With waves of Tamil refugees now fleeing Sri Lanka, the question has been raised as to whether any among those seeking asylum are members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known as the Tamil Tigers, a group proscribed as a terrorist organisation in many countries. This question reflects a Western obsession with ‘terrorism’, but not much about what drives people to supporting such ‘terrorism’ or fleeing their own country.
The situation in Sri Lanka has been, since independence in 1948, that the Tamil minority have been increasingly marginalised and persecuted by the Sinhalese majority. Sinhalese was long the official language of state, structurally excluding Tamils from public life, with this situation remaining the situation in practice. There have been numerous anti-Tamil riots and the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ethnic Tamils at various times over decades.
Just two weeks before it recently left office, the outgoing legislature of Aceh, the DPRA, passed the Qanun Jinayat (Islamic Criminal Bylaw). International reporting on this move portrayed the legislation as allowing – or even requiring – the ‘stoning to death’ of adulterers and the torture of women. The international image of Indonesia generally and Aceh in particular suffered greatly, and unfairly.
It is widely assumed that the out-going DPRA passed this law in an unfortunate and misguided attempt to cause problems for the in-coming DPRA. But the real issue concerns the extent to which democratic principles are finding a home in Aceh, and in Indonesia.
As we learned from Foreign Minister Stephen Smith last night (20 October), there is now an agreement between the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to accept asylum seekers bound for Australia. Move over John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’, and make way for Kevin Rudd’s ‘Indonesia Solution’. Mr Rudd will take considerable satisfaction from his visit, formally to mark President Yudhoyono’s swearing in for a second term, producing what he will no doubt regard as a diplomatic coup.
Australia’s sometimes difficult relations with Indonesia are travelling fairly well at the moment, in large part due to President Yudhoyono’s democratic reformist tendencies. That Mr Rudd is also comfortable with regional leaders, and has taken an active interest in Indonesia since at least 1997, further assists the relationship.
You know, I really struggle when somebody asks me to define postmodernism. The thing is that by its very conceptual nature, postmodernism surely can't be defined. But I usually come up with something lame like no absolute truths, or postmodern is not modernism, blah, blah, blah.
But last night, on Australian TV, I think we experienced postmodernism in all its tumescent glory.
You see, there was a TV show that was on for 20 years, back in the 80s and 90s, called Hey Hey, It's Saturday. It was cancelled in 1999, mostly because of sagging ratings, but also because the executives decided that Australia was ready for a different form of entertainment. One of the sequences on this program was called Red Faces, where amateur performers could get up and perform in front of an in-studio, and Australia-wide audience.
The death yesterday of South-east Asia’s most wanted criminal, the terrorist Noordin Mohamad Top, came as a happy surprise to Indonesian authorities, given they did not know he was in the Solo, Central Java house they were raiding. However, given the closing security net around Top, it was always possible that he would meet his end in such an unplanned way.
The real question that comes with the death of Malaysian-born Top is whether this will spell an end to Islamist terrorism in Indonesia or, indeed, South-East Asia. The answer is twofold, the first part depending on how one defines ‘terrorism’, and the second part depending on how one defines ‘Islamism’.
You wouldn’t expect a surgeon to recommend Chinese medicine to his patients. His advice usually involves a scalpel and some nasty cutting. Similarly, it would be surprising for military men to advocate political solutions to global conflicts. It’s not their area of professional expertise. By default they lead with their strongest suit – organised violence - not geopolitics or diplomacy.
Like economists and market forecasting, the consistent failure of military options in the modern world is rarely a deterrent, or even disheartening, for men with guns. Victory is always only just another battalion or squadron away. However, after eight long and costly years, it is increasingly obvious to most Australians that there are no military solutions to Afghanistan’s complex social and political problems. The Taliban, even without aircraft, satellites or armour, are unlikely to be defeated by either Western troops or their local proxies.
The recent “Father Bob” controversy suggests that perhaps Bob Maguire should be put in charge of marketing strategy at Christian HQ (not sure if they have a headquarters, but it sounds good – a big Church with cars with flashing crucifixes parked out the front; lots of people walking around with Bibles looking serious; interrogating atheists; all wearing those cassock thingies and the Pope headgear).
The Australian Federal Police announcement that it will investigate charges of war crimes against perpetrators of the murder of five Australian based journalists in the East Timorese town of Balibo in 1975 has put a legal cat among the diplomatic pigeons. Already senior Indonesian politicians have objected, saying they will not cooperate with such an investigation, while the Australian government and department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is going into a now well practiced mode of damage control.
The Australian government, including PM Rudd and Foreign Minister Smith, have predictably – and correctly - said that the matter is a judicial one that does not involve political intervention. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono is likely to say much the same, although a government spokesman has already reacted with some hostility.
It is hardly novel that a politician looking back at the glory days of office will want to ensure that their political legacy looks as positive as possible. And for whatever faults one might find with John Howard’s period as prime minister, he was a politically-successful prime minister.
One wonders, then, why Howard finds it necessary to create a palpable fiction over his commitment to East Timor's independence, which he claimed was both inevitable and that he would go along with it. Similarly, one wonders why a journalist of Paul Kelly's stature would participate in the peddling of the fiction that "the Howard government decided in early 1999 to work for East Timor's independence", given evidence to the opposite is both overwhelming and freely available.
Colonel Muammar Qaddafi has been the leader of Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya since September 1969. After 40 years in control of his nation, Qaddafi is actually the world’s longest serving non-monarchial head of state.
From being the leader of a successful military coup to being America’s bête noire of the 1980s and then the head of a much-vilified rogue state under twenty-seven years of UN sanctions, the mercurial Qaddafi has lately steered his nation to something of a rapprochement with the West, been elected to the chairmanship of the African Union and simultaneously had a very public falling out with some of his Arab leaders.