Here’s what happens when fear rules your life and concentrates your behavior:

I see this fear
not only in the lives of the so-called “ordinary people”, but activists
as well. I see it in friends and colleagues worn down by the endless
fight against regressive laws, as well as in trying to change a society
made twisted and apathetic by fear. I hear it in the words of
well-meaning people who advocate inaction under the guise of strategy,
or disclaim responsibility by presenting themselves as insignificant
and powerless.

In my more cynical moments, I see Malaysia as the single most
successful example of a behavioural experiment — citizens function as
both prisoners and prison guards within a Panopticon. The euphoria of 8
March 2008 has given way to a more familiar atmosphere of self-policing
and self-censorship.

Book-thumping political leaders and religious groups are ever
ready to scream invectives and accusations at those deemed to be
threats simply for standing up for their rights. That “ordinary people”
are blaming the victims and taking up the witch hunts themselves is
perhaps not surprising, but no less heart-breaking. Suu Kyi’s essay was
first published in 1991, but her words on the nature of fear ring as
clearly as ever 17 years later.

The warning for us all is to find a society that provides love and
learning and not fear and loathing — but that task is growing tougher
by the day as terrorism ripens across the world and we allow our small
freedoms to be taken over by the greater good of the society
surrounding us.