Bali, Personal comment, religion, terrorism

When opposition to the death penalty is not opposition to the death penalty

My focus isn’t generally on such immediate and potentially controversial matters but recent developments in Britain cause me to consider the issue of capital punishment. I won’t address the British problem directly, other than to describe the background. My interest is closer to home in matters that are and were similar.

Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh.

The case of Kotey and Elsheikh

It’s alleged that Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, captured in eastern Syria in January 2018, were members of a four-man cell of Isis executioners in Syria and Iraq. It’s further alleged that they are responsible for killing journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines.

We all know about the despicable ways ISIS administered the death penalty.

It has now emerged that both Kotey and Elsheikh have been stripped of their British citizenship stripped, presumably because they were considered members of a proscribed terrorist organisation. Now they face a judicial process, not in Britain but in the USA, where the death penalty is likely to apply if convicted.

It’s complicated. Usually, when British citizens are charged with a capital offence in another country the UK government seeks an assurance that they will not be subjected to the death penalty. British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has written to the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions saying:

“I am of the view that there are strong reasons for not requiring a death penalty assurance in this specific case, so no such assurances will be sought.”

Reaction in the UK where the death penalty has long been abandoned has been strongly critical of the government’s position.

2002 Bali Bombings

When Bali bomber Amrozi was sentenced to Death, Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard played the populist card, as usual. In an interview with the late Mark Colvin he said:

Some people say that I should be thumping the table and saying don’t execute the man. I’m not going to do that because I do respect the judicial processes of Indonesia. I also believe for me to do that would offend many Australians who lost people, who legitimately feel as decent Australians that a death penalty is appropriate.

Howard’s association of decency and judicial murder was Hammurabic in tone. Notions of ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, this primitive sense of justice, resonated well with the mood of some. Simon Crean, Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition wasn’t much better. He said:

“The fact is he committed a crime on Indonesian soil and he faced justice under the Indonesian judicial system. I’m not quibbling with their decision.”

At the time my reaction was just, what weak bunch Australian politicians can be, such an opportunistic lot.

Only Duncan Kerr, former Attorney General, impressed me. He was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald speaking against the against the clamour for blood saying:

“Principled opposition to the death penalty cannot be switched off and on”.

Like many Australians, he expressed something I was feeling at the time when he said:

“I am torn apart by these events but nothing will remake the lives lost or repair the hurts suffered.”

In the same article Duncan Kerr also quoted Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty who said:

“. . . it would be better to have the bombers locked up as common criminals for the term of their natural life than to give the platform they want to incite others to follow in their footstep,” adding “Our leader’s statements not opposing the use of the death penalty may well be turned against us in tragic circumstances . . .”

Mick Keelty understood the dangers of Shahid, something that Amrozi clearly welcomed, as this image of him after the sentence shows.

Cold War, Egypt, history, linguistics, religion

Cairo Mon Amour: a review by Russell Darnley

 

Stuart Campbell has crafted a richly faceted novel taking full advantage of Cairo as an ancient centre of cultural and linguistic confluence. He weaves a tale of intrigue and duplicity that, through his descriptive brilliance, takes the reader beyond the façade of material culture into the complex histories and geopolitical realities of the region.

An occasional visitor to Cairo I found his descriptions of the city and its precincts astutely and artistically rendered. Whether in affluent Zamaleck or the City of the Dead he engages us allowing us to walk with his characters entering, as it were, an impressionistic Cairo transformed by the emotions and plight of the players. His work reveals familiar places, at a different time and under different social and political circumstances.

City of the Dead, Cairo Bertramz. CC BY-SA 3.0

Though a sometimes a reluctant reader of fiction Cairo Mon Amour held my attention to the end. It has its heroes and its villains often with a little villainy in the heroes and heroism in the villains. But who are the heroes and the villains? Why has Bellamy been sent to Cairo in the first place? Is his great love really a Soviet spy? Is MI6 the real villain or the Egyptian army or the Israelis? What of the crafty Pierre?

His work makes thorough use of the Cold War back drop. Politically this is not some simple monochromatic rendition of Cold War dynamics but an intriguing and believable story set against the imminent outbreak of hostilities as Egypt prepares to take back control of the Suez canal and the Sinai.

Egyptian soldiers celebrate the successful crossing of the Suez canal during the Ramadan War (1973-1974)

Now when fundamentalism have taken all too prominent a role in the world, his treatment of the Abrahamic religions, their diversity and their consonance, is a timely reminder that those of us who follow such paths all have so much in common.

