Last weekend I took a stroll through the Mesopotamia exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. While reading the commentary attached to a number of the artefacts I realised, in a profound way, that what we call civilization is actually a reaction to and against nature. Some cultures, those we choose to call ‘primitive’, ‘savage’ or ‘uncivilized’ attempt to live in harmony with nature, or at least attempt to develop a rapport with their natural surroundings, while those cultures we choose to call ‘civilized’ attempt to tame and control nature. That which remains untamed or natural seems to evoke a kind of fear and dread into the hearts and souls of ‘civilized’ humanity.
According to Arabic and Islamic creation mythology, Jinn are supernatural spirits below the level of angels and devils. Jinn are beings of flame or air that are capable of assuming human or animal form and are said to dwell in all conceivable inanimate objects—stones, trees, ruins—underneath the earth, in the air and in fire. They possess the bodily needs of human beings and can even be killed, but they are free from all physical restraints. Jinn delight in punishing humans for any harm done them, intentionally or unintentionally and are said to be responsible for many diseases and all kinds of accidents; however, those human beings knowing the proper magical procedure can exploit the Jinn to their advantage. There are three classes of jinn: ghul, treacherous spirits of changing shape; ifr?t, diabolic, evil spirits, and sila, treacherous spirits of invariable form.
The jinn are said to be creatures made by God (Allah) from smokeless fire in the same way humans were formed of earth. According to the Qur’an, jinn possess free will, and Iblis flaunted this freedom in front of Allah by refusing to bow to Adam when Allah told him to do so. By refusing to obey the will of Allah, he was thrown out of the Paradise and renamed Shaitan (or Satan). Jinn are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an; Sura 72 (named Al-Jinn) is entirely about them. Another Sura (Al-Naas) mentions the jinn in the closing verse. The Qur’an holds that Mohammad was sent as a prophet to serve both “humanity and the jinn.”
Humans have always been interested in questions of origins, and they have regularly supplied any number of explanations for the beginning of the world, for the birth of consciousness and for the moment when their own particular culture began. Our own traditions have repeatedly gone back to two sites for its myths of origins, the Judeo-Christian Bible and Plato, the first providing us with the necessary accounts of the beginning of the world and of the human species, the second giving us the rational slant that is said to distinguish Western Civilization for the past 2500 years.
At the same time, we have grown increasingly suspicious of accounts of origins over the past hundred years and with good reason. Such myths can vivify and organise a culture and hence have great value, but they can – and do – inevitably authorise certain modes of action and behaviour and restrict others. They artificially ground a set of circumstances that might otherwise be called into question, putting it out of play in order to give access to a straightforward account of the way things are. Myths of origin thus settle things that perhaps should not be settled, provide a false sense of the world as a site of established guarantees and promises kept that bears little relationship to the dynamics of either the natural or the social world. So we have learned to be wary of accounts based on origins and have trained ourselves to sniff out the hidden motivations underlying any such foundation myth. This has been an important development in the history of our culture, for it has provided us with an unusual opportunity that seems to be unprecedented: we are in a position to question seriously both the needs that generate myths or origins and the issues of whether or not humans require such myths or can conceivably do without them.
The Indigenous People of West Papua have their own creation myths, myths that are associated with their immediate environment and the land on which they live. These myths remain inseparable from the people themselves. They define and inform their culture, a culture spanning untold millennia. To the Indonesians, the symbols of West Papuan culture, the forests and mountains of their land, are wilds to be tamed and controlled in the name of civilizations. To Western controlled corporations such as BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto and Freeport McMoRan they are places to be exploited in the name of Western greed.
A clash of cultures
I do not want to see my children suffer in the same way that their children have done. The feeling of a double consciousness, to see yourself through the eyes of a white person, with all the inner conflicts bound up with that experience. Two souls, two ways of thinking in one person…
These words were written by a young Indonesian medical doctor in 1947 at the height of the resistance to the reintroduction of Dutch Colonial rule to the former Netherlands East Indies. The writer of these words was Indonesian diplomat and politician Dr Subandrio, who was President Sukarno’s foreign minister, second deputy prime minister and chief of intelligence, from 1960 to 1966, having previously served as his country’s ambassador in London and Moscow. Like Sukarno – and many other Indonesians – he used only his surname.
Subandrio’s ministerial career was cut short by his imprisonment for 29 years for having been on the wrong side of the cold war when the US, preoccupied with the domino effect in Asia, decided to make the Indonesian islands a cordon sanitaire to block the further spread of communism from China and down through Vietnam.
From 1960 onwards, rightwing Indonesian generals were encouraged by the US – including a fleeting visit by Henry Kissinger in 1965 as President Nixon’s unofficial adviser – to overthrow the government of the pro-Chinese Sukarno, the founder of modern Indonesian nationalism and father of former president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and to establish a pro-American military dictatorship under General Suharto. After this occurred in 1966, the US ambassador, Marshall Green, was told by Washington to hand the new military leadership a CIA list of 4,000 alleged communists.
In the ensuing months, at least a hundred times as many communists, socialists and union and peasant activists were slaughtered; another 300,000 were imprisoned without trial. On the island of Bali alone, 40,000 were killed, according to Catholic priests, in events that went virtually unreported by the foreign press.
