An Open Letter to Aung San Suu Kyi

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Ruins of colonial building, Penang, Malaysia.

Dear Ms. Suu Kyi,

I have learned that you may be released from house-arrest. I know that this letter will never reach you, and “release” doesn’t mean much in Myanmar. But it is a milestone, and a great one, and for your government to even consider granting your freedom is a considerable decision.

I know of you because I read your book, Letters from Burma, a collection of short essays so fearless (of SLORC) and loving (of Burmese culture) that I read it in one sitting. As I read, I began to understand how a woman who spent 15 years in house arrest — and was only allowed to live because of her fame — could continue to fight for a better future. And fight as only a Theravada Buddhist could: through non-violent protest.

When I think about Myanmar, I am of course angry at the Burmese junta. But I’m also deeply agitated by my own government. Myanmar is controlled by dictators just as ruthless as Saddam Hussein; illicit drugs are cultivated with the same enthusiasm as Afghanistan; permission to enter the country is nearly as restrictive as North Korea; and slave labor, the likes of which exists in only the most despotic and lawless nations, runs rampant in the rainforests. And yet, with the rare exception of Hollywood fantasias (Rambo, MacGiver, Tropic Thunder), few Americans have even heard of Myanmar. If we know it at all, we can barely trace it on a map, and we know it by the popular (and outdated) name, Burma.

I can assure you, though, that if Americans did know about your work, we would probably admire you the way we admire Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. We are not opposed to loving peaceful protest, we’re just not very good at it. Whether or not you are permitted to step outside your house, I hope you will know that most of the world supports your mission, if quietly. Most Americans, even the bitterest and most selfish, put enormous stock in your values — spirituality, justice, freedom from tyranny. I know you have promised to continue your crusade, free or imprisoned; I know that SLORC’s first-ever “democratic” election was rigged, and the junta is only considering your release under the guise of benevolence. I even wonder if this is just a clever way to have you more conveniently “disappear.” But you are doing what most of us wish we were courageous enough to do, and for that, you have my humblest thanks. You are, in short, among my most prominent living heroes.

As Siddhartha Guatama said: “Neither fire nor wind, birth nor death can erase our good deeds.”


Robert Isenberg


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