Monday, June 27, 2011

Aung San Suu Kyi's idea of freedom offers a radical message for the west

The Burmese heroine's Reith lectures expose our patronising attitudes to Buddhism, and injects fresh meaning into a concept we have abused

On the wall by my desk, there's a spread of photos of Aung San Suu Kyi

which appeared in the Guardian a year ago. It's a kind of family photo album with snaps of engagement, babies, university, chilly British family picnics and travels. It's a strikingly poignant illustration of everything Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed over 15 years of imprisonment in her struggle for Burmese democracy. Every time it catches my eye, it is both humbling and gives me hope: a reminder of what the human spirit is capable of.

Much has been made of her remarkable biography – catapulted by circumstance from family life in Oxford into the violent repressive politics of Burma in 1988; missing the illness and death of her husband and the raising of her children to pursue the cause. What makes her Reith lectures so fascinating is they represent a statement of the ideals and mindset which have steeled her resolve and inspired her courage. The first lecture addresses the universal human desire for freedom, the second considers her fight in Burma to achieve it. She is taking her stand on an ideal to which the west has a tendency to claim copyright in the Enlightenment. What's more, freedom is an ideal which has been bastardised in recent years by the rhetoric of two disastrous American wars. Deftly, she lays out an understanding of freedom which owes more to Buddhism than western philosophy and, in so doing, injects a radical new meaning into an abused ideal. She is simultaneously quietly challenging western hubris and offering her global audience a new interpretation. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands