Don’t demonise Indonesia!

Don’t demonise Indonesia!

Our relationship with our Asian neighbour has to be grounded on constructive collaboration and effective cooperation, writes JOHN BARR, UnitingWorld‘s Associate Director, Church Solidarity – Asia.

“A Bloody Business” is a rather emotive title for a television report – and such a title is guaranteed to create a lot of interest!

The ABC TV program, Four Corners, (Monday June 6, 2011) documented horrific scenes from a number of Indonesian abattoirs where cattle from Australia were brutally treated during the slaughter process.

Viewers were understandably horrified and it provoked strong reactions across the country concerning animal welfare and the humane treatment of livestock.

This week, the Australian Government responded to these outcries by suspending the export of all live cattle to our near neighbour.

A lot is being said on this issue. Animal welfare and the humane slaughter of livestock is a practice that most Australians hold to without question. And, sadly, Indonesia is being singled out as being a rogue nation. Indonesia is being identified as a nation that does not adhere to these fundamental values.

Terms including “barbaric” and “sadistic” are being employed here. A letter in the Sydney Morning Herald (Thursday June 9) states that “No civilised nation should be party to the barbaric slaughtering methods used in countries such as Indonesia.”

Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country. Islamic practices require animals to be slaughtered according to the principle of “Halal” and this involves a swift, deep incision to the animal by cutting the jugular and carotid arteries while leaving the spinal chord in tact. During this action the name of Allah is recited. Muslims claim this is a humane method of slaughter.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Muslim leaders state that the scenario presented in the recent Four Corners program does not adhere to Muslim practices concerning the slaughter of animals. Indonesian law stipulates the humane treatment of animals.

Indeed, it is wrong to suggest Indonesia is a “barbaric”, “uncivilised” place where Islamic law promotes cruelty and the abuse of animals. Clearly, the horrific methods documented by the Four Corners program identify activities in abattoirs that do not meet Indonesian Government regulations and do not conform to Islamic law.

There are sensitivities here. Australians are often quick to criticise Indonesia. We fall into the trap of engaging in “megaphone” diplomacy where problems are highlighted and judgments are made, often without much thought or consideration. We rush into making statements that offend.

Decisions are made that disadvantage others. Australians are subsequently suspicious of Indonesia. Many of us feel uncomfortable and are on the defensive concerning our near neighbour.

Perhaps this is because there are 240 million people living in Indonesia while Indonesia boasts the world’s largest Muslim population. Perhaps it is related to Indonesia’s former annexation of East Timor or to the ongoing actions of an Islamic minority.

Perhaps it is because most of our trade with the wider world moves through Indonesian waters while most overseas travel must pass through Indonesian airspace. Or perhaps it is due to the massive differences that exist between Indonesian and Australian cultures.

Indonesians are very much aware of this situation and they are keen to overcome the gaps, to pull down the fences and to deal with the stereotypes.

A recent press release from the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra is an important example here. Referring to the Four Corners program, the document says:

“Indonesians themselves are appalled at these findings, especially considering that the widely accepted convention in preparing Halal food stipulates the humane killing of livestock with proper Islamic prayers beforehand and applying one stroke in the jugular area to guarantee the least amount of pain to the animal. This principle underlies the expectations of the general public in Indonesia, almost 90% of which are Muslims who expect nothing less than a strict adherence to the Halal stipulative.”

This press release concludes with an offer to receive support from the Australian Government on the provision of animal welfare in Indonesia.

The Indonesian Embassy press release stands in contrast to some of the accusations being made here in Australia about Indonesia. Australia must be careful here: it is wrong to demonise Indonesia.

The way forward is through respective engagement. Our future with Indonesia can be best established by careful listening and learning. Our relationship with our Asian neighbour has to be grounded on constructive collaboration and effective cooperation.

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