Aung San Suu Kyi, a Modern Heroine

Oct 03

Burmese democracy activisit Aung San Suu Kyi is once more under arrest. She is truly one of the most remarkable political figures of our time. Her steadfastness to the cause of democracy and to the principle of non-violence has made her a beloved figure in Myanamar (Burma) and around the world. Daughter of the assassinated leader of post-colonial Burma, General Aung San, she has dedicated her life to the welfare of her people.

After a determined non-violent campaign the military junta ruling Burma reluctantly agreed to hold general elections in 1990. In spite of their best efforts at intimidation, the generals were faced with an overwhelming landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. The junta's response was to annul the election, put Suu Kyi under arrest and order a crackdown.

In the following years, Myanamar remained a country in bondage. The military regime consolidated power over the ethnic minorities in a series of vicious wars and suppressed any dissent among the majority Burmans with an iron fist. The economy languished as most international trade pulled out. Villagers were forced to act as "porters" for the military and marched across minefields ahead of the troops, with predictable results. With no national economy to speak of, the regime resorted to the medieval practise of corvee labour to undertake public works.

During Aung San Suu Kyi's first period of arrest, from 1990-1995, she was awarded a Nobel Prize in absentia. She used the prize money to establish an educational foundation in Myanamar. She was, during this time, separated from her British born husband, Dr. Michael Aris, who was denied a visa to enter Myanamar. Under increasing international pressure and isolation the junta released Aung San Suu Kyi in July of 1995. She immediately resumed her political work.

Although technically free, she continued to be harassed, threatened and obstructed by the regime. She was still unable to reunite with her husband. Even after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1998 Dr. Aris could not obtain a visa. Aung San Suu Kyi, for her part, refused the offer of the regime to leave the country, knowing full well she would not be allowed to return. Her husband died without having the chance to see her again.

During her period of arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi continued to work producing some remarkable writings that constitute a Buddhist critique of current events. Perhaps her most important writing is "Freedom from Fear" and she has certainly demonstrated that quality in her own life. She has written that it is not power which corrupts, it is fear. This idea, coming straight from Buddhist teachings, has a powerful resonance today. In a world twisted by fear, lies and violence her courage, truthfulness and dedication to peace shines like a beacon.

Her thought is both fully engaged with modernity and completely rooted in Buddhist tradition. "The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit...There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear."

Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested again on May 30 this year and kept in a secret location. She recently was hospitalized for surgery for what the government is calling a "gynaecological problem." Released from hospital, she was put back under house arrest and remains there cut off from the world at the time of writing. Her arrest was part of a general crackdown, with at least one thousand political arrests. It is only international pressure which can help these people now. The world must not forget Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the great heroines of our time.

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