When Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in Tunisia in December 2010, he became the catalyst of the Arab Spring – a series of revolutions against oppressive regimes in the Arab world.
The street vendor was driven to self-immolation by the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides.
The event was well-reported, supported by photographs of the event, and sparked such outrage among Tunisians that protests began within hours, building in frequency and intensity over the weeks that followed and becoming widespread after Mr Bouazizi’s death on January 4, 2011 – to the point at which President Ben Ali fled the country, ending 23 years of his rule.
Last Wednesday – four days ago – a woman set fire to herself in a housing office run by Conservative-held Barnet Council. It went unreported by the press and there have been no protests. Why?
On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection, in protest at South Vietnam’s persecution of Buddhists.
Again, there was photographic evidence.
US President John F Kennedy, who had been a supporter of Ngô Đình Diệm, saw the photograph when he was passed the morning newspapers while on the phone to his brother Robert. He reportedly interrupted their conversation about segregation in Alabama by exclaiming “Jesus Christ!” And he later remarked that “no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one”.
There is no photograph of the woman who self-immolated in Barnet Council’s housing office. If there had been, would the newspapers have reported it? Or would they have hushed it up?
Fortunately, we have the following report from Skwawkbox, otherwise we would know nothing about it:
The parent of an eyewitness described the incident:
“My daughter took her mother to an appointment at Barnet Council ( Tory) housing office yesterday afternoon. They were being interviewed in a side room when they heard a commotion. Someone came and told them to leave the building.
“When they left the room they saw flames on front of them in the waiting room. A woman had set fire to herself. Everybody was just turfed out after witnessing this terrible ordeal. She said that those outside were in severe shock but left to their own devices.
“There hasn’t been a word about this in the news or local news. This is Tory Britain . How often is this happening and going unreported? My daughter was still very upset and had to spend the night with her mum.”
Visit Skwawkbox to see video of emergency vehicles outside Barnet House.
When the site’s writer, Steve Walker, contacted police for information, he was told there had been no inquiries about the incident from anybody in the local press.
Eventually, he received the following information: “Police were called by the London Ambulance Service to Barnet House, High Road N20 at around 15:44hrs on Wednesday, 15 August after reports of a female suffering from burns injuries.
“Officers attended with LAS and the London Fire Brigade.
“A female, aged in her 50s, was taken to a London hospital before being transferred to a specialist burns unit in Essex.
“She remains in a critical but stable condition.”
When people set fire to themselves in other countries, the incidents were well-documented by the press, and the governments against which they were protesting fell soon afterwards.
But here in the UK – an allegedly-civilised country – a woman pushed into desperation by government persecution (why else would she do it in a Tory housing office?) can set herself on fire and suffer injuries that put her health in critical condition…
… and nobody bats an eyelid.
Is it really because we haven’t seen a photograph of her burning body?
Are we all really so shallow – so insensitive – that we need to see the horror before we can react to it?
Fortunately, now that Skwawkbox has published its report, word is getting out and people are starting to respond – and they are angry at the lack of response from the press.
— Nanna Deb (@Deborahpower5) August 19, 2018
It is possible that the local – and national – news media did not know about the incident because it had not been reported to them by any member of the public. But the emergency services have a duty to report major incidents and it is alarming that they did not.
People in positions of power must now account for themselves.
And we need to know, not only who the casualty is, but why she did what she did. Does she have relatives? Friends? What do they have to say about this?
If anybody in Barnet, who has information, is reading this, get in touch.
ADDITIONAL: It turns out the story was reported, by the Times series of newspapers in the area. The manner of the report is – well, see for yourself.
Nye Bevan News also has a piece, but it’s the comments by the relative of an eyewitness, as quoted above, along with a plea for the facts to be brought to public attention.
At the time of writing, I published this article about an hour ago and it has been read
nearly more than 6,000 times. We’re getting there.
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