It was only as a result of British intervention that Subandrio himself did not himself perish, along with such other prominent socialists as Dr Amir Sharifuddin, a former foreign secretary.
The military felt particularly vengeful toward Subandrio because they blamed him (wrongly) for the death, in September 1965, of six generals. In fact, they fell victim to a plot by young leftwing officers, whose half-cock insurrection caught communist leaders and their allies by surprise and led to the death of most of the latter. Subandrio had infiltrated agents into a secret meeting of rightwing generals plotting the overthrow of Sukarno, but was not responsible for the young officers’ putsch.
Subandrio was arrested and sentenced to death in October 1966, although this sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. He was released in 1995, at the age of 81, because of ill health.
A double consciousness
The double consciousness that Dr Subandrio so vividly described in 1947, that need “to see yourself through the eyes of a white person, with all the inner conflicts bound up with that experience” is what is confronting and destroying the worlds indigenous cultures today. The Indigenous people of West Papua are on the front line of this double consciousness, and unless the process of taming and controlling nature is stopped and reversed, this process can end in only one way – genocide – and the whole of humanity will be the poorer if that outcome eventuates.
The situation of indigenous peoples in many parts of Indonesia continues to be critical. The indigenous peoples of West Papua face systemic discrimination and exclusion from political and economic power; they continue to be over-represented among the poorest, the illiterate, the destitute; they are displaced by military intervention and environmental disasters; the weapon of rape and sexual humiliation is also turned against indigenous women for the ethnic cleansing and demoralization of indigenous communities; indigenous peoples are dispossessed of their ancestral lands and deprived of their resources for survival, both physical and cultural; they are even robbed of their very right to life. In more modern versions of market exploitation, indigenous peoples see their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions marketed and patented without their consent or participation.
Indigenous peoples have frequently faced detention due to the criminalization of social protest activities. According to the Special Rapporteur, “[o]ne of the most serious shortcomings in human rights protection in recent years is the trend towards the use of legislation and the justice system to penalize and criminalize social protest activities and legitimate demands made by indigenous organizations and movements in defence of their rights.” The United Nations Special Rapporteur has reported, for example, receiving “many reports from countries such as India, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia and Thailand, of arbitrary arrest or fake criminal charges made against members of indigenous and tribal peoples, as well as other forms of threats and intimidations, as a result of their mobilization to defend their rights against State authorities…”
In the discourse of Indonesian citizenship, the indigenous people of West Papua cannot find an appropriate place, for citizenship insists on a sense of mutual belonging that encompasses and transcends regional and ethnic distinctions.
On December 6, 2011, Amnesty International officials met with Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Law, Politics and Security, Djoko Suyanto to urge the Indonesian Government free political prisoners incarcerated for peacefully expressing their views. Amnesty urged the government “to integrate human rights in their efforts to address the situation in Papua.”
The Amnesty International presentation focused on at least 90 people who are in prison in West Papua and Maluku for peaceful pro-independence activities, including Filep Karma, a Papuan independence leader currently serving a 15-year sentence in Abepura, Papua. Filep’s case has received special attention by the human rights group.
The meeting took place less than one month following the brutal assault on the Papuan Third National Congress during which peaceful Papuan dissenters were beaten and killed and many were arrested, only to join the growing ranks of Papuan political prisoners.
Amnesty argued that “the Indonesian government should free all those who are detained in Papua and Maluku for peacefully expressing their views, including through raising or waving the prohibited pro-independence flags, and distinguish between peaceful and violent political activists.” Amnesty pointed out that although the government had the duty and the right to maintain public order, its actions restricting freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia has ratified.
Amnesty stressed the need to set up a human rights court and a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate cases of human rights violations since Indonesia annexed Papua in the 1960s.
According to the Jakarta Globe, Minister Djoko Suyanto at the meeting expressed the government’s commitment to ensure accountability for human rights abuses committed by security forces.
On December 17, 2011, Jubi reported that the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) called on the Indonesian Chief of Police to immediately withdraw all Brimob troops (the militarized police) from the West Papua district of Paniai and to refrain from sending any additional personnel there.
The request came in the wake of widespread reports (see above) of brutal security force sweeping operations that had targeted civilians.
The deputy head of Komnas HAM, M. Ridha Saleh, wrote to the chief of police in response to a formal complaint made by the chairman of the Regional Traditional Council (DAD) in Paniai. The letter cited two recent incidents involving members of the police force: A shooting near the copper-and-gold mine in Degheuwo which led to the death of a civilian and the situation following the dispatch of 150 additional Brimob troops who arrived in Enarotali on November 11-14, 2011
The letter called for the removal of a Brimob post set up in the midst of several kampungs and for a police investigation into the death of Mateus Tenouye. The letter noted that only a Brimob withdrawal could enable Paniai to return to their daily lives which have been badly disrupted by security operations by Brimob and other Indonesian security personnel.
(WPAT Note: There are consistent reports of the involvement of Detachment 88, Kopassus, and other TNI personnel in the sweeping operations. Neither the U.S. nor Australian governments have made any comment regarding their support for an organization that in this instance, and in numerous previous incidents, has resorted to brutality in dealing with peaceful non-combatants.)
The Komnas HAM appeal concluded with a call for dialogue among all parties.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will
– Frederick Douglass