Special to Intelligentsiya
It is a long way back to base in Perth, Western Australia from Suva: first, 3242 km to Sydney and another 3283 km clear across Australia. I have done it a dozen times in the last year or so, and it is a very long ride.
On my last trip I killed time reading Perfect Hostage, A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Justin Wintle.
For those who are not familiar with her story, Suu Kyi (pronounced Sue Chee) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but was unable to be present in Oslo/Stockholm to accept it in person. Since 1988 she has steadily opposed Burma’s brutal military regime, instituted by General Ne Win in 1962.
She left her comfortable life as the wife of an Oxford academic, and mother of two sons, to lead the political opposition to that regime. First placed under house arrest in 1989, she is again under house arrest, which this time appears to be permanent. Since her return to Burma (renamed Myanmar by the junta) from the United Kingdom, she has faced constant physical and psychological harassment.
In 2003, during an attempt on her life, she witnessed the massacre of scores of her followers. Neither the separation from her husband, who died of cancer in 1999, nor the separation from her two sons, presently forbidden from visiting her, has deflected her from the principled path to democracy which she has chosen as her own.
I was struck by a quotation from Suu Kyi, whom I have long admired, at the opening of the first chapter. She is quoted as saying:
I do not think there is a word for evil in Buddhism. I think this is something you must ask real Buddhist scholars. But we speak of ill will, we speak of ignorance, we speak of greed, but we don’t speak of evil as such. There is no evil, just stupidity.Perhaps the Buddhist approach provides a better explanation of Fiji’s afflictions than others such as Christian doctrine: stupidity, rather than evil as the product of sin.
Further into his account, her biographer writes:
She might so easily have said: ‘I’ve given it my best shot, there’s nothing more I can do in Burma. I’m going home to Oxford, to look after my children and my husband and pursue my academic interests.’ Guilt would have pursued her for a while perhaps, but not for ever. The world is full of people who have stepped away, and the human psyche is adept at rationalising its activities.He continues:
But Aung San Suu Kyi is made of sterner stuff.For myself the most dispiriting feature emerging from the events since December 5 is not the manifest stupidity and incompetence of those responsible for them, repeated daily, but rather the ease with which those who might have been expected to oppose them have stepped aside, and the superficial ingenuity with which they have justified the sacrifice of principle to self-interest.
The most egregious examples come from my own profession, and I include the judiciary. The mainstream print media, with their self-serving self-censorship, come a close second.
Suu Kyi’s biographer concludes:
What needs to be acknowledged, and continuously applauded, is Aung San Suu Kyi’s phenomenal ability to inspire others, not just in Burma, where her presence has underpinned the democracy movement since August 1988, but around the world. Without her kind, we are all impoverished.But the question is asked on the cover of this biography: Is Suu Kyi’s insistence on non-violence really best calculated to bring down a junta incapable of acting in good faith? That is a question no more readily answered in relation to Burma than it is in Fiji.
In the Manichaean scheme of things, which sees the human condition as a permanent contest between good and bad, virtue and decay, and which every culture in one way or another subscribes, her significance reaches far beyond one beleaguered South-East Asian nation. Never let go of hope.
Perhaps the difference between the two situations lies in the fact that in Fiji we still have the remnants of an independent judiciary.
We do not have the guns, but we do have the law.
If only we had more lawyers and victims with the courage to use it.
- Dr John Cameron is a lawyer who has practised in Fiji,
Australiaand . His clients have included the late Dr Timoci Bavadra and the wives of parliamentarians detained in 1987. New Zealand