Obtain your copy from Goodreads, Amazon or the publishers Austin Macauley. Find more information about the book on Facebook.

Also visit the Cairo Mon Amour website.

Asia, Bali, environment, religion

#UWRF16 – Paradise Revisited a Panel Discussion


The panel was tasked with considering the proposition that:

From busloads of tourists and bustling beaches, to Balinese Hinduism and a global voice, Bali is a place that knows how to adapt.

This is a summary of my introductory comments and a little more that there was insufficient time to express.

As the only foreigner on this panel I’d like to say a little about misunderstandings.

Recently Melbourne Barrister Jim Mellas posted this anecdote on. His Twitter stream.Uber driver: what sort of work do you do?

Jim: I’m a barrister

Uber Driver: I like coffee! Where you work? I come for coffee.

When I first came to Bali such misunderstandings were common enough for me.

One day I was asked

Ke mana, Russell

Saya ke pasar, mau mendapat penjahat

Penjahat, Russell?

Oh, maaf Penjait

My friends were very forgiving.

Misunderstandings arising from language were common in those days and continue but I was determined to learn as much as I could about Bali.

So when I’m confronted with a statement as blunt as Bali is a place that knows how to adapt, in the interests of clarity and efficient communication many questions arise. First, what is adaptation.

In biology – the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. In evolutionary terms this is predicated on the existence of natural selection.

In a social sense: the process of changing to better suit a situation.
Now that makes sense Desa, Pala, Patra – adapting to time – place and context is a commonly understood principle in Bali and therefor a potential strength.

There its no doubt that the connectivity and creativity of Balinese society affords a degree of resilience in the fast of major changes offering many opportunities for social adaptation, many creative solutions.

Indeed the early emergence of cultural tourism in the Gianyar Regency, Ubud in particular, is one such positive adaptation, so too is the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival now in its 13th year. Events such as this add value to tourism, strengthen local capacities to respond and adapt to a changing world, to make a creative response to the the globalised industrial and post industrial economic system now so predominant.

Where I must question Bali’s adaptability is in the domain of the biophysical environment, it’s management and the associated environmental mangement economics or the green economy where the answer to the question is problematic.

At this stage I contend that Bali isn’t successfully adapting in this domain, but retain a significant degree of optimism, given the creativity of the human resources on this small island.

I shape my answer to this question with  spiritual, scientific and economic perspectives.

Spiritually my position accords with that of Patriarch Bartholomew when he writes:

“. . . to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.

For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins.”

As a corollary he adds:

The way “. . . we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God. It is also a barometer of how we view one another.”

When I first came to Bali, I hadn’t developed such insights, I brought my background in Geography and Economics but it wasn’t long before I came up against a Balinese spiritual tool Tri Hita Karana.

In simple terms it asserts that there are three causes of prosperity and happiness and that these states proceed from harmonious relationship between:

(1) Humans and God – Parhyangan;

(2) Humans and their neighbours – Pawongan,

(3) Humans and the natural world – Palemahan.

Its roots are far more ancient, although this doctrine only came into wide use as recently as the 1966.  My sense was that Tri Hita Karana could be applied in a material as well as a spiritual sense yet I saw many examples of lack of material harmony or equilibrium, particularly in the relationship between humans and nature.

What I wasn’t understanding was the application of another set of understandings Sekala and Nislala.  In the simplest sense this means that reality, is an interaction of the Seen and the Unseen. In time I came to accept this idea and have now completed my first book of short stories with this as the part of its title.

Yet in accepting this idea it gradually became plain that harmonious relations between humans and nature were often mediated through ceremonies, through the Unseen realm and that for many this represented sufficient regard for the environment.

This worked well enough in the pre-industrial world even though Bali was by no means sealed and impervious to outside influences. Fortunately, such external influences were for the most part environmentally non-disruptive, by comparison with the present.

Things changed in the 1970s with the growth is wide bodied jet travel and the dawn of the era of mass tourism.

In Bali before this era forces like Bhoma played their part within the unseen realm. As the child of Vishnu and Ibu Pertiwi, Bhoma is an entity whose place is intrinsically connected with the conjunction of earth and water. In terrestrial environments, earth, water, atmosphere and biosphere all meet. All four domains are present in a space where energy is exchanged and fundamental transformations in states of matter occur.

