I am becoming quite the agitator these days. English PEN has been on its second demonstration of the month… this time outside the Burmese Embassy in Mayfair.
Those with keen memories will recall the 64forSuu.org campaign we ran last year. It is June again, and so the National League for Democracy Leader will be 65 years old, tomorrow. My photos recording the protest to mark her birthday tomorrow are below.
I didn’t know that Salman Rushdie and Aung San Suu Kyi shared a birthday:
On this day, my birthday and yours, I always remember your long ordeal and silently applaud your endurance. This year, silence is impossible. It is not any action of yours, but your house arrest, which symbolizes the suppression of Burmese democracy, that is criminal. It is your trial, not your struggle, that is unjust. On this day, on every day, I am with you.
Rushdie’s message launches the Sixty-Four Words for Aung San Suu Kyi project. Citizens of the world are invited to leave a 64 word message for Aung San, in honour of her 64th birthday on 19th June. Alternatively, you can leave a 64 character twitter instead, using the hashtag #assk64. http://64forsuu.com/
The project is led by the Burma Campaign UK and was created in only six days, which is a remarkable feat. In addition to Salman Rushdie, the site carries messages from Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and George Clooney. Why not add your message, and then let others know that you’ve done so?
As any news report worthy of the name will have told you this morning, the Burmese military junta have imprisoned the democracy campaigner and PEN Honorary Member Aung San Suu Kyi. The reason given in an apparent breach of her house arrest conditions, after an American man swam a lake and visited her. As a correspondent at the Burma Campaign UK HQ just put it to me in an e-mail:
It seems Burma is the only country in the world where you can be sent to jail for someone breaking into your house.
Today I start a new job, as Campaigns Manager at English PEN, promoting literature and human rights worldwide. A dream job for a blogger, I reckon.
As before, consider this full disclosure to the bloggers’ register of interests, and sufficient explanation should this site suddenly begin to feature more posts on imprisoned writers or UK libel law.
One of my first acts will be to go an hear Giles Ji Ungpakorn speak about Thailand’s archaic Lese-Majesty laws at SOAS, 7pm. Its chaired by Carole Seymour-Jones, chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee. PDF details here.
Whoever these terrorists in Mumbai turn out to be, its clear that they are trying to sow division and hatred in a country of many cultures. The fear is that Hindu will now turn against Muslim, and India will now turn against Pakistan. This is certainly what the cynics expect.
I am hopeful, however. Back in 2006, after the Malegon bombings, I was struck by the defiant attitude of the locals who refused to divide themselves along religious lines, as the terrorists (in that case, militant Hindus attacking Muslims) intended.
There is a lot of cynicism about the over-use of the word ‘Hope’, and about the potential of digital technologies to help create a genuinely new politics. I think this atrocity, terrible though it is, presents an opprtunity to put these optimistic sentiments to practical purpose. What is needed is a grass-roots response to the current crisis, similar to the We Are Not Afraid phenomenon, which wrestles the narrative away from a divisive blame-game. Its a way in which advocates of peace, those who recognise our common humanity, can win another PR victory against these vicious ideologues.