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  • Australia's friendship with Indonesia is bruised but should not break

Australia's friendship with Indonesia is bruised but should not break


Stained Indonesian flagThis week Australia mourns the loss of the lives of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — reformed prisoners both, priest and artist respectively.

In 2005, our nation wept for the life of Van Tuong Nguyen. Now here we stand again. It is a dark day. The real darkness, though, concerns what we have become.

It's not time to run away from Indonesia. It's time to humbly embrace it. With mercy.

The war on drugs in Indonesia is an appeal to state sovereignty, an attempt to whip up votes and promise security against an enigmatic threat.

This theme is familiar to Australia. The war on terror. Stop the boats. Since February last year, four people have died in Australian immigration detention centres, and countless others are dying a slow death via psychological attrition because they pose an illusory threat to our 'security'.

Parading the importance of state sovereignty and domestic politics above humanity promotes xenophobia, and the burden will inevitably be borne by foreigners. It ignores equality and the connection all of us have to each other by virtue of our very humanity. It refuses mercy.

Today, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia — the 'most important relationship' espoused by our Prime Minister — is aching. The friendship is bruised again, but it must not break.

There have been mistakes on both sides. Australia has taken the seas of Indonesian fishermen, it has burnt their boats, it has locked up their children with adults, it has mandatorily sentenced the victims of human trafficking for people smuggling.

Australia polluted our neighbour's closest province with oil that destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of people, and never acknowledged it or cleaned it up. Australia has breached Indonesian borders with its naval ships. It has pushed boats seeking asylum back into Indonesian waters.

Now Indonesia has demonstrated its sovereignty by killing eight prisoners, including two Australians.

People are saying we must boycott Bali, that we must not go to Indonesia. While I understand these sentiments, I do not think this is the answer. To stay within our borders would only maintain the status quo. Instead we must embrace our neighbours and rekindle our friendship.

The Indonesian people and the Indonesian government are two different things. Just as many people in Australia do not presume that their current government speaks for their interests, so, too, many Indonesians are brokenhearted at what their own government has done.

Andrew and Myuran deeply cared for those around them. Andrew has set up a community centre in Sabu Island, Nusa Tenggara Timur. The island is one of the closest in Indonesia to Australia, and was devastated by an Australian oil spill more than five years ago.

It is clear that Andrew sought to fuel the faith, love and life of young people in Indonesia, just as Myuran inspired many with his creativity, humility and care for others. Will we pick up their torch?

In the Bible, Jesus is asked 'Who is my neighbour?', and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. The one who proved to be the neighbour is the one who showed mercy. We asked for mercy and we did not receive it. But that does not mean we should not continue to give it in return.

We quietly hover now in a place of vulnerability that provides a real opportunity, but only if we grasp it. This is a real test of strength.

Emily MitchellEmily Mitchell is a researcher and writer.

Topic tags: Emily Mitchell, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, Indonesia, Australia



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Existing comments

Well done Emily! You have written an excellent article on a difficult subject. I agree with you totally.

Great article! | 01 May 2015  

Thank you It is the only way.

Bernie | 01 May 2015  

I enjoyed the short reflection on mercy at the conclusion of your article, Emily. It's a gem and sounded like the words of someone else: "The greater the sin, the more mercy we must show ....." (Pope Francis, April 2015)

Anthony Pearson | 01 May 2015  

As I read this article I recalled my husband’s admiration for the people of Indonesia. On a number of occasions he sought relief from his business life in Australia, especially after meetings in a location where it was quicker to fly to Indonesia than return home. I joined him once and we spent a week in Sulawesi. He usually spent time wandering between villages, talking to old people who had learned a little English is colonial times, traveling via local transport in places as far apart as Medan and Ambon. He was particularly admiring of the kindness of local people, especially after an incident in Flores when he was traveling in a crowded local bus. He had developed a “tummy bug” and started vomiting. He was put off the bus along with his suitcase and left on the side of the road. He was in a wretched state. In desperation he knocked on the door of a nearby house and asked if he could use their bathroom to clean himself up (he spoke no Indonesian). He was welcomed graciously and treated with genuine courtesy. When reflecting on the incident he used to say: Can you imagine something like that happening here in Australia? He said the local Indonesian people lived according to their faith: they were graciously kind and courteous, welcoming the stranger in their midst.

Patricia Byers | 01 May 2015  

Thank you Emily. In the beginning, (our beginning), God said, 'Let us create Planet Earth as a home for people to share. I will be their Father and they will be my children,- brothers and sisters all.' But 'Sovereign Nations' arose and declared, 'I am not my brother's keeper' and "I will invent weasel words like 'stop the boats' to keep those in need out of sight and out of mind, so as to condemn them to dire distress far away from us. And if anyone whistle blows, we will punish them, if we can get away with it.

Robert Liddy | 01 May 2015  

This article should be sent to the shock jocks of the airways for them to read to their listeners. Perhaps by Emily's thoughtful reflections, so eloquently written, she could touch the hearts of people which are hardened by our politicians whose only ambition is to anticipate the vote count (their way) in the next election. A truly wonderful article, thank you Emily

Trish | 01 May 2015  

Yes, that's so important: "the Indonesian people and the Indonesian government are two different things". And in this case, the president and the government should be clearly distinguished. But it takes intense wisdom, integrity and courage to work out a solution which at one end gives solidarity to Indonesian people (especially those of like values and aspirations) and at the other to demonstrate to a heartless president, out of touch with many of his people, government and broadly accepted consensus of the tragedy of state (presidential) sanctioned murder. And of course, to stand in deep sympathy with family and friends of Andrew and Myuran. All in the context of our federal police having originally acted despicably.

Jack | 01 May 2015  

Great article, Emily. A pity politicians cannot see so clearly.

Ian Fraser | 01 May 2015  

A true Christian sentiment expressed eloquently by a citizen of a country that has long lost its Christianity. This should be compulsory reading for everyone.

john frawley | 01 May 2015  

Thank you so much for writing this well-researched and thoughtful article, which is from a different angle to what I've been writing about myself. I was so focused with the fight to spare their lives and the sense of injustice that their executions entail, that I've been stonkered for the last few days and struck by grief. Not only for the men and their families but also for the lawyer, the Abbott Govt who fought so hard to save them. I feel their deaths are a real blow, or at least a serious challenge, to the reality that humans can radically change and improve themselves. This has been supported by the science of neuroplasticity, which has shown that even throughout the day, our brains are constantly changing.
Thank you for making me aware of some of the broader issues affecting relations between Australia and Indonesia. It's a constant battle to stay informed.

Rowena Newton | 01 May 2015  

You appear to suggest we start living the Gospel! You know, it just might work....Thank you, Emily.

Joan Seymour | 01 May 2015  

Yes, let their legacy be to respect and enhance the lives of others and do as we did after the Bali bombings: stand together with Indonesians to promote understanding.

Libbie Lourey | 01 May 2015  

Well said, Emily. A timely reminder that our own house also has some rather large glass windows. Forgiveness and dialogue should now be the priority.

Paul | 04 May 2015  

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