Book on the Bloody Reality of the British Empire

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks Publications 2006).

John Newsinger is the senior lecturer in Bath Spa University College’s school of History and Cultural Studies. He’s also a long-time contributor to the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster. The book was written nearly a decade and a half ago as a rejoinder to the type of history the Tories would like taught in schools again, and which you see endless recited by the right-wing voices on the web, like ‘the Britisher’, that the British Empire was fundamentally a force for good, spreading peace, prosperity and sound government around the world. The book’s blurb runs

George Bush’s “war on terror” has inspired a forest of books about US imperialism. But what about Britain’s role in the world? The Blood Never Dried challenges the chorus of claims that British Empire was a kinder, gentler force in the world.

George Orwell once wrote that imperialism consists of the policeman and soldier holding the “native” down while the businessman goes through his pockets. But the violence of the empire has also been met by the struggle for freedom, from slaves in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya.

John Newsinger sets out to uncover this neglected history of repression and resistance at the heart of the British Empire. He also looks at why the declining British Empire has looked to an alliance with US imperialism. To the boast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the Chartist Ernest Jones replied, “And the blood never dried”. 

One of the new imperialists to whom Newsinger takes particular exception is the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson. Newsinger begins the book’s introduction by criticising Ferguson’s 2003 book, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and its successor, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Newsinger views these books as a celebration of imperialism as a duty that the powerful nations owe to their weaker brethren. One of the problem with these apologists for imperialism, he states, is their reluctance to acknowledge the extent that the empires they laud rested on the use of force and the perpetration of atrocities. Ferguson part an idyllic childhood, or part of it, in newly independent Kenya. But nowhere does he mention that the peace and security he enjoyed were created through the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau. He states that imperialism has two dimensions – one with the other, competing imperial powers, which have driven imperial expansion, two World Wars and a Cold War, and cost countless lives. And another with the peoples who are conquered and subjugated. It is this second relationship he is determined to explore. He sums up that relationship in the quote from Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Newsinger goes on to state that

It is the contention here that imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from this being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless.

The 1964 film Zulu is a particular example of the type of imperial history that has been taught for too long. It celebrates the victory of a small group of British soldiers at Rourke’s Drift, but does not mention the mass slaughter of hundreds of Zulus afterwards. This was the reality of imperial warfare, of which Bush’s doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ is just a continuation. He makes the point that during the 19th and 20th centuries the British attacked, shelled and bombed city after city, leaving hundreds of casualties. These bombardments are no longer remembered, a fate exemplified by the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which we shelled in 1945. He contrasts this amnesia with what would have happened instead if it had been British cities attacked and destroyed.

He makes it clear that he is also concerned to celebrate and ‘glorify’ resistance to empire, from the slaves in the Caribbean, Indian rebels in the 1850s, the Irish republicans of the First World War, the Palestinian peasants fighting the British and the Zionist settlers in the 1930s, the Mau Mau in the 1950s and the Iraqi resistance today. He also describes how radicals and socialists in Britain protested in solidarity with these resistance movements. The Stop the War Coalition stands in this honourable tradition, and points to the comment, quoted in the above blurb, by the Chartist and Socialist Ernest Jones in the 1850s. Newsinger states ‘Anti-imperialists today stand in the tradition of Ernest Jones and William Morris, another socialist and fierce critic of the empire – a tradition to be proud of.’

As for the supporters of imperialism, they have to be asked how they would react if other countries had done to us what we did to them, such as Britain’s conduct during the Opium War? He writes

The British Empire, it is argued here, is indefensible, except on the premise that the conquered peoples were somehow lesser being than the British. What British people would regard as crimes if done to them, are somehow justified by supporters of the empire when done to others, indeed were actually done for their own good. This attitude is at the very best implicitly racist, and, of course, often explicitly so.

He also attacks the Labour party for its complicity in imperialism. There have been many individual anti-imperialist members of the Labour party, and although Blair dumped just about everything the Labour party stood for domestically, they were very much in the party’s tradition in their support for imperialism and the Iraq invasion. The Labour party’s supposed anti-imperialist tradition is, he states, a myth invented for the consumption of its members.

