Unhinged Midwesterner Hearts Suu Kyi

Unhinged Midwesterner Hearts Suu Kyi

Unhinged Midwesterner Hearts Suu Kyi

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 14 2009 12:23 PM

Unhinged Midwesterner Hearts Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi's home sits beside Inya Lake, beyond a guarded checkpoint where an armed military officer screens cars, essentially, for the presence of white people. Burmese are allowed to drive on past the house where Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest. Caucasions are stopped and questioned. It's a line, literally and figuratively, most expats would not even think of trying to cross. But as with most of Myanmar's control apparatus, enforcement relies on fear. A determined person could just swim across the lake and show up, dripping wet, at her back door, which is exactly what some very motivated Missouri man did a few days back, and why Aung San Suu Kyi is now facing charges under the "Law Safeguarding the State from the Dangers of Subversive Elements."

John Yettaw, 53, seems to be a slightly unhinged religious idealist with big plans for converting Myanmar's biggest celebrity to Mormonism. Suu Kyi let him stay in her house for a single night, reportedly out of pity. The junta has taken this opportunity to further characterize Suu Kyi as a dangerous, unpredictable criminal who lacks the discipline to follow rules set by the state. (Anti-Suu Kyi propoganda largely hinges on this theme, noting, in addition to other transgressions, Suu Kyi's failure to pay various parking tickets in the 1990s.) I have long been disturbed by the West's obsession with pretty Suu Kyi and American politicians' resultant inability to consider any diversity of opinion within Myanmar. Now it appears that the same infatuation, confronted with the convoluted logic of a paranoid dictatorship, might help send Suu Kyi to prison for a very long time.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.