As I write this, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is visiting the United States for the first time in more than 40 years. Before this trip, the last time she visited the United States was back in the 1960s, when she spent three years working at the United Nations in New York. Much later, in 1988, she returned to her homeland, where she found herself -- by dint of an illustrious father who had helped to guide Burma to its independence after World War II -- thrust into the leadership of a national movement to resist military dictatorship. What happened next has been recounted many times: state-sponsored harassment; repeated near assassination at the hands of the regime's goons; the death or imprisonment of countless friends and colleagues; long years of house arrest and jail; separation from her family; and her gradual rise to a position as one of the world's most respected dissidents.
Now, thanks to a reform course launched by Burmese President Thein Sein two years ago, the Lady and many other activists have finally found their way back to freedom. For so many years she refused to leave Burma out of the fear that the ruling junta wouldn't let her back in; now those days are over, and she's touring the globe to receive three decades' worth of deferred honors. Back at home she's been elected to a seat in parliament and her image, long banned, now routinely graces the front pages of the papers.
At Foreign Policy, we've been following this extraordinary trajectory with sympathy and respect. (See, for example, this video message she sent us when we chose her as one of our Global Thinkers a few years back.) But lately we've also called her out on a couple of things. And this -- judging by some of the things that people have said to us, or even written (see comments) -- has sometimes prompted the ire of our readers.
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Look, let's get one thing straight at the outset: Aung San Suu Kyi is an extraordinary moral exemplar and a remarkable political leader. As she made the rounds here in Washington and New York over the past few days, she reminded us why. Somehow, over these long years of struggle, she has managed to keep her unbending devotion to justice even while demonstrating rare qualities of eloquence, charisma, and self-deprecating charm.
But it's not her unsurpassed ability to woo cynical Washington politicians and pundits that earns our respect. Her long and tortuous non-violent struggle for human rights in Burma undeniably places her in the exalted ranks of such figures as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Vaclav Havel. She belongs there. She's earned it.
Yet it's also important to remember that none of these people were gods. They all made their mistakes, political as well as personal. None of them should have been off limits to criticism. They've all been subjected to harsh scrutiny by their contemporaries as well as by historians. And this is in the nature of things. It is, in fact, their personal failings and peccadilloes that accentuate their achievements.