It is easy to be a martyr for any cause – mostly a stupid cause. One doesn’t serve any intelligent cause by erasing oneself from the scene. One might find ‘cause’ in the loss of a love (which would be forgotten if six months if one chose not to be a martyr) or to blast oneself and a few around in the cause of Allah. Like the senseless ‘causes’, such martyrdom is stupid.
Those who die in the middle of a crossfire, or fight a war planned and declared by a self-important politician or a vain general and die in it is a helpless victim, declared a martyr for no good to the dead nor his/her loved ones. It’s not easy to be a martyred soldier – he trains for many years, slaves under many sergeants and officers to kill others who would become martyrs on the other side, and to become gun fodder and be called a martyr (and soon forgotten) himself. The three thousand accounted-for people who died in the World trade towers and those who travelled in the three aircraft are martyrs to Americans; the nineteen killers and Osama Bin Laden live as martyrs in the hearts of most Muslim nations.
A revolutionary has a cause – sometimes a noble cause, most other times a stupid, vain cause. Most revolutions end in abject failure. Consider the soviet revolution. It flopped after the death of a million. Recall the much trumpeted cultural revolution. Few months after the father of the revolution – Mao Zedong – died, his wife and the ‘gang of four’ were done away with, China took to liberalization – which actually means a return to controlled capitalism. Hitler’s revolution to install Germans as Aryans (a Hindu phrase) and the rulers of the world, ended in ‘martyrdom’ of an ignoble sort. The English who led WWII and supposedly won it after Americans dropped the nukes on civilian citizens, lost all its economic, maritime and colonial glory; middleman America rose to power (mostly with borrowed money), the defeated Germans and Japanese rose like phoenixes to become economic and industrial powers of the world. Korean revolution to establish a communist state ended up as a dictatorship under a family that assumed divine powers. The dead and rotten grandfather revolutionary continues to be the President – just as Jesus is the king, Muhammad will resurrect to conduct the proceedings on judgment day, and Rama’s kingdom is going to be restored in India.
The dead revolutionary is a hero, the living one risks being revolutionised under a sword or at the end of a gun. History is replete with the names of thousands of revolutionaries, some good and others terrible – Patrice Lumumba, Martin Luther King Jr, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Che Guevara and even the great Mahatma Gandhi to cite a few. Those who got away and covered themselves with shifting glory are but few – at the moment I can only recollect the name of Nelson Mandela – after he suffered several decades of indignity, humiliation and imprisonment to get there.
If you think there is a need for a revolution, do your bit from safer surroundings – far away from home. For a revolutionary, home is a dangerous place. Consider the life of Saif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, Dr. Yunus Shaikh of Pakistan, and thousands of men and women who fell victims to stones and swords in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, not to forget the fate of MM Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh in ‘tolerant’ India.
Being a martyr is stupid; being a revolutionary is dangerous. It’s futile even if you believe that seventy-two virgins are waiting for you on the other side or, as Gita promised, if you kill your cousins uncles and teachers to accomplish the duty of your caste, you would go to heaven.