(Published by the Jakarta Globe, on 8 June 2015)
Soe Tjen Marching
“Not all truth is good,” says Adi Zulkadry, one of the mass murderers featured in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary film “The Act of Killing.”
“There is a bad truth, that is, the truth that brings up old wounds. If they want to draw attention to old wounds again, this will rekindle war,” Adi says.
Coordinators and supporters of the International People’s Tribunal 1965 face similar reactions, through comments such as “Why are you waking up sleeping lions? Do you want to stir up problems? Do you want to disturb the peace?”
The IPT 1965 is a tribunal that will see judges produce verdicts based on evidence presented, to unveil the truth and demand justice for the victims of the 1965 anti-communist purges. The verdicts will not be legally binding, but they will serve to show that Indonesian governments have thus far failed to take appropriate legal action on behalf of the victims.
However, many remain reluctant to hear the truth, especially as the truth is likely to anger several powerful parties. If the cost is this high, why bother, they say.
Indeed, revealing the truth does not always lead to immediate reconciliation and peace, and considering the magnitude of the crimes of some of these powerful individuals and groups, that is unlikely to happen in this case.
It is easy for the powerful to incite trouble, especially when they can exert influence in the media and have cronies placed in strategic positions. So the calculative strategy of avoiding risks, consciously or unconsciously, has led many people to believe that keeping quiet about human rights violations conducted by the powerful is an acceptable way of maintaining the peace in society.
Peace and reconciliation indeed have a great ring to them — how could anyone oppose them? Surely only troublemakers?
The problem is, however, that these two words do not mean anything without truth.
Can we speak of true peace and reconciliation when victims are still oppressed? What is the point of peace and reconciliation if disadvantaged groups continue to suffer?
Peace that exists at the cost of sustaining injustice (in this case the stigma of the victims and their families), is merely a peace for those in power: a partial peace, a manipulative one. And one of the dangers is that this situation will nurture the idea that peace can only happen if we please the people in power and if we appease them so they would not show their anger. In short, this would be a peace based on threats and fear.
The revelation of truth, especially when it is related to exposing decades-long official deceit, raises the spectre of conflict, because the authorities will create a propaganda campaign to deny the painful facts.
In such a situation, who is responsible for stirring up trouble? Who disturbs the peace? Definitely not the truth itself. Also not the victims.
It is the anger of the people in power whose lies are about to be revealed that is to blame.
Even the most famous campaigner for non-violent resistance, Mahatma Gandhi, had been branded as a troublemaker by colonial British authorities in India.
Winston Churchill, who is considered as one of the greatest British heroes of all time, said it was “alarming and nauseating” to see Gandhi, whom he described as “a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well-known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the Viceregal Palace.”
Gandhi was thus portrayed as merely provocative, an embarrassing person, a lower type of human being — and not as the peaceful and iconic human rights proponent we see today. Remember also that Suharto used to call anyone who dared to criticize him a traitor to the nation and a danger to stability – as if opposing Suharto meant betraying the entire country.
The enemies of the truth are those whose manipulations are about to be disclosed, and for this reason, they see any attempt at revealing the truth as something despicable. So be cautious when anyone claims that attempts at unveiling the truth will merely endanger hard-fought-for peace.
The more we believe in this kind of statement, the more we consciously collaborate with the people who have gained greatly from their lies or even their crimes. The more we let this belief circulate, the more people will be dragged into an endless spiral of manipulation. And the more we keep quiet about manipulation — especially if this relates to human rights violations — the more we allow power to corrupt, and the more we will see confirmed what Adi claims in Oppenheimer’s film: “War crimes are defined by the winners. I am the winner, so I make my own definitions.”
Soe Tjen Marching, the British coordinator of IPT 1965, is currently working on a book chronicling the lives of victims from the 1965 anti-communist purge.