Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Fear is not the natural state of man" Aung San Suu Kyi

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in Burma today cannot go without remark. Back when it actually meant something, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has been under some form of detention in Burma for 15 of the past 21 years. She is the daughter of the Burmese independence hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, just six months prior to Burma attaining its independence from Great Britain. She went on to study at St. Hugh's College in Oxford, focusing on philosophy, politics, and economics, only returning to Burma in 1988, when her mother was terminally ill.

While she was in Burma attending to her mother, Aung San Suu Kyi felt compelled to take up the torch of democracy against the highly repressive regime, saying in a famous speech she delivered in Rangoon on 26 August 1988, "I could not, as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on." From that point she led the opposition to dictator General Ne Win. Her opposition to the brutal military government, led by Win, is the reason she was placed under house arrest for the first time in 1989. Political pressure brought by her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), finally forced the military regime into holding elections in 1990, which the NLD won handily. The results of the election were negated and martial law remained in force. She remained under house arrest until 1995.

Aung San Suu Kyi's politics are inspired by examples of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. While she was free in Burma in the late 1980s, her activities consisted of traveling the country, organizing mass rallies and publicly advocating for peaceful political reform and, above all, for free elections. She is what Francis Sejested, chairman of the Nobel committee that awarded her the prize, said she was: "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless."

The importance of this day for the people of Burma cannot be exaggerated, assuming Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom lasts this time, which, given the track record of Burma's brutally repressive military junta, is a huge assumption. Given her track record of fearlessness, she will undoubtedly pick up where she left off. In a rare interview she was given permission to grant in 2007 to British journalist John Pilger, she said- "No matter the regime's physical power, in the end they can't stop the people; they can't stop freedom. We shall have our time."

"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it," Aung San Suu Kyi once wrote. Nonetheless, she continued, even under the "most crushing state machinery, courage rises up again and again. For fear is not the natural state of man."

All holy men and women, pray for us

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