He also makes it clear that the book is also concerned with exploring Britain’s subordination to American imperialism. While he has very harsh words for Blair, describing his style as a combination of sincerity and dishonesty, the cabinet as ‘supine’ and Labour MPs as the most contemptible in the party’s history, this subordination isn’t actually his. It is institutional and systemic, and has been practised by both Tory and Labour governments despite early concerns by the British to maintain some kind of parity with the Americans. He then goes on to say that by opposing our own government, we are participating in the global fight against American imperialism. And the struggle against imperialism will go on as long as it and capitalism are with us.

This is controversial stuff. When Labour announced that they wanted to include the British empire in the school history curriculum, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who wrecked UKIP, produced a video attacking it. He claimed that Labour wanted to teach British children to hate themselves. The photo used as the book’s cover is also somewhat controversial, because it’s of a group of demonstrators surrounding the shot where Bernard McGuigan died. McGuigan was one of the 14 peaceful protesters shot dead by British soldiers in Derry/London Derry in Bloody Sunday in 1972. But no matter how controversial some might find it, it is a necessary corrective to the glorification of empire most Brits have been subjected to since childhood, and which the Tories and their corporate backers would like us to return.

The book has the following contents:

The Jamaican Rebellion and the Overthrow of Slavery, with individual sections on the sugar empire, years of revolution, overthrow of slavery, abolition and the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

The Irish Famine, the great hunger, evictions, John Mitchel and the famine, 1848 in Ireland, and Irish republicanism.

The Opium Wars, the trade in opium, the First Opium War, the Taiping rebellion and its suppression, the Second Opium War, and the Third Opium War.

The Great Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the conquest of India, company rule, the rebellion, war and repression. The war at home, and the rebellion’s aftermath.

The Invasion of Egypt, 1882, Khedive Ismail and the bankers, demand for Egyptian self-rule, the Liberal response, the vast numbers of Egyptians killed, the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, and the reconquest of Egypt.

The Post-War Crisis, 1916-26, the Irish rebellion, 1919 Egyptian revolt, military rule in India, War in Iraq, and the 1925 Chinese revolution.

The Palestine Revolt, Zionism and imperialism, the British Mandate, the road to revolt, the great revolt, and the defeat and aftermath.

Quit India, India and the Labour Party, towards ‘Quit India’, the demand for the British to leave, the final judgement on British rule in India and the end of British rule.

The Suez Invasion: Losing the Middle East, Iranian oil, Egypt and the canal zone, Nasser and the road to war, collusion and invasion, aftermath, the Iraqi endgame.

Crushing the Mau Mau in Kenya, pacification, the Mau Mau revolt, war, repression, independence, the other rebellion: Southern Rhodesia.

Malaya and the Far East, the First Vietnam War, Indonesia 1945-6 – a forgotten intervention, the reoccupation of Malaya, the emergency and confrontation.

Britain and the American Empire, Labour and the American alliance, from Suez to Vietnam, British Gaullism, New Labour, and the Iraq invasion.


































Melanesian journalists decry growing threats against media freedom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/11/2019 - 2:22pm in

Delegates of the first Melanesian Media Freedom Forum. Source: Pacific Islands News Association, photo by Georgina Kekea

Journalists from Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and West Papua gathered in Brisbane, Australia for the inaugural launch of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum which was organized in response to ‘increasing media repression’ in the region.

The outcome statement of the event highlighted the main threats against media freedom in Melanesia:

The range of threats to media freedom is increasing. These include restrictive legislation, intimidation, political threats, legal threats and prosecutions, assaults and police and military brutality, illegal detention, online abuse, racism between ethnic groups and the ever-present threats facing particularly younger and female reporters who may face violence both on the job and within their own homes.

Participants asked Melanesian governments to ‘respect the media and its necessary place in national conversations’ and ‘assure the safety of journalists as they pursue their professional activities.’

Melanesia. Source: Wikipedia, Oceania_ISO_3166-1.svg: User:Tintazul, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Various issues were tackled during the forum such as surveillance, workplace conditions, climate change, and the impact of social media. Philip Cass, acting-editor of the Pacific Media Centre’s Pacific Journalism Review, also documented a session about some of the challenges faced by women journalists:

A special session on the experiences of women journalists took place later in the morning, with women journalists, editors and freelancers speaking about common problems.

These included demands that they show “respect” for men they are interviewing, a background of violence against women in many places and traditional notions of gender roles.

An unexpected moment in the forum was the unfurling of West Papua’s independence flag. West Papua is a province of Indonesia where foreign journalists are barred from entering. Tension has intensified in recent years as some ethnic groups continue to assert their right to self-determination.

