Indonesia / Social Commentary

The answer is said to be death sentence, but what was the problem? Or, a cultural liaison anxiety.

The past weeks Indonesia has been on the spotlight for its policy in putting death sentence to alleged drug trafficking criminals. The act has raise uproar on layers of society in and outside the country. Not to mention causing bilateral nation relationships under a form of stress and tension.

It caught me by surprise that statistics mentioned over 68% of population supports death sentence to the act of drug trafficking. This surprises me because it sort of also means that many people still trust that law and justice works properly in the country, while evidence after evidence shows otherwise. Up to a point I do wonder either these 68% are naive or delusional I really can’t tell. This number also surprises me because these people also believe that the punishment in a form of death sentence will resolve illicit and deadly drug use in the nation-and beyond.

But, what was the question/problem? 

Drug use have been dated since 3000 B.C., all cultures have history of mood altering substances in one form or another. In Java, as Rush (1) puts it, “the characteristic form of opium consumption in nineteenth-century Java was the regular or intermittent smoking (drinking or eating) of very small amounts of morphine weak opium preparations by large numbers of Javanese people. ” Because opium was quite expensive, users consumed only small quantities, thereby escaping severe addiction.

So allow me to then think that the drug itself isn’t the problem, however, it could cause further issue when it is used inappropriately. So, when does it became inappropriate? I suppose many would say when addiction came in. But addiction itself is an entirely issue, it is personal and societal matter that needs to be addressed in an entirely different manner than “kill the mule”. Others would also say when it reaches into the hands of the ignorant and less fortunate. Also when the drugs has push market system selling it at all cost, a mafia if you will.

Admittedly, I am no expert in any of these illicit drug distributions, only a vague idea about it. However, at the same time I do strongly disagree with death penalty policy. And it is truly a shame that Indonesia have taken this path to deal with its narcotics trading.


Cultural (social) anxieties

As someone who works in the cultural side of things, I have grown more aware at the implication what this death penalty policy creates amongst common people. Some said things like “Good riddance” post execution of the duo Bali9, some countries pulls out their ambassador back to their respective countries. And some other provokes by saying things like Australia should cut any relationship with cultural institutions in Indonesia. The National Portait Gallery in Canberra recently took down a photo of Joko Widodo as a precautionary safety act since there seems to be too much of a turmoil and hatred that may lead of harm the photo hung at NPG.

This news, perhaps contrary to what most Indonesian would think, does not solve any problem. It creates even more problems with tensions and anxieties of a different kind, an outrage, even. A cultural tension. Which makes us, me, common people, cultural worker job even harder. What sort of explanation we would have to come up with? I’m sorry, my president is trying to get a foot on the national politics, let us move on with our plan of cultural exchange? I’m sorry our country is out of its wits to deal with its narcotics trade, but hey cheer up at least art won’t cost any lives?

I believe in humanity, in creating a better society and environment for the society. Surely we have learned a thing or two from the history of drug use and addiction. Hopefully effort to abolish death penalty is soon to be realised in Indonesia. Hopefully we could improve our laws and ways with dealing with narcotics issue more wisely.

1 Rush, James R. Opium to Java: Revenue Farming and Chinese Enterprise in Colonial Indonesia, 1860-1910. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.


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