Sunday, January 18, 2004

Story of an impossible struggle
Shelley Walia

East Timor: Genocide in Paradise
by Mathew Jardine.
Odinian Press, Chicago. Pages 95. $ 8.

East Timor: Genocide in ParadiseIN the light of the East Timor crisis, it is important to see the defense of democratic culture as central to the understanding of imperial/fascist histories and our theoretical concerns which deal with positions of ideology and aesthetics within a historical context. Such a view of history requires a perspective, a good deal of rethinking in the light of the unprecedented historical developments unsettling the world during the last century. Indeed, the political and theoretical left has to learn to reread culture from a new perspective and show ways of developing and living a renewable stream of ideas. The cultural and political logics of liberation and ideology have helped in reconceptualising the nature of class, power and the conditions of existence in modern societies.

In this book, Matthew Jardine and Chomsky tell the story of East Timor’s daring struggle against impossible odds, and clarify why one so infrequently hears about it in the western media. Media coverage had declined from a substantial level before the US-backed Indonesian invasion to ‘flat zero as the atrocities reached their peak with increasing US support.’ The writers also propose ways by which one can assist these long-suffering people gain peace, freedom and justice they ought to have.

Mathew Jardine is of the view that the disruption brought about by Chomsky’s analysis is the main intention of his political philosophy and is probably the single most significant contribution from an intellectual to the final freedom and independence that East Timor enjoys today. Thanks to the media’s self-censorship, no pressure of the opposition was ever brought to bear upon the active participation of the US in supporting genocide in this country. It has to be understood that East Timor was not Bosnia, or Rwanda or Chechnya and there was absolutely no need of sending in troops or aid. It would have been enough to just turn off the aid. Interestingly, it was Chomsky who first wrote an article on East Timor making the public in the West aware of the atrocities carried out for over three years without being reported in the mainstream press. He has often expressed his sense of guilt at his long silence, especially because of the serious nature of the killings here which were at a higher scale than the Holocaust if taken relative to the population.

Noam Chomsky’s activism inspires many throughout the world to claim their humanity. He has stirred many to continue to struggle for basic human rights, human dignity and democracy. East Timor and the brutality perpetrated by Indonesia against it with the backing of the US, Australia and United Kingdom is one such country which has recently emerged out of a dark history and to a great extent, it is Chomsky who has promoted a public opinion that finally brought International pressure on Indonesia to relent.

The problematic nature of all centred discourse is examined in detail by Matthew Jardine with reference to East Timor. As Chomsky writes: ‘Quite apart from the critical importance of their struggle, the remarkable courage of the Timorese people, and the growing number of Indonesians who are supporting them and are demanding justice and freedom in their own country, should be an inspiration to all of those who recognise the urgent need to reverse the efforts to undermine fundamental human rights and functioning democracy that have taken such an ugly and ominous form in the past few years, and to move on to construct a social order in which a decent human being would want to live’.

The brutalities of the Indonesian army are well known. Surprisingly, East Timor had a negligible mention in the Western press at the height of this crisis. Chomsky is supported in his arguments about the role of the media by Mathew Jardine who writes: ‘The Los Angeles Times is a typical example. From August 1997 till the December 7 invasion, it ran 16 articles dealing with East Timor. But from March 1976 to November 1979 – at a time when Indonesia’s occupation was described, in a report to the Australian parliament, as "indiscriminate killing on a scale unprecedented in post-World War II history" – East Timor wasn’t mentioned once’. The complicity of America and especially Japan cannot be overlooked. The west did not have to bring any military pressure on Indonesia; it just had to refrain from supplying them arms and overcome its greed for the off shore oil of the Timor Gap.

I do not see any ‘moral framework’ within which the US has conducted itself in last many decades. The reason behind the Gulf War was that aggression has to be reversed through the quick use of violence and that all forcible occupation of another country is illegal. But if this principle is applied to the US, it is quickly rejected or overlooked. South Africa is allowed to occupy Namibia and a ‘quiet diplomacy’ is observed for twenty years by the US. The democratic opposition in Iraq stood against Saddam Hussein, and begged America for support, but was out rightly rebuffed. As the views of the democratic opposition that operated in exile cohere with the international peace movement, Washington shows no interest in their struggle. Thus if the aggressor has to be punished in the Middle East, should Israel go scot free? Forcible occupation of Panama by the US also should be punished. Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in 1978 was illegal and supported by the US. Should Cape Town or Tel Aviv or Washington not be bombarded, as Chomsky argues, for forcible occupation of other countries? The Human Rights Group in El Salvador was brutally tortured and their leader Herbert Anaya murdered for bringing out a signed document of atrocities and heart-rending torture of prisoners under the supervision of American forces. No rules of the game apply here; no diplomacy is used to bring a solution before resorting to violence. Jakarta should have been bombarded for its brutalities against the East Timorese, if one goes by the American rational behind the Iraq invasion.