Book Review: The Voice of Hope


Aung San Suu Kyi: The Voice Of Hope – Conversations

by Alan Clements

New York, Seven Stories Press, 2008

U Tin U, the National League for Democracy (NLD) Deputy Leader, once said that “Burma is a prison within a prison.” His words highlight the tragic political, social and economic circumstances that Burma is faced with today, because of the military junta. Their calling card is a permanent stain on the failure of humanity.

The thoughts, movements and actions of more than 50 million civilians are under constant surveillance by a regime obsessed with maintaining control. Yet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s thoughts, words and actions provide a beacon of hope that a people’s democracy living in peace will someday take shape in Burma.

Author Alan Clements travelled to Rangoon in December 1995 to meet secretly with Daw Suu Kyi and recorded a series of dialogues with the leader of the NLD. Clements’ involvement with Burma goes back 30 years. He is the first American to be ordained a Buddhist monk, and like all foreign journalists entering Burma, he has also encountered the wrath of the military junta by being deported.

Between his extensive knowledge of the domestic situation, and Daw Suu Kyi’s wisdom and elegance in answering every question put before her, readers will understand just how Buddhism is closely connected with politics in Burma, and why the concepts of faith and metta (loving kindness) are among the building blocks of any genuine democracy.

Each chapter is named after a sentence that typifies the beliefs, sacrifice and struggle that best summarize key points in Daw Suu Kyi’s existence. It also demonstrates the enormous love that she shares for every person who has risked their life to hear speeches delivered from her compound. She also speaks repeatedly of compassion towards members of the SPDC and declares that they too can show love for the people of Burma. This may surprise readers, but perfectly encompasses everything she stands for.

One cannot help but show admiration for any individual willing to risk their life to hear a political icon outline the real situation in Burma, and be prepared to listen to how and why civilians are suffering. In the process of unraveling Daw Suu Kyi’s deepest thoughts, Clements uncovers a defiant individual that will not be intimidated by weaponry in the hands of authority, while uncovering the keys to life; love for humanity, education and an open heart.

Daw Suu Kyi speaks modestly and candidly in describing her upbringing, the role of her parents in shaping her values, her frenetic daily routine while under house arrest, life abroad and eventual homecoming to Burma, and unrelenting commitment to nonviolence.

The appeal of the dialogue is that Daw Suu Kyi’s answers to some of Clements’ lengthy questions and points are presented plainly and with fervour as if addressing a crowd of tens of thousands of her supporters. There is no place for political spin within these pages, which enhances the readability.

One theme that resonates through the entire book is the tenacity of the people of Burma and their ability to adopt a sense of humor in spite of the horrific conditions that they face. It takes a special human being to constantly laugh throughout years of suffering. Clements has clearly done his background research to prompt thought provoking answers from Daw Suu Kyi and in doing so, delivers possibly the greatest insight into the world’s most famous female political icon. It is impossible to have conceived the danger facing Clements and Daw Suu Kyi, making the discussions and writing of this publication all the more plausible.

Throughout the course of the book, the reader becomes acutely aware of the volatile situation that Burma has faced in recent decades, a scenario sadly prevalent to this day. The facts itself relating to Burma’s political, social and economic demise are not new, but Clements aims to provide shock therapy and reveal to the world the extent and frequency of abuse. He succeeds in piercing the heart and soul deeply enough and warn us that if we do not regard Burma as our highest priority, then it is not just the people that face the harshest consequences of tyranny. As a society, we will all carry the burden of watching humans slowly die without directly intervening.

This is not only an incredible individual we are learning about more intricately. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is consistent that her work is only possible through the efforts of her fellow party members, which leads to Clements interviewing with individuals whose voices and actions that been vocal in their opposition to the military junta. He speaks candidly with U Gambira, leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance and inspiration for the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and influential NLD individuals and scholars U Kyi Maung and U Tin U. Their insights, along with a chronology of the country’s recent and international contacts, give readers the tools to ensure that Burma is discussed at every regional and international meeting, and at dinner tables and bars. There is so much at stake now, not just with Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial but with the farcical elections due to be held in 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi: The Voice Of Hope reminds us all that the forgotten people of Burma are not just the dead who have been forced to onto their knees for so much of their lives, but the living voiceless. Alan Clements has presented us a manual for life that crudely tells the most powerful leaders on the planet to stop waiting for a miracle to occur. This book is the catapult that will launch individuals into taking immediate action. The message here is loud and clear; use your rights and privileges to help the long-suffering civilians of Burma gain their freedom. Without Aung San Suu Kyi’s presence, our world will be so empty.

--David Calleja is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and member of Burma Campaign Australia.