There aren’t many people who justify comparisons to Nelson Mandela, but longtime Burmese political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the few.
For 20 years, Kyi incurred imprisonment, house arrest, and other forms of detention for attempting to bring democracy to the military-ruled Burma. This month, she is free and standing for parliament after erecting a pillar of freedom to her country through her political party, the National League for Democracy.
Kyi has won the Nobel Peace Prize and is a powerful example of persevering, peaceful dissidence coming to fruition.
She and a group of political dissidents promoting freedom from around the world were present yesterday at a special ceremony hosted by the George W. Bush Presidential Center and headlined by the former President and his wife, Laura Bush.
The event highlighted the Center’s Human Freedom Initiative, a project the President spearheaded in effort to shine a light on and aid freedom activists around the world. The project has unveiled “The Freedom Collection,” a compilation of inspirational stories from men and women around the globe who have stopped at nothing to stand for the human right of freedom in their countries.
As citizens tire of the authoritarian regimes that suppress their rights, more freedom revolutions will arise. America has but one choice: support freedom or not. The recent case of Chinese dissident and forced abortion opponent Chen Guangcheng proved that the U.S. government can be weak when faced with difficult situations that threaten relationships with powerful authoritarian nations. As Heritage’s Jennifer Marshall wrote this week:
U.S. policymakers have long expressed concern over China’s security and economic challenges to global stability. They ought to be equally concerned about the chilling long-term consequences of gross abuse of human dignity and the destruction of civil society.
The Bush Center’s objective is to provide ongoing support and attention to the efforts in places like Syria, Iran, and China. A freedom activist is often lonely, scared, and in great danger. As President Bush said yesterday, “If America does not support the advance of democratic institutions, who will?”
Many of those present at today’s event are unable to return to their home countries, because they fear for their lives. Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid has even received grief from fellow countrymen who would prefer freedom but refuse to rock the boat at home.
“While the price of speaking out is sometimes the loss of the human body,” said Abdulhamid, “The price of silence is always the death of the human spirit.”
Supporting and empowering those who seek freedom and democracy worldwide is an American obligation. It stems from our desire to remain what Ronald Reagan called the “shining city on the hill”—the exceptional place that broadcasts liberty to the nations.
As President Bush said:
There is a reason for the momentum of liberty across the centuries: Human beings were not designed for servitude. They were created for better things. And the human soul is forever restless until it rests in freedom.
What could possibly be better than that?