Last June, when President/General Susilo of Indonesia visited one of his provinces, in the Moluccas, he was greeted by local residents performing a traditional dance for him, a ritual often repeated around the world when powerful rulers travel, the implicit message being: this is us, but to you, we bow.
This time, however, something went wrong, and to the evident astonishment of the visiting democrat (Gen. Susilo was just awarded a democracy medal by the International Association of Political Consultants. See posting of November 13, 2007, “Vomiting to Death on a Plane. Arsenic Democracy.”), the dancers unfurled a freedom flag with an entirely different implicit message: it was the banned four-color banner that symbolizes Moluccan independence from Indonesia.
After the performers were hauled off to jail by Indonesia’s POLRI national police (“I want the performers of the dance [to] be investigated,” Susilo ordered,”If the dancers have certain purposes, there should be a resolute action against them.” “President Yudhoyono orders investigation into ‘unscheduled dance'”, Antara [official Indonesian government news agency], June 29, 2007), the area police and army commanders were both sacked for inexcusable laxness.
They had apparently let arise an atmosphere so loose that prohibited thought could not only be thought, but could be so bold as to find expression before the very eyes of the visiting sovereign.
Fortunately for national stability, as it is called in Jakarta, Washington, and elsewhere, that problem has now been cured with the appointment of regional army commander Gen. Rasyid Qurnuen Aquary who has informed his TNI (Indonesian national armed forces) troops to “act firmly against anyone engaging in separatist actions, and if need be, shoot them on the spot.” (The General’s spokesman, Maj. Sukriyanto, quoted in AFP, Jakarta, “Indonesia General Says Separatists Could Be Shot,” Dec. 12, 2007, via Joyo Indonesia News Service).
Fortunately for those dissident dancers — and perhaps also for the President, whose shirt might have gotten spattered red that day — the order comes too late to have gotten them shot-on-spot (they merely sit, untried, in prison), but not too late for a bold 19 year old Moluccan man just shot by TNI troops on Saturday (he’s apparently still alive) for the offense of hanging a similar flag on a tree near which they were working.
In a time and in a place where some authority was bothering to enforce the murder laws, such a public “shoot them on the spot” order against dissidents might be seen to constitute a war crime, or — since the Moluccas are arguably not in a state of war — an equally prosecutable, under international law, crime against humanity.
But that’s not the case in today’s Indonesia, or in most of the world’s geography, where official murder — and even public orders to commit it — goes unpunished, and is, instead, rewarded. The US Congress is looking to do that this week as they process a Foreign Operations bill that would ship further US taxpayers’ millions in lethal assistance to TNI (202-224-3121 is the Congressional switchboard number).
ALLAN NAIRN can be reached through his blog.