Mon, 31 Oct 1994

On colonialism

Feathers ruffled, Mr. de Kort has, rather too defensively, launched into an emotional diatribe against me (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 27, 1994) in order to defend his sophistry and, it seems, to take yet another opportunity to extol the virtues of Dutch education. Would it be superfluous to ask which educational system he is a product of?

Mr. de Kort claims to be a purveyor of factual observations, despite his obvious error, for instance, in asserting that, for Indonesians, international or European education is less accessible today than during the old colonial days. In his latest letter he makes yet another error in blandly asserting that the immorality of colonialism was not perceived at the time (he means, of course, not by the colonizers as opposed to the colonized!).

Heart of Darkness written by the Pole, Joseph Conrad, in 1902, would help to remedy that misperception. In any case, colonialism was not homogeneous by any means. For instance, Major William Thorn in his book, The Conquest of Java, written in 1815, states that the Dutch "for two centuries drew from (Java) immense supply of wealth" but that little was "comparatively done under their direction, either for improvement of such valuable possessions, or in satisfying the natural desire of men to acquire knowledge of the regions."

He also states that "the entire history of the Dutch dominion in the eastern world, exhibits a perpetual spirit of encroachment" and he goes on to describe the oppression of the natives by barbaric methods of torture. These are very disapproving observations from a man who was himself an agent of colonialism. Before the rather worn and suspect look-in-your-own- backyard argument is used against me again, let me make it clear that I am not making any claims as to British innocence and nor am I castigating the Dutch. It is systems of discrimination in general and especially the attitudes which perpetuate them, which deserve severe rebuke.

If, as Mr. de Kort rather ingenuously claims, he knows more about colonialism than I, why, during his effusive eulogies on Dutch education replete with value judgments, does he not offer some perspective by applying similar value judgments to the conditions which prevailed in Indonesia at the time? A bare hint of an acknowledgement of colonial malpractice would make him more credible and offer some relief to the anguish of Indonesians like Mrs. Sumarsono.

How can there be "better understanding of what really happened" when such tendentious, one-sided and unbalanced accounts are bandied about, much to the indignation of those Indonesians who have already suffered sufficient indignities during colonial times. If Mr. de Kort wishes to relate history accurately then he must look at, understand and feel for both sides. After all, it was the failure to do this which led to colonialism in the first place and which perpetuates North-South injustices today. If you talk to Indonesians, Mr. de Kort, you will find that I am far from guilty of being plus royaliste que le Roi; however, with regard to certain attitudes which determine foreign policy in the former colonialist countries today, unfortunately, it is a case of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.