"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Freedom from fear

The Guardian reports today that
After seven years under house arrest and 15 of the last 21 incarcerated in some form by Burma's military regime, Aung San Suu Kyi today chose one last night of imprisonment so that she might walk truly free.
I doubt Aung San Suu Kyi is thinking in those terms at all.

I remember watching an interview of Suu Kyi filmed in her Rangoon home during one of the brief periods of her "liberty". I can't remember the details but her main point was a powerful one, about what it means to be free.

Even during her periods of house arrest, she said, she considered herself freer than many people in Burma - including those who had locked her up - because, for much of the time, she was free from fear.

In 1990 Suu Kyi gave a speech about what freedom means:
The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit [...] A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. 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.

Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.
As Aung San Suu Kyi leaves her house today and walks past the barbed wire into a city where (according to the Guardian) truckloads of police, dressed in riot gear and carrying assault rifles are stationed at key intersections, I doubt she will consider herself freer today than she was yesterday.

But while people like her exist there's still hope for Burma, and for the rest of us.

UPDATE at 12:00:

Suu Kyi has said a few words to the crowd outside her home and the first picture has been released.

She told the crowd: "we must work together to achieve our goals."

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