Jun

03

The story of an expat Burmese housewife in north Oxford who frequented the supermarket on her bicycle and went on to become the world’s most prominent and influential prisoner of conscience could be a parable about never succumbing to the treacherous allure of superficial expectation. But this is no parable — it is the remarkable life of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (born 19 June, 1945), who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her persistent and public dissent against Burma’s horrific regime of genocidal violence, and who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peace activism work inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance.

In the 2012 biography The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Peter Popham writes:

From the earliest days of her political life, Suu has been attacked by the regime as the “poster girl” of the West. If that was a gross exaggeration in 1989, today it would be an understatement: She is by far the most famous woman politician in the world never to have held office.

Three days after the biography was published, Suu was elected to the lower house of the Burmese parliament and her party, the National League for Democracy, won 43 of the 45 lower house seats vacant at the time. Five months later, in September of 2012, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the United States — one of countless international accolades she has received over the course of her decades-long fight for democracy and peace.

In her indispensable essay anthology Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings, edited by her late husband, Suu echoes fellow reconstructionist Susan Sontag’s timeless words on courage and resistance and argues:

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. […] Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps most precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ — grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

There could hardly be a more perfect embodiment of “grace under pressure” than Suu’s life itself.

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    What an exceptional blog!
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    It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of...
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    “The true measure of the justice of a system is the amount of protection it guarantees to the weakest.” Aung San Suu Kyi
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    Adding Freedom from Fear to my reading list immediately, and continuing my obsession with the wonderful (and important)...
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