Friday, February 20, 2015

What about the victims of the heroin trade?State murder is appalling, but I'm struggling to feel sympathy for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

What about the victims of the heroin trade?

State murder is appalling, but I'm struggling to feel sympathy for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, writes Jonathan Green.

It's complicated.

I don't want them to die. At least I don't think I do. Much less to endure the seemingly endless agony of this waiting, of imagining each waking as your last, of tensing your body against the still unknown but seemingly inevitable impact of bullets ripping through the air and then your own soft, unguarded flesh at around 700 metres per second.

But then I think of all the young people who would have died back in 2005 if their plan to bring 8.3 kilograms of high grade heroin into this country had come off. The nine would have been better than $4 million richer. The drug would have been cut and wrapped and sold to the eager, the sad, the hooked, the adventurous ... to anyone with a fistful of dollars capable of finding a dealer and a vein.

It was a seller's market for heroin back then. The glut of potent smack that cut a swathe through the young and the desperate in the 1990s had subsided; the flow had been staunched and soon the source of supply would swing from South-East Asia to Afghanistan.

Importing eight kilos of the stuff in 2005 had an edge of racing certainty about it: it would sell, and for big bucks. There was a Faustian element to this transaction of course, the well-known risk of apprehension in Indonesia, of life imprisonment or death.

Some of the people who eventually consumed that eight kilos - twisted into little wraps of foil, tapped into spoons, heated, sucked through trimmed cigarette filter into needles blunted by use - some of those people would have died. Many alone. A sad reality of heroin overdose is its propensity to take the solitary, the drunk and the unsupervised, people falling quickly into that last long sleep. Even without the contribution of the Bali 9's eight kilos, 131 people would die of heroin overdoses in Australia in 2005.

The Bali 9 set that reality against the certainty of their enrichment; the most brutal and callous entrepreneurship imaginable. The risk? Their own lives, of course.

State murder is appalling, futile and unpardonable. But part of me is also appalled by the callous indifference of young men who would happily sacrifice the lives of others to fill their own pockets. And yes, with the leisure of this past decade, this pause for enforced reflection, they have changed; found God, learned to paint, gone off drugs, regretted their youthful indifference and greed.

They should still probably rot in jail. Tell the lover, parent or partner of a heroin overdose victim that the street smart punk who imported the drug now regrets that decision and you may not find a sympathetic ear. There's no chance for redemptive reflection for someone turned cold and blue with the needle still stuck and bloody in their stiff and livid arm.

Chan and Sukumaran knew this ghastly downside and were happy to profit from that misery. They also knew the risk of shuffling from Denpasar trussed like suicide bombers with taped bags of powder worth so much more than gold.

It's complicated. And if they die in these next few days it will bring a collective outraged gasp in this country from a people who choose not to imagine this cold calculation of their crime but only their rehabilitation and goodness.

We'll gasp in part through empathy with these two sad individuals, but also in outrage that this brutal execution should be done to two of us: Australian boys.

The proof of this will be the absence of even a murmur when the next boatload of foreign nationals is tied to posts to front the Indonesian firing squad.

Our hypocrisy in the face of state murder will be made plain by warm relations with a Saudi Arabian government that happily stones women to death or hacks off their heads for sorcery. It will be there in our readiness to forgive a Chinese government that kills thousands each year and keeps no accounting of their deaths. And there too as we look out on the 3035 Americans on death row as at last October, without making so much as a peep of protest.

No street vigils. No celebrity videos. No formal representations. Not a care.

The difference of course is that these thousands of victims are not Australian, which leads you almost inescapably to conclude that it is not the killing of Chan and Sukumaran that offends us so much as the impudence that this penalty should be directed against us.

What a ghastly web of complication it is, how repellent of any simple sense of certainty.

Jonathan Green hosts Sunday Extra on Radio National and is the former editor of The Drum.


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