In pre-industrial Bali it was easy for humans, much of what they did was in harmony with nature, so natural processes remained intact and unimpeded. All remained in equilibrium and Bhoma was free to carry out his work skimming across the earth and transforming rubbish into the food of life.

So where are we now? Well Bhoma has indigestion, the heartburn of Tri Hita.

The Bali I encountered, when I first came here has gone. My greatest fear is that given the high demand elasticity of budget tourism in South East Asia, and the mounting numbers of tourists escaping the polluted cities of eastern China and headed for Bali, that they will settle for tarmac, concrete and plastic, a Bali of Benoa Bay canal estates, an artificial and unsustainable paradise.

The solution is in valued added tourism. I’ve always believed that cultural, environmental and educational tourism is something Balinese society can do well. Perhaps there is hope in the Bali Clean and Green Program. What it must deal with and how effective it can be, I hope we will confront, in discussion. If it isn’t effective the answer to the question is an absolute no.

I still want Bali to be the morning of the world, even if it’s moving into the siang, towards midday.

Read more of my work by either picking up a copy of Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific from me at UWRF16 or from Toko Buku Ganesha in Ubud. It’s also available through Amazon and as an audio book through CD Baby. Visit my website for full details.

Seen and Unseen a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is reviewed by Bill Dalton in Toko Buku on page 17  of the Bali Advertiser for October 26, 2016.

View a Pecha Kucha on my work here.

Asia, religion, Singapore

Festival of the Hungry Ghost in #Singapore and #Malaysia some background information

This festival is held during the 7th lunar month. This year it begins on 3rd August with commemorative activities running until 31st August.

Commemorating the Dead

The Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) has uncertain origins. Similar commemorations are found throughout Asia from India  to Japan. The tradition apparently predates Buddhism and perhaps originates from Taoism.

According to one interpretation, the gates of hell are open on the first day of the seventh lunar month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge people who have behaved badly.

J Y See writes: Many of them have suffered in hell where they starved for months making it necessary to feed them with offerings to ward off any evil, hungry spirits.

Believers hold ceremonies and make offerings, chanting together to free and propitiate the ghosts.

Music accompanying the Taoist Ritual of chanting and making offerings to the ghosts
Offerings of beverages, cakes, flowers and fruit
Offerings for the ghosts including wine, cooked poultry and paper ‘money’.

Some Chinese believe the gates of heaven are also open during this month, and commemorate their heavenly ancestors at this time.  Ancestors are often provided with money and consumer goods in symbolic gesture of support

IMG_4683
Burning paper ‘money’, possible symbolic share certificates, stocks and debentures.
IMG_4686
‘Money’ offerings burned by the wayside with cakes fruit, votive candles and incense placed and left on the footpath.
Contemporary offerings that, fabricated from paper and cardboard, that might be used in the other realm.

Since the realm of ghosts and ancestor spirits is an intangible and non-material realm it is the essence of the offerings that must be conveyed.  Ultimately all paper offerings are burned.

All that remains after the paper offerings have been burned

The sense that ancestor spirits are present has some similarities with the Balinese time of Galungan when Balinese ancestor spirits visit their corporal families. This is a time of great conviviality as ancestor spirits are believed to journey back to the corporal world assisted by the construction of penyor, bridges between the unseen world of spirit and the tangible world.

Behaviours to be Avoided During the Hungry Ghost Festival

Since the angry spirits released from hell are about in numbers, there are certain behaviors or activities that must be avoided during the month, so as not to attract or anger them. Believers would attempt to avoid the following:

  • Strolling at night;
  • Swimming. It is said that drowned evil ghosts might try to drown people in order to find victims for them to rebirth;
  • Moving house, starting new businesses or marrying as the month is considered to be inauspicious;
  • Hanging clothes outside at night;
  • Picking up coins or money found on the street and if one does, never bring any home;
  • Stepping on or kicking the offerings by the roadside. If someone were to step on any offerings by accident, he or she should apologize aloud to ameliorate the situation;
  • Wearing red because ghosts are attracted to red;
  • Singing and whistling as these may attract ghosts;
  • Approaching walls as it is believed that ghosts like sticking to walls;
  • Celebrating birthdays at night;
  • Going out at 12 midnight as the ghost may approach you for food and other offerings for them;
  • Opening umbrellas in the house as this might attract spirits;
  • Taking selfies or videos as ghost might appear in them; and,
  • Sleeping facing the mirror or something reflective as this guides the ghosts.

Believers are also advised to be cautious when sitting in empty chairs.

Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits
Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits

 

For more detailed information and videos on the commemoration visit AsiaOne’s treatment of the event.

Christianity and Commemoration of the Dead

In Western Christianity All Souls’ Day commemorates those departed in faith, often with a focus on one’s relatives but also  faithful departed, in particular (but not exclusively) one’s relatives. In Western Christianity the commemoration is held on 2 November and is associated with All Saints Day on 1 November and its vigil Halloween.  In recent years Halloween has been transformed into a secular commercial event.

In the Eastern Church practices vary somewhat in the Greek Orthodox Church the practice is to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since not all Orthodox Christians might have been commemorated in this way four Saturdays are set aside for a general commemoration of souls. This year, 2016 these commemorations fell on 5, 12 and 19 March, as well as the day before Pentecost June 18.  All Saints day followed one week after Pentecost on June 26.

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Aboriginal, Asia, Australia, environment, geography, history, indigenous, Indonesia, Malaysia, religion, Singapore, sociology, Thailand, travel, Vietnam

A sampler of ‘Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia & the #Pacific’

Here is an overview of my book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia & the Pacific with a selection of images reflecting aspects of the stories that unfold in its pages.

Both paperback and kindle versions of the book are available through Amazon.

Further background on my book is also available on it’s website.

Indonesia, religion, sociology

‘Magic, Polygamy & Triangles’, a story from “Seen & Unseen: a century of stories from Asia & the Pacific”

 

This is just an introduction to the ‘Magic Polygamy and Triangles”. After this brief introduction the story segues into the intrigue of a love triangle and magic. In all this is a tale of duplicity, intrigue, fear and accusations of witchcraft.

Australia, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, religion, sociology, travel

The author on “Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from #Asia and the #Pacific”

Common views of Asia and the Pacific, from the outside, often confer undue prominence to such things as typhoons, tsunami, earthquakes, malaria or even magic. While these can be confronting realities in the Asia-Pacific region beyond such differences even more remains unseen and misunderstood. Frequently unacknowledged are the influences Asian and Pacific cultures exert far beyond their borders.

 

Seen & Unseen: A Century of Stories from Asia & the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations of change. It blends anthropology, botany, ecology, economics, geography, history, politics and spiritual traditions. While each story is cradled in reality and crafted with a careful eye for historical accuracy, frailty of memory, the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some fictional even when they are not.

Influencing this work is an acceptance that interactions with people from our own culture are generally tangible and familiar, but when beyond our immediate culture things change. Now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated in intangible, non-rational and unseen ways. Foucault’s notion of the third space has influenced this work. Another influence is the Balinese belief that reality is an interaction of Sekala (The Seen) and Niskala (The Unseen).

Precisely what comprises the unseen realm varies throughout the region. What might be understood as mere micro ecology, in the developed world, can have spiritual explanations in some Asian and Pacific cultures. In rational secular society people commonly eschew magic as mythology or superstition, yet in parts of Asia and the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

The stories

I begin this journey in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company, a tale inspired by the little known ANMEF sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. While easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took an enormous toll. Sid Thompson also appears in Red Poppies and Janur. Several stories address changing Australian views of Japan through the encounters of ordinary people. Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia reveal Asian influences in Anglo-Australia of the 1950s. First Landfall and The Sublime to the Horrific chronicle my own first bumbling attempts at being in Asia. Some 15 stories are set over an 18-year period in Indonesia from the comfort of urban to life to that of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. These begin with tales about engaging with manifest cultural differences and lead into matters of more global significance. Campaign and The General Election take two Australians and Indonesian friends through a transition to democracy. An Unusual Kind Of Thunder and In The Charnel House deal directly with the Bali Bombings of 2002 while My Second Meeting With Jonathan unfolds in its aftermath. Singapore 43 years On is about returning to Singapore, a city transformed. Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told retrospectively from Hanoi. Finally, Sid Thompson returns in the more metaphysical tale Headland.

The basic and enduring interplay of the seen and the unseen worlds is of great significance to those of us from the land that’s girt by sea. While we might choose not to see, to look inwards and to rejoice in the notion that our land abounds in nature’s gifts, regional and planetary systems are unfettered by such introspective cultural constructions.

Sales

You can purchase the book now from Amazon