The Irrawaddy published an article yesterday on a new website, entitled 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi, which was created this Wednesday. The aim of the website is to gather messages of support for Burmese opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose 64th birthday is coming up on 19 June.
According to The Irrawaddy, “[t]he organizers of the site, the Global Campaign to Free Aung San Suu Kyi, said it is intended to become the global hub of the international campaign to release Suu Kyi”. Among those having contributed a message of support for the Lady, who is currently being tried in connection with the absurd case of the Inya Lake swimmer, are such oddly grouped figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, footballer David Beckham, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, actor George Clooney, etc.
It is difficult if not impossible to disagree with the sentiments behind most of the messages posted on this website. For example, I doubt that many New Mandala readers would disagree with Salman Rushdie when he writes to Aung San Suu Kyi:
It is not any action of yours, but your house arrest, which symbolizes the suppression of Burmese democracy, that is criminal. It is your trial, not your struggle, that is unjust.
However, while websites such as this – and the public statements of world leaders since the beginning of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s farcical trial – do remind us that people are speaking out in international circles against the military regime in Burma, how effective are their words?
Recently, Thai satirical website Not the Nation published an article about an online petition overthrowing the Burmese junta. According to this spoof article, the “unstoppable potency of online petitions to enact political change” led the SPDC to immediately release all political prisoners and allow free and fair democratic elections.
Many have claimed that the Internet is an increasingly powerful tool for advocacy and political activism. According to this view, the public space of the Internet stimulates debate and provides a forum for us common mortals to have our voices heard and (supposedly) make an impact on the world. But it is also easy to be cynical about the debasement of political activism, when the latter comes to be reduced to a blog post or joining a Facebook group. When, out of curiosity, I searched ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ on Facebook, I found 284 groups dedicated to variations of the theme ‘free Aung San Suu Kyi’. Have we really come to an age where we think that by joining a Facebook group, we have done our bit for justice in the world?
Who should we follow: the idealists or the cynics? Either way, the Internet has certainly contributed to the sport of ‘Burma Watching’. Perhaps then it is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t debase the real heroes of resistance against oppressive regimes by calling ourselves activists when we click on a link from the safety of our living rooms.