BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Programmes: BH  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
BH Sunday, 29 July, 2001, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
The making of a martyr?
The body of Carlo Giuliani
Death in Genoa
Remember the name Carlo Giuliani? Mean anything to you? Should it? He was the young man killed by Italian police during the Genoa riots - and immediately he was dubbed the first martyr of globalisation.

But does the fact that his name is not instantly recognisable mean that he has failed to attain this status?

Does it matter what kind of person dies for a cause?

Twenty-three years old Carlo died surrounded by journalists. Images of his body under the wheels of a Carabinieri Land rover were on front pages around the world within a day.

Italian police said he was a beggar with a criminal record for violence and drugs.

Will the man or the manner of his dying be more important in the long run?

Chuck Zero is an American anarchist from the Black Bloc, the group who are often at the front in violent clashes at gatherings like G8.

He says they'll try to be cleverer in future, but Carlo Giuliani's death will strengthen rather than deter direct action.

"Carlo will serve the purposes of a martyr in some respects. I personally would prefer if we didn't have martyrs and we could make change peacefully, but the people with the power aren't interested in engaging in a peaceful process."

It's not the past of martyrs that matters, but how they are treated by history.

Thomas a Beckett - an original martyr
Thomas a Beckett - an original martyr
The Catholic historian Michael Walsh, sites one such martyr, with a shady past - Thomas a Beckett. As he points out, martyrs do not need to be of especially good character.

"Here is a man, who was suddenly promoted to the Archbishop of Canterbury, after leading a somewhat dissolute life as the friend of the King - but because he wouldn't obey the King when he became Archbishop, he was very promptly put to death by three knights at the King's request."

Working class martyrs do not need to be of especially good character, according to Tom Kelly, a historian from Jarrow whose written a musical about the pit workers.

One working class martyr still remembered there after more than a century-and-half is Will Jobbling.

He was a Jarrow pitman who was accused of the murder of a magistrate in 1832.

Before he died, the magistrate made a statement that Jobbling was not his murderer and had only been nearby.

But the miners were on strike, and according to Tom Kelly, the bosses wanted a scapegoat.

As Tom Kelly say's, Jobbling wasn't a miners leader - he was everyman.

" Jobbling was hung at Durham - he was displayed on a gibbet for three weeks until his friends came and stole the body - and that's shown the power of authority. It's shown that this is what authority can do - this is what it can do to you"

But surely a martyr needs faith? Carlo Giuliani's funeral service was held in a Catholic church in Genoa. And the Church would certainly not call him a martyr - he didn't die for his faith but for a political cause.

But so did one of the most evident martyrs in recent years says Catholic historian Michael Walsh - Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

One Sunday he preached a sermon directed at the Salvadorian army, pointing out that they were peasants, that their parents were peasants - and now they were turning their guns on peasants.

He called on them to disobey their orders - then a few days later he was shot dead by the right wing in a hospital chapel.

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador
Archbishop Oscar Romero - El Salvadors martyr
Archbishop Romero died in 1980. True faith, he said, was not just to serve humanity but to serve poor humanity. So is he a true martyr?

Certainly, as Michael Walsh says "Martyr does mean witness - and Romero was witnessing a commitment to justice."

It will not be a surprise if the planned inquiry finds that Carlo Giuliani was killed in a tragic accident. Does that disqualify him from the title? martyr?

Fraser Watts is a psychologist and lecturer in theology and natural science at Cambridge University. Stumbling on martyrdom may be the best way.

There are some who go do their death jubilant, confident of the good their death is going to do - that seems to me to be a rather unhealthy kind of martyrdom. For me the good martyr is someone who is reluctant to be a martyr, but nevertheless because of the importance of the situation, because of what needs to be done, is willing to lay down their life."

The moment makes the martyr.

Will it matter if he wasn't good when alive; will it even matter if it turns out that Carlo Giuliani was just out looking for a fight? All that seems to be important is if his death makes a difference.

Dan Damon reports on the making of martyrs

E-mail this story to a friend

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |