Saturday, February 2, 2008

Suharto Dead

Former Indonesian President Suharto passed on Sunday January 27th, 2008 at the ripe old age of 86 years. He had earned himself the unenviable reputation of being among the most corrupt and barbarous dictators of the 20th century.

He had scant regard for human rights and inflicted his authoritarian laws with the heavy presence of iron-fisted soldiers in every village of the 6000 islands which make up Indonesia.

Suharto's graft-ridden reign of terror lasted 32 years until he was forced from power in 1998 by mass public uprisings. Observers claim that during his repressive regime, over a million political opponents were killed in this Southeast Asian nation of 235 million people.

It is interesting to note that during his communist-routing days he was actually considered to be a very close ally of the US government and the blue -eyed boy of other western democracies with their eyes on Indonesia's wealth.

Unfortunately, Suharto's early idealism mutated into malignant narcissism and a profound contempt for his own people not long after he claimed absolute power in 1965. With all the pretensions of the nouveau riche, he distanced himself emotionally from the pain and suffering of others, although professing to be a devout believer in God.

As an authoritarian leader, he shared the blood splattered spotlight with the likes of Adolf Hitler, Mussolini, Than Shwe of Burma, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe, Mobutu Sese Seko, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Augusto Pinochet, Slobodan Milosovic, Joseph Stalin and the sometimes overlooked duo of King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The list of 20th century dictators would not be complete without a dishonourable mention of Saparmurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan, Charles Taylor of Liberia, Teodoro Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, Kim Jong II of North Korea and Pol Pot of Cambodia, whose despotic government oversaw the imprisonment, torture, exile and murder of 20% of the country's 2 million population.

For economic advice Suharto depended on a group of American-educated economists, nicknamed the “ Berkeley Mafia” to set policy. On their recommendations, he passed a number of reforms designed to promote Indonesia as a center of foreign investment. He sought to privatise Indonesia's resources and encouraged the industrial nations to invest there through favourable labour laws and tax incentives.

His efforts at development however were sabotaged by members of the military and his Golkar Party who used their positions as intermediaries between businesses and the government to embezzle companies and accept massive kickbacks in the name of Suharto and his foundations.

The final verdict is that he mismanaged the country's abundant natural resources. According to Jeffrey Winters, associate professor of political economy at Northwestern University, Suharto's cronyism and graft effectively robbed "Indonesia of some of the most golden decades, and its best opportunity to move from a poor to a middle class country."

Many of us do not possess the cognitive ability to begin processing the true nature of the inner evil which prompt the genocide, material greed, torture, ethnic cleansing and societal rape that defined the brutal regime of Suharto.

The world is yet to agree on what might be responsible for creating this kind of human monster. Some argue that it may be the power-driven ego in overdrive, others claim it is a kind of dementia rooted in the influence of dark, sinister forces beyond our comprehension. The jury is still out on that one but dictators appear have certain characteristics in common.

First of all they sanction the merciless killing of men, women and children using warped ideology to justify their brutality. They are also notorious for torture in every form and for denying their people the right to free and fair elections.

Under their regimes, there is usually a systematic attempt to dehumanize women through rape and other forms of violence.

They amass incredible wealth for themselves and their sycophantic inner circle while keeping the majority of their people in poverty.

There is no way to quantify the depth and breadth human misery that can be attributed to Suharto or any of the tyrants referenced above. The bestial acts they perpetrate against other human beings are unimaginable and some might even say unforgivable.

And yet, as I watched his eldest daughter, Tutut weep for her father as she bid him farewell, I felt my anger transform itself gently into sisterly empathy. In the oneness of Spirit I resonated her her sense of loss at the level of my heart.

I remembered that in the bigger picture of life, it is not up to me, a mere mortal, to judge others.

I can only hope that there is life for Suharto when death is over. I pray that there is healing for all concerned. May he find some kind of redemption at the level of the soul and may his victims be among the first to forgive his transgressions.

-Carol Ann Mohamed

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