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Honor the Victim or Glorify the Criminal?

Editorial: Bali Update's Editor J. M. Daniels Reflections on Indonesia, the Execution of the Bali Bombers and Capital Punishment.

(11/8/2008) The following previously published op-ed piece by Bali Update's Editor, Jack Daniels, origingally appeared elsewhere in the week before execution of the 3 men charged with masterminding the Bali bombing of October 2002. It is republished here in response to numerous requests from our Bali Update readers.





Honor the Victim or Glorify the Criminal?

If someone was visiting Indonesia for the first time over the past few months they would be justified in wondering what had happened to the nation that once prided itself for embracing Pancasila? Where is the country that championed a belief in God and justice? What had become of the people who embraced the true meaning of "Bhinneka Ika Tunggal" or 'Unity in Diversity" through cherishing the hundreds of ethnic groups that comprise the Indonesian nation each with its own endemic beliefs and cultural traditions?

The modern visitor would have a difficult time finding the Indonesia celebrated and praised around the world only a few years before. Instead, he would encounter legislators who introduce mean-spirited laws that culturally isolate and marginalize entire segments of the nation. And, if that visitor watched an Indonesian TV station, he would be shocked to see men convicted of mass murder, surrounded by reporters like some rock star, boasting of their crime and insisting that most of their victims deserved to die because their religious beliefs differed from their own. That visitor would be justified in wondering if the infamous "Bali Bombers" were awaiting execution or auditioning for a talk show program. In the Indonesia of only a few years ago it would be unthinkable that convicted felons would be allowed to insult the memory or their victims and threaten the President of the Republic on national TV.

Is the mass-media, when providing platforms for threats against Indonesia's legitimately elected government, guilty of seditious activity?

Simple Truths Need to be Plainly Spoken

Many of us still hope and pray that the kindness and simple goodness of the Indonesian people will manage to reassert itself, proclaiming "enough is enough" to the radical fringe seeking to justify hatred and killing by misappropriating one of the world's truly great religions a religion whose very name means "peace." These same radicals brand as "heretics" and threaten revenge on anyone who dare question or oppose their views. As a result, the vast majority of moderate Indonesians who love their nation, celebrate its rich cultural diversity and hold high the virtue of mutual tolerance have found themselves pushed to the sidelines and silenced by the histrionics of a strident vocal minority.

The Execution of the Bali Bombers

More than 6 years after a tragic bombing in Bali that claimed 202 lives, Indonesia appears to be finally moving towards the imminent execution of the three Bali bombers.

We cannot rejoice in the deaths of Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra. To do so would justify killing as a means to an end. Killing was wrong on the streets of Bali in October 2002 and it remains so on a lonely field on Nusakmbangan Island in November 2008.

But, the wheels of Indonesian justice are in motion and the death of the three men now appears inevitable. What is not inevitable, however, is how we will choose to react to the deaths of the Bali bombers. What message does the nation wish to send to itself and the rest of the world by how it responds to these executions? On this occasion, what lessons do we want to impart to our children about the sanctity of human life? Will we allow a radical few who are threatening to demonstrate to seize the day and set the tone for how the nation feels? Or, will wiser voices prevail and use this historic event to remind us of what we have lost as a nation and what can be restored to the national psyche if only we try?

My suggestion is a simple one. Using our individual powers or "networking" we should contact key individuals within the print and electronic print media and request that on the day when the Bali bombers are executed that the media show the names, ages and nationality of all the victims of the Bali bombing.

Note: Such a list should contain 205 names and not only the 202 victims who died in October 2002. The three additional names on the list would be those of the three men executed for the crime - Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra - victims by their own deranged design of the tragic events on that day 6 years ago. In joining these names together we will at once mourn their passing while also ensuring that their names are forever linked with the tragic murder of their 202 victims.

Tat Twam Asi

The Balinese believe in a cosmos composed of all creatures and objects. This belief is embodied in the phrase "Tat Twam Asi" or "I am you and your are me; Thou art that and That thou art." Or, paraphrased in the words of John Donne: "No Man is an island, no man stands alone. Each Man's joy is joy to me, Each man's grief is my own."

If the Indonesia media accepted this suggestion and respectfully published these 205 names it would do much to reshape the national atmosphere that has somehow gone sadly out of synch, while at the same time reminding everyone that both victims and perpetrators are diminished by hatred and killing.

To celebrate the killing of 202 people by praising their killers is wrong. At the same time, it is equally repugnant to rejoice at the death of the criminals who committed the crime.

Let us remember all who have fallen. In the end, the loss of each and every one of the 205 victims of the Bali bombing diminishes us all.

Tat Twam Asi.