The Melanesian Media Freedom Forum also issued specific demands addressed to national governments. For Papua New Guinea, the government was urged to ‘respect the independence of media institutions and journalists’ and ‘strengthen anti-corruption and whistle-blower protection legislation to include journalists and media practitioners.’ For Fiji, the government was asked to repeal the media decree which has ‘draconian penalties and the vagueness of offenses it establishes are having a stifling effect on free media.’ For Vanuatu, the government was shown an appeal of the participants to reverse the work permit rejection given to Daily Post media director Dan McGarry.

MacGarry said his visa was denied because of his criticism against China’s growing influence in Vanuatu. His situation got worse because he was barred from entering Vanuatu after attending the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum.

Scott Waide, a journalist from Papua New Guinea, wrote an appeal on behalf of other participants:

As a member of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum, I am joining my colleagues in calling on the Vanuatu government to allow Dan McGarry the dignity and respect he deserves.

It is important that media freedom in Melanesian is protected by our ELECTED governments. Any attack on members of the media is an attack on the freedom of expression of the people.

Melanesian governments cannot pay lip service to international conventions and commitments to democratic freedoms and in the same breath issue orders to clamp down on journalists right to expression.

The outcome statement of the Melanesian Media Freedom Forum concluded with a commitment to ‘establish a network to assist participants to respond promptly and effectively to threats to journalist safety or to media freedom.’

Students shot dead as West Papua protests continue

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/10/2019 - 4:04pm in

Lethal violence
from the Indonesian military and security forces has generated an
“unprecedented crisis” in West Papua, according to human rights lawyer Veronica

In late September, a new wave of demonstrations by
Papuan high school students ended with Indonesian police firing on student
protests in Wamena, killing 31 people.

Witnesses told The Guardian that the
demonstration turned violent after police opened fire, saying, “The police shot
at the Papuans. There were about 16 to 20 people who died directly on the
street that I saw.”

Some reports put the number
killed higher, but figures cannot be verified due to the Indonesian
government’s shutting down of the internet, phone lines, and restriction of
access to Wamena hospital where bodies were taken.

The crisis, sparked by racist attacks on West Papuan
students in August, have been the catalyst for demonstrations involving many
thousands of Papuans, on a scale not seen for several decades. Central to the
mobilisations are calls for the end of the decades-long Indonesian occupation.


Indonesia’s military has launched concerted attacks in
the Nduga regency in the highlands, resulting in the displacement of over
38,000 Papuans.

The crackdown began just after 1 December 2018. Across
Indonesia more than 500 people were arrested for attending protests that day.
The date marks the first raising of the Morning Star flag and the attempted
declaration of independence, before Indonesian troops arrived in 1963.

Following the protest in Nduga,
independence fighters and local villages killed a number of Indonesians
constructing a road project. The West Papuans say these were military

In reprisal, the military bombed
the area using white phosphorous, according to a report by John Martinkus and
Mark Davis in The Saturday Paper. Military operations are still ongoing.

The Australian government has backed Indonesia, with
Scott Morrison simply urging, “calm on all sides”.

Australia is also complicit in the atrocities,
training Indonesian elite special forces Kopassus and Detachment 88, which have
been used against West Papuans.

The Lombok Treaty,
agreed by the Howard government in 2006, recognised Indonesia’s “territorial
integrity”, cementing support for the Indonesian occupation. Labor’s
Shadow Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has likewise pledged that, “Labor fully
respects the territorial integrity of Indonesia”.  Australian support for the repression must
end. The struggle for self-determination and freedom in West Papua needs our

By Jasmine Ali

The post Students shot dead as West Papua protests continue appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Largest protests since 1998 shake Indonesia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/10/2019 - 4:02pm in

Tens of
thousands joined mass protests across Indonesia in September—the largest the
country has seen since the movement in 1998 that brought down the dictator
Suharto. Police have used heavy repression. Five people have died and several
hundred have been injured and arrested.

The protests were triggered by
revisions to the Law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and a draft
bill revising the criminal code.

The KPK was set up in the post-Suharto period and has
achieved convictions against high-profile members of the police, politicians
and businesspeople. The government is now seeking to weaken it.

The revised criminal code
includes a swathe of anti-democratic clauses. If passed, it will criminalise
insulting the president, vice-president or government, spreading communist or
Marxist teachings, vagrancy and premarital sex. It will also further
criminalise abortion and blasphemy.

