As Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the UK parliament here’s a reflection on her political philosophy which emphasises the moral qualities and good sense rather than force or strategy
Weekend Word Talk, BBC Radio Wales 22/6/2012
She’s small and seems rather frail, but Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is a person of tremendous moral stature. As we saw yesterday when she became the first non-Head of State to address a joint session of the British Parliament, she seems entirely unfazed as she steps from decades of isolation into a new role as a global celebrity. That kind of strength comes from deep within, and a phrase from her political philosophy helps explain it: ‘It’s not power that corrupts but fear.’
In the Buddhist teachings on which Aung San Suu Kyi draws there are four ways in which we can forget our principles and be corrupted. We may be led by our selfish desires, by ill will and a desire to harm our enemies, by ignorance or by fear. She thinks fear is the most insidious and it’s certainly the greatest weapon of tyrannies. They subdue people by instilling fear of arrest, torture and death, aiming to foster the apathy and subservience that add up to a kind of moral corruption.
To challenge this, Aung San Suu Kyi often calls on Burmese people to stand up for what they believe, whatever the cost, because moral integrity is more important than personal safety. Many have followed her advice, often suffering greatly as a result. But she argues that, in the long run, a worthy nation can only grow from the values and qualities of its people.
That’s why overcoming fear is so important. Part of the inner corruption that fear produces is hatred of one’s oppressors. That’s understandable, but history shows that revolutions fueled by hatred often produce new tyrannies. So Aung San Suu Kyi has argued for a Burmese revolution that’s informed by the Buddha’s words, ‘Hatred is not overcome by hatred, but only by love.’ She understands that the Generals have themselves been corrupted by the fear of losing power and that ending Burma’s problems means ending the cycle of power, fear, corruption and hatred.
That’s an idealistic goal, but without such goals we can never produce a better world. As Aung San Suu Kyi said in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech last weekend: ‘Absolute peace in our world is an unattainable goal. But it is one towards which we must continue to journey, our eyes fixed on it as a traveler in a desert fixes his eyes on the one guiding star that will lead him to salvation.’