Mon, 10 Apr 2000

Colonialism: A pimple?

The preoccupation with Dutch colonialism in the responses to my analysis (East Timor: Dutch war replayed I & II, The Jakarta Post, March 22 and March 23) suggests a curious predisposition to avoid the issue of East Timor. This is apparent as they created a debate on Dutch colonialism -- its achievements, cruelties and injustice -- while my subject matter was quite different and specific, i.e. about war crimes in East Timor and a comparison of this to the Dutch war of 1945-1950 rather than the preceding periods. Apparently, the fact that Indonesia had until very recently been a colonial master of East Timor cannot be accepted yet.

Most of the responses (March 25, March 28, March 29, March 30, April 1 and April 5) are relatively irrelevant, some -- Chichi Marti and Y. Santo -- even resorted to accusations ("neo Nazi", "colonizing movie"), which tell us even less about the subject matter than about the writers themselves. Others -- Bart van Assen, Y. Santo and Chichi Marti -- were more interested in whether Indonesians were more or less capable of atrocities than the Dutch. This seems dubious since both -- i.e. their armies -- had proven to be capable of some barbaric acts. It would be meaningful to search for historic conditions that made these acts possible.

The fact that my critics hardly responded to what happened in East Timor and, instead, rightly or wrongly, blamed Dutch colonialism, is a symptom. It is a measure of New Order propaganda on the "integration" of East Timor. Whenever it comes to "East Timor" (read: our own colonialism), one tends to ignore it, takes a mistaken patriotic stand, or blames others. In 1992 Soeharto said East Timor was just a small distortion, "a pimple on our (Indonesia's) face" -- a "pimple", that is, that his regime itself created, while ignoring his responsibility, i.e. the humanitarian disasters, which many of his generals were acutely aware of. One of his officials in the late 1970s had even reported to Amnesty International that about 200,000 East Timorese had been killed as a result of Indonesia's occupation. A French sociologist (G. Defert, Timor Est, Le Genocide Oublie, 1992) put the figure at 350,000 deaths.

President Abdurrahman Wahid has justly proposed a mea culpa for the killings from 1965 to 1966, but also for the East Timor tragedy when he visited Dili recently. Perhaps, instead of making irrelevant remarks and accusations, my critics should turn to East Timor and answer the following for themselves: Does our former colony deserve a mea culpa or a "pimple"?