Missouri riots shine light on race inequity
On Anzac Day in Washington, DC, this year, your columnist had a brush with the law.
Hopelessly lost following GPS instructions to the dawn service at the Korean War memorial, I saw a gathering of cars and turned in, only to find myself inside the police compound for the White House perimeter guard. The young black officer I asked for guidance ordered this ageing, hard-of-hearing, white male to back off and keep his hands in full view. Thankfully my explanation for suspicious behaviour at 5am was accepted.
I wonder what might have happened if the race and age equation had been reversed, and the place not the comparatively integrated DC. As the incident that led to the protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, this week showed, far too many young black men get shot by white police and security guards in the United States on trivial grounds or misplaced apprehension, whereas white renegades such as the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his heavily armed vigilante supporters get coaxed into surrender.
The escalation of the Ferguson incident has been distressing to watch. Instead of all the military-style equipment the police are acquiring, the US would be better served by gun control and more representative community policing. Meanwhile, its anxious conservatives should be thankful the poor are so easily diverted by patriotism and religion, instead of rioting at rising inequality and falling real incomes. No doubt the conservatives will be helped by Ferguson at the midterm congressional elections in November.
A Hippocratic code − such as the one in which doctors promise to “do no harm” − has been worked out for Australia’s spooks in their surveilling of Indonesia.
The Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, etc, can carry on spying, but not with any intent to “harm” Indonesia. The same good intent applies to BIN, Indonesia’s national intelligence agency, and its military counterpart.
Julie Bishop is flying to Jakarta to sign the Joint Understanding of a Code of Conduct on intelligence-gathering with her opposite number Marty Natalegawa, in the presence of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or SBY. Whether Tony Abbott will make time to attend was unclear at time of writing: his recent travels to Europe to buy into the Ukrainian, Iraqi and Scottish issues may have seen the “Jakarta, not Geneva” mantra put aside.
It’s all a solemn piece of nonsense, of course. Spying on Indonesia has long been the core mission of Australian agencies, a reality the Indonesians have accepted in the spirit that “to know us is to love us”. Only in extremis, notably in the Timor-Leste crisis of 1999, has there been a direct warning that “we know what you are up to”.
The joint understanding, an attempt to regulate one of the world’s oldest professions, was sparked of course by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of an ASD PowerPoint presentation boasting of the ability to monitor SBY’s mobile phone, along with those of his wife and key ministers. Understandably SBY took umbrage, withdrawing his ambassador from Canberra.
With dignity restored, I was told at a recent lunch with old hands in Jakarta, the basic rule remains: “Don’t get caught.” It seems the main risk of that lies with Washington and its vast numbers of personnel with high-level security clearances − ironic really given the historic obsession in Canberra’s defence establishment with showing we can be trusted with US secrets.
Restored relations with Jakarta will help Canberra steer through the transition of power in Jakarta to president-elect Joko Widodo or “Jokowi” on October 20, and intelligence-sharing will be important in preventing support for the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) among some of South-East Asia’s Muslims developing into a new wave of terrorism.
According to Greg Barton, a Monash University specialist on Islam in Indonesia, between 150 and 200 Indonesian jihadists have gone to fight with the IS, a similar number from the southern Philippines and a smaller bunch from Malaysia. Last month, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the cleric behind the Jemaah Islamiyah movement responsible for the anti-Western bombings in Bali and Jakarta, is said to have joined 22 other prisoners in their jail on Nusakambangan Island in an oath of loyalty to the IS.
It’s not at all clear that the IS will take off more widely in the region. Hundreds of Ba’asyir’s supporters have parted company with his current outfit, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, out of revulsion at the mass executions of captured fellow Muslims by the IS. The Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the semi-official council of leading clerics, has also come out against the IS and its caliphate notions. Relations between the IS and al-Qaeda, up to now the main inspiration for South-East Asian jihadists, are tense, though the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen has just given sympathetic advice to IS (“watch out for drone strikes”). So far the IS, with its focus on gaining familiar territory and establishing a religious state, looks more like the Taliban of Afghanistan than al-Qaeda and its terrorist war against the West.
Still, the potential recruits are there in great numbers, and security agencies are bracing for the release of most of the 900 or so Jemaah Islamiyah terrorism convicts at the end of their sentences over the next few years. Indonesian and foreign police agencies think about 40 per cent have been even more radicalised behind bars.
This week on The Conversation website, Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian doing a PhD at Monash on jihadism, points out that overcrowded jails have become centres of extremist propagation. “Prison staff must stop the translation of jihadi books and manuscripts from within prisons as well as the ease with which inmates can use smartphones,” Ismail says.
The large Australian Federal Police group in Jakarta works closely and effectively with the main Indonesian counter-terrorism police taskforce, known as Densus 88, and this has continued under the radar during the recent intelligence spat. But tracking the Middle East connections of South-East Asian jihadists needs the kind of capabilities that the “Five Eyes” (US, British, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) electronic spying alliance can provide, when it’s not tapping the mobile phones of allied leaders.
Hitler has become something of a role model for some Indian politicians, it seems.
This week, the chief minister of the recently created Telangana state, K. Chandrashekar Rao, known as KCR, declared his willingness to be likened to the late Nazi dictator. “One says KCR is Hitler, another says KCR is a dictator; KCR is definitely Hitler for thieves. I want to be Hitler for the corrupt. I don’t feel shy. KCR is Hitler to stop injustice. I can even be Hitler’s grandfather,” Rao told reporters in Hyderabad.
We wait to see if Mohan Bhagwat, head of the quasi-fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps) in which new prime minister Narendra Modi started his career, also accepts the label “Hitler” conferred by the opposition Congress Party after he declared India to be a Hindu nation with Hindutva (Hindu-ness) as its identity.
But quite a lot of the less worldly Indians have long failed to see what the fuss was about Adolf Hitler, who promoted “Aryan” racial superiority and borrowed the ancient good-fortune symbol of the swastika. The popular brew German Lager once had the Nazi version on its label, and as recently as 2006 some bright sparks in Mumbai thought “Hitler’s Cross” a good name for their new restaurant. In politics, a “Hitler” is a firm leader who gets things done, says commentator Vinita Deshmukh. “I remember one such obsessed admirer of Modi telling me in no uncertain terms, “If Modi is a Hitler, then Hitler is what we need in India!”
Whatever the domestic appeal, Modi, who has just gone from being persona non grata in the US to a White House invitee at the end of September, would be wise to disavow the comparison. Still, it’s somehow good to know that even in India’s ancient civilisation, politicians are almost as wild with words as those in our wild ex-colonial new nation.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 23, 2014 as "Missouri riots shine light on race inequity". Subscribe here.