Freedom From Fear

”Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.”

Freedom from Fear, Aung San Suu Kyi

freedom from fear

Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Pro-democracy campaigner, Burmese politician, and mother, is an incredibly inspirational woman, and one who everyone should learn about. Her fight for democracy in Burma, which still hasn’t been completely achieved, has been arduous and resulted in her being put under house arrest twice, totalling 15 years. She was separated from her young children, from her dying husband – all to fight on behalf of all Burmese people for democracy and human rights.

Freedom from Fear is a collection of essays written by Aung San Suu Kyi. In the first edition her husband, academic Michael Aris, wrote an introduction and in the second edition Archbishop Desmond Tutu also wrote an introduction. These introductions are valuable essays in themselves and make the reader become completely absorbed before the book even truly begins. Every page of this book is meaningful.

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Aung San Suu Kyi

The essays depict a number of subjects: from the Burmese people, even those from ethnic minorities who are otherwise looked over; modern Burmese history, allowing the reader to understand Burma and their history of fighting oppression – including colonisation. The essays also focus on democracy and the importance of rescuing the Burmese people from tyranny, which has been constant in the country’s modern history. The book teaches the reader the importance of freedom and how to fight for it peacefully and how democracy can be used as a tool for achieving peace.

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With President Obama

Her writing is incredibly inspirational. Her passion shines through and the reader is able to completely understand her reasonings and why it is important for people to be free.  You empathise with the Burmese people and you wish to join in their fight for freedom. The book defines who Aung San Suuu Kyi is, it explains to the world exactly what she is doing and why.

Regardless of who Aung San Suu Kyi is, Freedom From Fear is a great piece of writing. For those wishing to learn about democracy, or for those needing guidance to stand up for what they believe in, this book is a must read. Even current political leaders could do with reading it!

For anyone who wishes to learn more about Aung San Suu Kyi, 2011 saw the release of the film The Lady, a biopic of her life and work which is now available on DVD.

For up to date information, or if you wish to support Burmese people in their fight for freedom visit the charity Burma Campaign

Survival in the Killing Fields

This autobiography sums up the chaos that was Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and to an extent, what still happens in Cambodia. I’ve read a few autobiographies of the Khmer Rouge years, and this one hits me the hardest. It makes you depressed, and more importantly, makes you appreciate the life you are living now.

killing fields

Haing S. Ngor was made famous by acting as Dith Pran in the 1984 film The Killing Fields – a role which won Ngor an Oscar. Dith Pran’s story is a famous one, it’s horrific and upsetting what he experienced under the Pol Pot regime. Ngor’s account takes this feeling to a whole new level.

This book definitely isn’t for the faint hearted. It’s heartbreaking and horrowing. There are graphic descriptions of torture and murder, of disease and starvation, of crimes against humanity both within the Khmer Rouge and outside (including the rape of women by Thai soldiers as they try and escape Cambodia, and the mass killing of Cambodian refugees in Thailand). The description is so vivid you can almost smell the death of the people around him.

Ngor doesn’t just describe his own personal suffering, he describes Cambodia’s suffering. He writes what he witnesses. His personal accounts of being tortured (which happened on numerous occassions) also describe how others were treated. Not many autobiographies of the Khmer Rouge do this, for example, Denise Affonco’s  To The End of Hell, which describes only the author’s suffering and feelings of starvation. It’s quite a tedious read as Affonco doesn’t even describe in detail her own children’s death and as a result doesn’t generate the same emotional response as Survival in the Killing Fields.

Haing S. Ngor not only gives an account of what happens to his life during the Pol Pot regime, he also disusses the culture and most importantly, the politics of Cambodia before, during and after the regime.  The book can easily be split into two sections: Ngor’s life before, during and after the regime; and what happened to Khmer citizens before, during and after the regime. The book is a mini contemporary history of Cambodia and you can begin to understand the political workings of a nightmare.

The Khmer Rouge regime is incredibly fascinating and raises certain questions: why didn’t the West intervene? We knew what was happening in the country, yet there was no international discussion about how to solve the problem. This wouldn’t happen today – Syria being the prime example. Ngor doesn’t blame anyone for events happening in his country. All his anger is directed at the Khmer Rouge, to those who tortured him and others, to those who brought the Cambodian people suffering and death.

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Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields

Ngor’s memoirs conclude with his own death.  Roger Warner (the co-author) describes in an epilogue what happens after Ngor won an Oscar for his role in The Killing Fields and he ends describing Ngor’s death in 1996 and the mystery surrounding it.

There is a happy ending however. Since his death a charity, Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation  was founded, which provides aid to the people of Cambodia.

Survival in the Killing Fields is a book everyone should read, and no one should forget.