Like many, my family and I watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night. In the middle of the parade of nations, the commentators off-handedly remarked that the country of Georgia had just been invaded by Russia, over an escalated territorial dispute (note that this region of the former-USSR has been the stage for other battles over nation and territory; the Chechen Republic is a close neighbor of Georgia on its northern border). Russia has launched a full military campaign involving air and ground troops and targeting the Georgian city of Gori (not located in the disputed region); this has already resulted in civilian injuries and deaths. Georgia has also asked for U.S. assistance in airlifting their troops from Iraq back home.
I can’t confess to know the entire back story; I’m terribly unfamiliar with Abkhazia and had no idea that hostilities had been mounting (beyond the “normal” level) between Georgia and Russia. In reading the NYT coverage this morning, I stumbled across this statement:
Georgian officials said their only way out of the conflict was for the United States to step in, but with American military intervention unlikely, they were hoping for the West to exert diplomatic pressure to stop the Russian attacks.
As familiar as I am with realpolitik, I was alarmed that the only “hope” for stabilization or a stop to the assault was U.S. intervention. This made me reflect on the concept of witness: in times of war, what does it mean to bear witness to an atrocity, but fail to intervene? In times of “peace,” what does it mean to acknowledge that human rights abuses take place, but fail to challenge a system that prioritizes compliance? What does our faith require in these moments? In these moments, what is justice, and what is our duty as a faith community that values justice and freedom?
In Arabic, shahid translates to “witness,” and in Persian and Urdu, “martyr.” In Sikh history the term is used pretty exclusively to refer to martyrs who die either for the faith or for principles of the faith. But is shahidi really so limited? The concept of Miri tells us that Sikhs are to be engaged with the temporal world; we are not to rely on holy men or miracles or the supernatural. I ask then, is the act of witnessing in line with this, or are we required to act? I can’t say what an appropriate action would be in the case of Georgia; I have no idea who is “in the right” or “wrong” and know far too little to even advocate for a position either way, but I wanted to ask our readership, how do you feel about these incidents, and do you feel that your faith requires or elicits a response?