Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Obama, Yudhoyono, Papua and global peacebuilding

President Obama’s forthcoming trip to Indonesia is an opportunity to congratulate President Yudhoyono for the considerable success he has had as a peacebuilder. He was a worthy Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his contribution to peace in Aceh, and made admirable contributions to building peace in Ambon and Poso, among other places. He could never be a worthy Nobel winner, however, because of the situation in West Papua. President Obama’s visit is also an opportunity to confront the failure to grasp the nettle of peacebuilding in Papua.

The human rights and militarised violence situation in Papua is as bad today as it has been for some years, in the aftermath of a sequence of shooting incidents around the giant American Freeport mine. And it has been continuously bad for half a century. Young men in the highlands grow increasingly cynical of prospects for a genuine dialogue for change with Jakarta as a troop surge moves in.

If President Yudhoyono could show West Papua the same strong leadership and support for peace dialogue that he showed in Aceh and Ambon, he will deserve greatness in the history of his country. At present he appears more like a pawn of the Indonesian military in his timid approach to peacebuilding in Papua. This is a sad contrast with how firm his approach was to move the military from being part of the problem to part of the solution in places like Aceh and Ambon.

Presidents Obama and Yudhoyono have much in common. As the biggest Muslim country, and the most successful one in reducing extremist violence, Indonesia can work with the US to accomplish a great deal as peacemakers to end the era of violence across Muslim-Christian divides around the world. Indonesia has today a prominence it never before had as one of the three largest democracies in the world and the most important Muslim member of the G20. President Obama by his own admission is a Nobel Laureate who has yet to earn that distinction through his deeds. A bold initiative on Papua could be the first step toward both leaders working together to be genuinely worthy of that honour in a sequence of peacebuilding initiatives to unite the Christian and Muslim worlds.

Indonesia suffered an explosion of religious violence, ethnic violence, separatist violence, terrorism, and violence by criminal gangs, the security forces and militias in the late 1990s and early 2000s. By 2002 Indonesia had the worst terrorism problem of any nation. All these forms of violence have now fallen dramatically. How was this accomplished? What drove the rise and the fall of violence? And why has Papua allowed to be such a disturbing exception to this picture of progress?

Durkheimian anomie theory is deployed to explain these developments in a new book by John Braithwaite, Valerie Braithwaite, Michael Cookson and Leah Dunn, Anomie and Violence: Non-Truth and Reconciliation in Indonesian Peacebuilding. Sudden institutional change at the time of the Asian financial crisis and the fall of President Suharto meant the rules of the game were up for grabs. Ultimately resistance to Suharto laid a foundation for commitment to a revised, more democratic, institutional order.

The peacebuilding that occurred was not based on the high-integrity truth-seeking and reconciliation preferred by most western thinkers on peacebuilding and transitional justice. Rather it was based on non-truth, sometimes lies, and yet substantial reconciliation. This poses a challenge to restorative justice theories of peacebuilding with which I have been associated as a scholar. Gotong royong is an example of a core tenet of Indonesian philosophy meaning mutual aid or ‘joint bearing of burdens’, as Clifford Geertz puts it, or ‘reconciliation through working on shared projects’. In many pockets of Muslim-Christian conflict in Indonesia it has meant Christian communities rebuilding mosques they razed during the conflict, Muslims working with Christians to rebuild churches.

Since our non-truth yet reconciliation conclusion was first reported in talks to restorative justice audiences in the US, we have had an interesting reaction from US Christian leaders of the social movement for restorative justice on how American restorative justice might learn from Indonesia. They reflect that in circumstances where a criminal shuns remorse, refuses to confront the truth of his crime, a first step toward truth, remorse and rehabilitation might be the criminal working to help victims of terrible crimes. There may indeed be scope for learning from gotong royong in Obama’s Chicago. And non-truth and reconciliation may be a stepping stone toward truth, justice and reconciliation East and West. By John Braithwaite ARC Federation Fellow and founder of RegNet at the Australian National University.

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