Sometimes we are simply called to be witnesses.
Like when a friend is going through a hard time. Often there is nothing you can do to help. There is no advice you can give, no way you can get involved, nothing you can offer except a listening ear. So you listen, and you sympathize, and you hurt for her. And it helps, somehow, even though there’s nothing you can do to help. Just listening helps.
“Burma VJ” is a documentary, of sorts, about the repressive government in Burma, and the 2007 uprising, led by students and monks, that attempted, and failed, to overthrow the military junta that rules the country. The regimen is very strict about media and the press, and the revolutionaries who shot the footage that makes up the majority of “Burma VJ” are most likely in jail now for the rest of their lives. The footage was smuggled out of the country, and then re-broadcast into Burma via satellite so that its citizens would know what was happening in their country. And so that we, outside of Burma, could stand as witness to the atrocities that have taken place there.
On artistic grounds, it isn’t all that good. The footage is grainy and jumpy, and the directors have had to fill in gaps with reenactments to make things flow together. And it is a story of defeat, not triumph. The Burmese government violently put down the uprising, the people got afraid again and Burma continues under the fist of the military to this day. This is not a happy, heartwarming story.
For decades, we have feared that repressive governments would use cameras and satellites to spy on and control their citizens; it is remarkable that just the opposite is taking place: citizens use the new technology to report on their governments, and to keep them accountable.
But sometimes we are simply called to be witnesses. And this is one of those times. There probably isn’t anything you or I can do to help the situation in Burma. As I understand it, there’s not much even our government, can do to help the situation. But we can listen; we can watch. We can empathize and hurt for them. It is clear, through the testimony of one of the video journalists, that this is what they hope for: that, we, simply, would know what they are going through. Burma is their country, and political revolution is their war to fight. But if it helps, if it gives them strength and courage to know that you and I, halfway around the world, are rooting for them, praying for them, and hoping for them, then that is what we must do. Don’t watch “Burma VJ” because it is gripping or powerful. Watch it because you are called to be a witness.