Sunday, December 10, 2006

Self-Immolation Attempt

Italian activist's TV suicide try foiled

An Italian fathers' rights activist says he tried unsuccessfully to self-immolate on live television to call attention to dads unable to see their kids. The ANSA news service reported Saturday that Nicola De Martino, who was recently re-united with his son after a 12-year separation, tried to set himself on fire Thursday night while appearing as a guest on the current affairs show, "Dieci Minute," or "Ten Minutes" on state television station RAI. ANSA said that the show's host, along with the distraught man's 18-year-old son "looked on in horror" as De Martino doused himself with gasoline and then threatened to light a match. Host Maurizio Martinelli and the studio crew frantically managed to wrest the lit match from De Martino's hands. He was then led away from the stage.

Sati Surges

The Sunday Boston Globe carries an article by Tim Sullivan, on December 10, 2006, concerning, as his headline states, "Widows' suicides divide India along cultural lines: Rural areas see surge in burnings."

It is a thoughtful treatment about sati, the practice of self-immolation, and personalizes the reportage with a story about a specific recent case.

Near the beginning of the article, Sullivan notes:

While sati cases remain rare , and India normally only has one every year or so, recent months have seen a surge: At least three widows have died on their husband's pyres since August, and another was stopped from burning herself to death when villagers intervened. Specialists can find no explanation for the increase. It's possible that media reports and word-of-mouth lead to a copycat effect.

Historically, records kept by the Bengal Presidency of the British East India Company show that for the period 1813 to 1828, deaths by sati reached 8,135, giving an average of about 600 per year. Sati still occurs occasionally, mostly in rural areas. The common wisdom is that about 40 cases have occurred in India since independence in 1947, the majority in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.

In my book, I observe that the practice of sati serves as a cultural background when political self-immolations occur:

In 1965 political self-immolations were used in widespread protests in India. As the villagers of Kizhapazhuvur in Tamil Nadu's Tiruchi district looked on in shock, Chinnasamy, a poor farmer, set fire to his gasoline-saturated body on the eve of Republic Day (January 26) in 1965 for the preservation of the Tamil language. After his death, the State became the pioneer of a new, fiery form of political protest: self-immolation. The next night, another Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam volunteer, T. M. Sivalingam of Kodambakkam in Chennai, immolated himself, protesting the government’s imposition of Hindi on Dravidian land. And, the next day, Aranganathan of Virugambakkam in Chennai took the same route to death for the same cause. The spate of suicides over Hindi imposition continued for a week that year leaving as many as nine people dead, and Tamil Nadu came to be labeled the land of self-immolation. In the months that followed, the government withdrew its call to outlaw the Tamil language. (Today, self-immolations in India are said to be caused by the "Chinnasamy effect.")

Saturday, December 09, 2006

3700 Police In Schools

Copycat Hysteria Hits Germany

Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings

Crime | 08.12.2006

Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  Some 3,700 police officers have been deployed in Baden-Württemberg's schools
Hysteria hit high schools across Germany this week as police struggle to deal with a wave of threatened copycat crimes triggered by a student's storming of his school in late November. Is the country overreacting?
Weeks after an armed 18-year-old attacked the Scholl secondary school in Emsdetten, wounding five people before killing himself, Germany is in the grip of a security scare.
The panic was unleashed Wednesday when Baden-Württemberg's education minister, Helmut Rau, sent the region's schools a chilling e-mail.
"An anonymous person has threatened a killing spree in his school in Baden-Württemberg on Dec. 6," it read. "The person has confirmed his intention is serious."
By Friday, some 4,800 local schools had been placed under police protection; many parents kept their children at home, and a spate of copycat threats had swept the country.
Schleswig-Holstein's interior minister, Social Democrat Ralf Stegner, announced that copycat callers would face stiff penalties. "Police and prosecutors will do everything in their power to investigate these people," he said. "Anyone who claims they intend to perpetrate violence is punishable."
* * *

"The warning spread fear and uncertainty among the population and created a framework for copycat callers," said Ute Vogt, leader of Baden-Württemberg's opposition SPD.

Jürgen Giessler from the Offenburg police department predicted that the number of copycat incidents would continue to climb over the next few weeks and stressed the entailing financial burden.

"It could add up to a figure it will take a lifetime to pay off," he said.

* * *
Media panic-mongering
Inevitably, the threats have hit Germany's headlines. But many are wondering if the media interest does not in fact serve to spur on disaffected young people rather than to deter them.
"Some people use the media interest to draw attention to themselves," Federal Police Union President Wolfgang Speck told the daily Die Welt.
Micha Hilgers, a psychoanalyst based in Aachen, agreed. "The enormous public attention -- if not hysteria -- is nothing less than balm to the damaged souls of these potential spree killers," she said on radio station SWR2.
Youth violence expert Adolf Gallwitz pointed out in an interview with the daily tageszeitung that media revelations about characters such as the Emsdetten student also prompt young people to sympathize with them.
"The surfeit of intimate details encourages teenagers to identify with the culprit," he said. "They think: he was as old as me, he goes to the same sort of school I do -- all I need now is my grandfather's firearm."

To read the complete article, see: Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings

According to some online chatter, the "anonymous person" who sent the "killing spree" threat has been found, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.