked to there is now closed; but I'm fairly sure there will be others.)

#197 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 12:41 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 194: I'm not sure whether you misunderstood me, because I'm not sure what you think is my understanding of qualifications for martyrdom. As I've already indicated, I don't believe use of violence precludes martyrdom - but I'm going to look a lot more closely at the motives/reasoning/intent/potential for alternative actions, or lack thereof/consideration of innocent bystanders etc. etc., of someone who uses violence to pursue their cause, even a just cause, before I'm going to call them a martyr or accept that they could fall under that definition.

Does that clarify my view? Is that what you thought my view was?

#198 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 01:00 PM:

Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, was assassinated Tuesday, January 4th 2011, and probably is a candidate for this thread.
He seems to be a martyr for liberal democratic values and the rule of law in Pakistan.

#199 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 06:54 PM:

dcb 187: Others have mentioned how your initial sentence triggered a sort of immune response. It now seems that that response was inappropriate.

I'm sorry for trying to nail you down to a position on the incident. I'm sorry for everything I said that contributed to the feelings expressed in 187.

#200 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2011, 08:09 PM:

Thanks. I hadn't seen that you linked to more than one article.

#201 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2011, 09:04 AM:

Xopher: Thank you for your response, and for your apologies. Mine too, for being unclear.

The lessons I've learned from this thread (again!*), from other people's responses to what I wrote, and my responses to what other people wrote, is: be careful in phrasing things; try not to make assumptions; remember that different people have different triggers, and you don't know when you might be setting off that trigger; confirm (with the person who said it) that my interpretation of what someone has said is indeed what they meant.

* Some leassons have to be learned repeatedly.

#202 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2011, 09:49 AM:

(Left in Preview overnight, and found, along with the soggy pizza that I was unable to cook because the oven ran out of gas. I've been trying to think of a way of answering dcb's question, without doing so in a way that looks like a challenge to restart the conversation.)

dcb 197.

Well, perhaps I spoke too soon. At any rate I don't think I misunderstood you in any of the specific ways you mentioned in 187 (I didn't equate your saying that people weren't martyrs with saying that they were wrong to run the blockade; and didn't think you were saying the IDF were beyond reproach).

I did initially take you to be saying that intentions mattered a lot (and assumed that you would also think that context did).

By the time I got to 162 - which I'm taking to have been something of a last straw for you - I was trying to find a way of explaining (and defending) my own view of the intentions in play without referring to things which first you, and then Abi had asked not to be brought up. 1

Could we leave things at that, at least for this thread? I remember you as being one of several people2 who was very welcoming to me - and made me feel particularly at home here - and I am, finally, very sorry to have repaid that so badly.

1. I don't claim I came very close to doing a good job of nopt discussing things I'd been asked not to discuss. let alone explaining my view.

2. Others of who have also been pretty active in this thread.

#203 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2011, 01:22 PM:

praisegod barebones @ 202: I need to clarify myself again*: you were not one of those putting words into my mouth, and it wasn't any of your posts that led to my bowing out - honest. But because you didn't actually say anywhere what you thought my understanding of martyrdom was (or if you did, I missed it), I wasn't sure whether or not you had misunderstood me - therefore my post @197 (and judging by you@202, no, you hadn't, in essentials). And I do think intentions and context matter - but, for actions with good intent to qualify as martyrdom, in my opinion... see @ 197 - so I might be putting a higher bar on qualifying as a martyr than some other people might.*

Anyway, rest assured that no, I, don't think you've repaid me badly, and I hope we can have many future discussions here - including those about difficult topics (because that's how we learn). And, further to me@201, I should have remembered more of what I learned in the Alternatives to Violence Project course I went on**: expect the best; think before reacting; ask for a non-violent path; don't assume.

* And I'm not saying more, or really responding to what you wrote @ 164 because I can't do so without going into Subjects We're Not Discussing On This Thread.***

** recommended by Terry Karney to someone else a while back, which is how I learned of them

*** And if we do go there on some other thread, sometime, we're really all going to need to write clearly, think before reacting, etc.

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