Rudyard Kipling, one of Ms. Suu Kyi’s favourite authors, wrote, “But there is neither East nor West…when two strong men stand face to face.” In the case of the Lady, we must adapt this to read: “And there is both East and West, when one strong woman faces the generals and the world” (Timothy Garton Ash, The Globe and Mail, June 21).
Surely, the high drama of Aung San Suu Kyi’s appearance on the world stage is a rare occasion when one may use big words – faith, courage, justice, triumph – without embarrassment. And one may quote without flinching a sentence from her acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, read by one of her two sons: “The quest for democracy in Burma is the struggle of a people to live whole, meaningful lives as free and equal members of the world community. It is part of the unceasing human endeavour to prove that the spirit of man can transcend the flaws of his nature.”
That is what the West can learn from the East: to see the flaws of human nature – and the efforts to overcome them – in spiritual terms.
To quote Timothy Garton Ash again: “In an address delivered in Latin, the historic language of the West, Oxford University’s public orator presented her for her honorary doctorate as an Eastern star (praesento stellam orientalem). But in her own personal and moving response, she said that universities, at their best, teach “respect for the best in human civilization, which comes from all parts of the world.”