Thu, 29 May 2003

Support the war -- or else

Ugly scenes straight out of the days of the New Regime continue to confront us. This time, it was Tuesday's attack on the office of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

The incident immediately brought to mind the same way used in the past to force consent -- violence, conducted shamelessly in broad daylight, because the perpetrators know they will most likely walk free.

In this particular case, the consent sought was evidently that no one should speak up against the war in Aceh, or should do so at the peril of being called a traitor of the "patriotic" and "nationalistic" cause.

A group of men in fatigues, claiming to be from the Pemuda Panca Marga, raided and vandalized the office, destroyed equipment and assaulted five staff members, oblivious to the fact that people have become sick of such shows of force and hoodlumism committed by uniformed men, complete with military- like berets.

For Kontras, this was the second attack since last year and the fifth attack on the office or its personnel since 2000. The reason of the "visit" by the youth organization, which was formerly associated with the Golkar party, was because Kontras has been outspoken regarding the "integrated operation" in Aceh.

As we have seen, there is an abundant source of inspiration for such attackers in civilian and military authorities, and no less in President Megawati Soekarnoputri herself. An ugly sense of premonition followed her words that pro-democracy people who did not support the government line regarding Aceh "should just move out of the country."

Her words rang just like President George W. Bush's "either you're with us or with them", and of course, contributed to an effect similar to what happened in the United States -- the shoring up of nationalism, no questions asked and isolation of those who opt for different views, which we later ridiculed as the war in Iraq progressed.

Therefore, the President herself and other authorities should be held responsible for encouraging such violence, particularly given the fact that the impact would predictably be worse in this nation where the culture of violence and impunity still prevails.

No further action will be needed once a new justification for attacking human rights activists appears.

Kontras and other like-minded organizations stand for human rights, while the attackers and like-minded parties support the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia at all costs.

As historians, sociologists and other experts have tirelessly argued, there is much that has been left misunderstood or ignored in the public discourse regarding our past and recent history, including Aceh and the decision for a military approach.

Even without hoodlumism, it is a struggle for many here to accept views other than those they have been taught to believe.

The decision to go to war has been taken, but allowing violent campaigns to quash efforts at an enlightened dialog and what the civilian population could hope to gain -- they only show how the old ways have continued to prevail for the benefit of those in power.