Christopher Hitchens in Guardian:
Especially over the course of the last 10 years, the word “martyr” has been utterly degraded by the wolfish image of Mohammed Atta: a cold and loveless zombie – a suicide murderer – who took as many innocents with him as he could manage. The organisations that find and train men like Atta have since been responsible for unutterable crimes in many countries and societies, from England to Iraq, in their attempt to create a system where the cold and loveless zombie would be the norm, and culture would be dead. They claim that they will win because they love death more than life, and because life-lovers are feeble and corrupt degenerates. Practically every word I have written, since 2001, has been explicitly or implicitly directed at refuting and defeating those hateful, nihilistic propositions, as well as those among us who try to explain them away.
The Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan martyrs were thinking and acting much more like Palach than like Atta. They were not trying to take life. They desired, rather, that it be lived on a higher level than that of a serf, treated as an inconvenience by a moribund oligarchy. They did not make sordid and boastful claims, about how their homicidal actions would earn them a place in a gross fantasy of carnal afterlife. They did not wish to inspire hoarse, yelling mobs, tossing coffins on a sea of hysteria. Jan Palach told his closest comrades that the deep reason for his gesture was not just the occupation, but the awful apathy that was settling over Prague as that “spring” gave way to a frosty winter. In preferring a life-affirming death to a living death-in-life, the harbingers of the Arab spring likewise hoped to galvanise their fellow-subjects and make them aspire to be citizens. Tides will ebb, waves will recede, the landscape will turn brown and dusty again, but nothing can expel from the Arab mind the example and esprit of Tahrir. Once again it is demonstrated that people do not love their chains or their jailers, and that the aspiration for a civilised life, that “universal eligibility to be noble,” as Saul Bellow's Augie March so imperishably phrases it, is proper and common to all.