The Courage of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – a Profile of Solution Based Advocacy (39)

"Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men and women are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society."
Aung San Suu Kyi

Pictures-from-Aung-San-Su-003Here's a curiosity.  Next to love, 'courage' is the second most dominant theme in literature. Yet we are in love with a concept we know very little about.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a mother of two sons, Kim and Alexander (seen playing with them years ago at her in-laws place in Scotland); and a widow – her husband Michael Aris died of prostate cancer in 1996. She loves, nature, books, family barbecues and picnics. Just like the rest of us.

Yet she could not be with her husband as he was dying.  The junta denied him permission to visit his wife one last time. In fact she didn't see him for the previous five years.  She has not seen her now grown sons in ten years as they are refused entry to Burma.  She is denied phone and internet access and she has not seen her two grandchildren.  Sure, the military dictatorship would gladly have allowed her to leave the country.  But she would never be allowed to return.

She has lost her freedom, her health and her family to bring democracy to Burma.  A heavy price for courage.

The popular media bombards us with constant references to courageous people, and to courageous actions yet their definition encompasses singers of banal songs, bungee jumpers, Hollywood actors, and Olympic athletes more often than people actively resisting oppression.

I don't think actors praised for their 'courageous' role, financiers making 'courageous' investments, extreme athletes running through the Sahara desert, airplane pilots dropping bombs from a safe distance, or musicians at a rock benefit concert really deserve to be in the same category as Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Mairead Corrigan or the Argentinian Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who after the 1976 military coup bore silent witness daily to their lost and likely murdered sons and daughters.  

Exceptional artistic and athletic talent, discipline and endurance perhaps but not the moral and physical courage to face tragedy, horror, injustice and evil despite your fears.

There is a real danger these superficial and misplaced references to courage will erode its grand and noble characteristics.  Nobel prize laureate Daw Suu Kyi and the Burmese people exhibit great moral and physical courage in the face of brutality and repression. 

This Saturday November 13th, Suu Kyi is due to be released from house arrest but this is an academic distinction as there will likely be limits on her movement and political activities.  To honour her continuing courage and that of the Burmese people here are a couple of thoughts.

One, don't let the trivial and inconsequential divide us.  Suu Kyi's ability to rise above vindictiveness and seek a peaceful transition to democracy is an inspiration to those of us who let ego, territoriality, righteousness and scarcity dictate our relationships with each other in our sector, movement, coalition or organization.  There is a lot we don't get done because we have allowed pettiness to erode trust and cooperation.

Second, don't water down our opinions, edit our beliefs or refuse to speak up for fear of negative reaction, or drawing attention to ourselves for taking an unpopular stand or taking a minority position.  We have nothing to lose compared with Suu Kyi.


(1) For a gritty look at the thousands of ordinary Burmese protesting military oppression, rent Academy Award nominated Burma VJ at your local video/DVD store.  It was secretly filmed and smuggled out of Rangoon during the 2007 resistance led by Buddhist monks.

(2) While Canada has made Suu Kyi an Honorary Canadian Citizen and has been firm in its criticism of Burma for its human rights abuses there is more we can do. 

I invite you to urge the Canadian Government to work with the Thai Government to protect and support Burmese refugees who are fleeing Burma in the wake of this week's rigged election. The Thai Government has not allowed more refugee camps to be established since 2005 meaning the refugees are illegal migrants in Thailand and have no protection.

Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion.  The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody.

Martin Luther King Jr.



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