26 September 2006

East Timor, Genocide and Humanitarian Hubris

I've just had an article printed in Entelequia: revista interdisciplinar (no. 2, 2006), a peer-reviewed Spanish interdisciplinary social science journal published by the University of Malaga, on our "humanitarian" policy in East Timor over the last few decades, including the UN intervention of the late 1990s.

Although Australia's military intervention in East Timor in May 2006 raised obvious questions about western humanitarian motives, those of us familiar with the documented record of western interventionism in the region would not be surprised. My Entelequia piece is titled "Humanitarian Intervention in East Timor: A Critical Appraisal", and offers a historically-grounded critique of the idea that what we did in East Timor is "humanitarian" in any meaningful sense of the term. On the contrary, East Timor was the genocidal outcome of imperial logic at its finest.

After exploring a few of the theoretical issues in defining "humanitarian intervention", I apply the theory to the realities of what happened in East Timor in the context of our relations with Indonesia. It's a grim story of how Britain, the United States and Australia aided and abetted acts of genocide against the Timorese people, all the way until the 1999 UN intervention. The willingness of western power to deploy itself in the slaughter of hundreds and thousands of innocent civilians, all in the service of corporate-strategic interests, should not be forgotten. The ability to do so while deploying the mainstream media to effectively generate exactly the opposite simulacra of events, is also hugely instructive.

Our leaders are quite used to portraying imperial genocide as an act of the highest humanitarian benevolence, an institutionalized political habit that betrays the disturbing dark side of western civilization. This global imperial system, which routinely engages in state-terrorism to protect and perpetuate its own operation, is on no moral high ground.

6 comments:

  1. Salams, Nafeez.

    Thank you for highlighting East Timor again. I am currently reading John Pilger's "Hidden Agendas", which indeed changes the way one looks at the world, as the blurb says. There is extensive coverage of East Timor. Given the Australian government's history, the military intervention this year is not surprising.

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  2. I think the situation of East Timor presents a stumbling block to both those who see the West as the source of all evil and those who view the West as being beset by hoards of "people of colour." It is obvious while some Western powers either oppressed Timor (ex. the Portuguese former colonizers) or turned a blind eye to or supported the Indonesia invasion of the island, the real oppressors of the Timorese people were not Westerners but Indonesians. Even Timorese who acknowledge the Portuguese regime committed abuses say that Indonesian rule was much worse. In fact, a Canadian reporter who went to East Timor during the height of violence in the late 1990s was told by a Timorese man that "We want Europeans to help us sort out our problems." So much for the White Supremacist view that "people of colour" will band together against Europeans and their descendants.

    So don't try to pull the "Whites are the source of all evil" thing when talking about Timor.

    Emilia Liz
    emilia_e_murphy@yahoo.ca

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  3. Well, you can't exactly blame the West for all Timor's troubles; the Indonesians oppressed Timor far more than any Western power did.

    Emily (ehelgersen@hotmail.com)

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  4. Is it not important what the people, especially the deprived and downtrodden lot of East Timor, think about it?

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  5. Yes, many people in Timor believe that rule under the Portuguese, while oppressive, was much preferable to that by Indonesia (example: Constancio Pinto). So yes, the West isn't innocent of what happened in East Timor, but don't tell me that the biggest offender in this story was a Western power.

    Emilia Liz

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  6. I wrote an article on Suharto for this publication: http://www.cynicsunlimited.com/. It mentions East Timor and some of the issues I've discussed here.

    Emilia Liz

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