Freedom from Fear
is a collection of writings by Burmese politician and Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Published in 1991 by Penguin Books, this volume brings together some of the key essays, interviews, letters, and speeches chronicling the author's fight for human rights as she establishes herself, in the words of one observer, as Burma's "woman of destiny." Combining history, politics, culture, and personal memoir, Freedom from Fear
is a true account of the making of an activist—and a call to action for readers to follow her cue.
The collection opens with two forewords, one by Czech statesman Václav Havel and another by South African cleric Desmond Tutu. Both pay tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi's heart-centered advocacy and tireless spirit, her fight for democracy, and her dedication to a peaceful revolution. Aung San Suu Kyi's husband, Michal Aris, who edited Freedom from Fear
, then provides an introduction in which he discusses the power of her words and her activism and acknowledges the special bond the two of them share.
In part one, titled "The Inheritance," Aung San Suu Kyi offers both personal and general histories of Burma. The first piece, "My Father," touches upon her relationship with her father, Aung San, the 5th Premier of the British Crown Colony of Burma, as well the various contributions he made to the nation. These contributions—including helping Burma achieve independence from Great Britain—resulted in his 1947 assassination.
From there, Aung San Suu Kyi steps back, offering a broader view of Burmese life. She talks about the nation and its people, their spirit, and their culture. She investigates the intellectual life of Burma and India under British colonialism and the lasting effects of imperialism. She then plumbs what would seem two very different subjects—literature and nationalism in Burma—by identifying the points in common they share and how they've impacted the nation.
Part two, appropriately titled "The Struggle," charts Burmese efforts to transition from military rule to democracy. It includes some of Aung San Suu Kyi's most well-known speeches and writings, including the book's title essay. Written in commemoration of winning the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, "Freedom from Fear" addresses the internal changes one must make to be an activist—or a principled person at all, really—with Aung San Suu Kyi noting, "The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit." When one is in the right emotional and spiritual frame of mind, he or she naturally wants to work toward a better world for all humankind. However, getting and staying in this frame of mind, she recognizes and understands all too well, is a process. It requires a particular, precious kind of courage, "acquired through endeavor…from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions," which "could be described as 'grace under pressure'—grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure." As Aung San Suu Kyi experienced firsthand from her father's assassination to the time of this essay's writing, the courage to rise, again and again, in the face of injustice and brutality is perhaps the greatest single purpose any one person can serve. "Concepts such as truth, justice, and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power," she writes.
The rest of the pieces in part two continue this theme, exploring a variety of subjects from a variety of different sources. Among those subjects is the need for solidarity among ethnic communities, the vital importance of open and honest dialogue, and how to empower people to facilitate a culture of peace and forward progression. Source materials come from places as diverse as Aung San Suu Kyi's letters to Amnesty International, her 1991 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, her speeches given at mass rallies and demonstrations, and an open letter to the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights.
The final portion of the book, "Appreciations," does not contain work by Aung San Suu Kyi, but work about her, her activism, and the causes to which she has dedicated her life. Burmese singer Ma Than E, literary scholar Ann Pasternak Slater, and academics Josef Silverstein and Philip Kreager offer reflections here. Each one honors Aung San Suu Kyi and how she truly owns her role as diplomat and defender, fighter and protector, daughter and cultural touchstone.
Since Penguin published this volume during Aung San Suu Kyi's twenty-one-year-long house arrest, its pieces truly show the extent of what one person can do, even under great constraints and during times of extreme distress. Refusing to let her captors silence her, she calls for a restoration of the world's democratic institutions, rallying people around the world to speak out for progress, for change, and for a better world. Do not be afraid. Because, ultimately, in Aung San Suu Kyi's words, "It is not power that corrupts but fear."