In a week marked by violence and unrest that culminated in the tragic loss of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens , Aung San Suu Kyi’s message of peaceful reform couldn’t be more welcome. Two snapshots – one of angry crowds scaling the walls at Embassies across the Middle East, the other a petite, soft-spoken woman addressing overflow crowds in Washington, DC. At first glance, these two images seem unrelated but a closer examination reveals two expressions of the need for dramatic change.
The raucous crowds ostensibly expressing rage over a blasphemous film were also venting over disappointment at the pace of change in the wake of the Arab Spring and decades of failed US Middle East policies, in contrast, the “Lady” as she is known by her supporters, persuades with logic, facts, and conviction. After decades under house arrest, loss of family members, and political isolation Aung San Suu Kyii emerged from isolation stronger and more politically adept. During this week’s address at a USIP/Asia Society sponsored event in Washington, DC, Suu Kyi artfully reminded those who would cast Burma’s engagement with the US as an attempt to “counterbalance China”, that the good of the region requires her country to promote normal and productive relations with China as well as with the US and India. Rather than point an accusatory finger at her former captors, Suu Kyi underscores the centrality of rule of law to counter violence as an expression of discontent.
Her message of justice over retribution, reason over disorder, is powerful and needed not only in Burma but everywhere: be it the Middle East where the fragility of peace is tested daily or in the US where volatile, confrontational political discourse often threatens to divide rather than unite us.