Immolation happens when a person sacrifices something, including his own life, for an ideal. Therefore, it is an individual action that implies suffering and renunciation. It is an action originally linked to the religious phenomenon, but which over time became a form of political protest.
The verb to immolate comes from the Latin word immolare and refers to a preparation of wheat flour and salt spread over the head of an animal that was to be sacrificed. This ritual was quite common in Ancient Rome.
In the Old Testament , more specifically in Genesis 22, it is said that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. When Abraham was willing to obey, killing his son, an angel prevented him from practicing immolation. Abraham’s submissive attitude toward God is a symbolic action for both Judaism and Christianity.
A form of extreme protest
There are many ways to express a protest. The most common is the popular demonstration in which a group of people communicate their discomfort about something together. Often the individual protest may be associated with striking actions (for example, when someone chains at some place to get attention).
Setting fire to one’s own body is an unusual form of self-immolation, but from time to time there is news in this regard. In 2010, in Tunisia, a 26-year-old street vendor caught fire as a form of protest against the government’s repression and his action triggered the Tunisian Arab Spring.
This type of personal sacrifice or self-immolation is called “quemarse a lo bonzo” in Spanish (the origin of the expression is related to the protests of Buddhist monks or bonzos who opposed the government of South Vietnam in the early 1960s). This extreme and desperate form of protest has a huge impact on public opinion and whoever carries out this act of burning themselves often becomes a popular martyr.
Suicide terrorists who end up killing other people do not immolate themselves
With a certain frequency, news reports appear in the media that talk about the immolation of a terrorist using explosives on his own body and the consequent loss of human life . In this case, this term is misused, as the sacrifice of immolation has a personal character and should not be related to the death of other people.
On the other hand, when someone commits suicide for personal reasons they have nothing to do with an ideal, so this word should not be used either.