Other laws including the mining law, the manpower law
and the land law are also facing changes. The revisions will give incentives to
investors while weakening the rights of labour and agrarian activists.

The revisions reflect the growing strength of the
right in Indonesia. The Jokowi government is pursuing these revisions while
refusing to move on draft laws on the elimination of sexual violence and the
protection of domestic workers.

Protestors are also demanding the government ban the
Indonesian military and police personnel from holding civilian offices, end the
militarism in Papua and release political prisoners, end the prosecution of
activists, stop the fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra and punish the corporations
responsible for them, and put human rights violators on trial.

The demonstrations have largely been coordinated by
the student movement. Some unions and agrarian organisations have joined them.
However, the presidents of the major union confederations KSPI and KSPSI have
failed to support the protests. They opportunistically hope to secure the
Manpower Minister position in the upcoming cabinet.

The demonstrations have forced
the government to delay discussions on the revision of the laws. The students
want President Jokowi to issue a government regulation to annul the law on the
KPK but his coalition in parliament have said they will not support this.

Students are planning further
protests during Jokowi’s inauguration for his second term as president.

By Vivian Honan

The post Largest protests since 1998 shake Indonesia appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Leave.UK and Boris Now Using Racism to Push Brexit and Get Votes

I suppose it was inevitable. I realise not everyone, who voted for the Leave campaign is racist by any means. A lot of working class and left-wing peeps voted to leave the EU no doubt because of the very real problems with it. Private Eye has been describing for years its corruption, its lack of democracy and accountability of its senior officials, and the high-handed way it deals with member states that don’t toe the line. Years ago it described how the-then president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was aghast at the terms it presented him and his country for membership. He complained that his country hadn’t been treated like that for over thirty years. Which meant that he was comparing it to the way it had been pushed around when it had been a Soviet satellite. This drew an outraged reaction from two of the MEPs in the EU delegation, both of whom, I think, were left-wing. One of them was Daniel Cohn-Bendit, French politician, who had been a radical leader during the ’68 revolution. They screamed at Klaus that the EU was definitely democratic, and the architect and keep of peace after the Second World War.  Robin Ramsay, the editor of the conspiracy website Lobster, is an old-fashioned left-wing Eurosceptic. He objects to the EU because economic Conservatism and neoliberalism is built into it. He regards a strong nation state with nationalised industries as the best political and economic system and protector of the rights of working people. Tony Benn was the same, noting in one of his books the real harm membership of the EU actually did to our economy and industry.

But Benn was also realistic, and recognised that we were now also economically dependent on the EU, and that leaving it would also cause severe disruption and damage. 

All of which is not considered by the right-wing supporters of Brexit. They’re not interested in protected our nationalised industries, like what remains of the NHS, because they want to sell it off to the highest bidder. And that means, at the moment, Donald Trump. Thus for all their posturing, they were quite happy to see our railways owned by the Bundesbahn, the German state railway network, and our water by the French, and then the Indonesians. And our nuclear power stations built and owned by the French and Chinese. They’ve got no objections with other states and nations owning our infrastructure, as long the British state doesn’t.

And there is and has always been a nasty undercurrent of racism in the Right’s attitude to the EU. Now with the latest poster from Leave.UK it’s all out in the open. As Mike’s shown in his article, they’ve now put up a poster showing Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her arm raised in a quasi-Nazi salute, or what could be interpreted as one. And there’s a slogan ‘We didn’t Win Two World Wars to be Pushed Around by a Kraut’.

This is just pure racism, expressed in racist language. And the imagery is offensive and wrong. As Tony Greenstein showed in his article, the CDU had its share of former Nazis amongst its members. And incidentally, so was the Freie Demokraten, the German equivalent of the Liberal party. Back in the 1980s there was a massive scandal when it was revealed that neo-Nazis had all been infiltrating them. Even the odd member of the SPD has been outed as a former member of the Nazi party. But that doesn’t mean that the CDU, or any of the other German democratic parties are really Nazi, simply because they’re German. I think Merkel herself is genuinely anti-racist, and tried to demonstrate how far her country had moved from the stereotype left over from the Third Reich when she invited the million or so Syrian and North African refugees to settle in the Bundesrepublik. It backfired badly on her, as people, not just in Germany, were afraid their countries were going to be swamped by further Islamic migrants and the wave of 200 or so rapes by a minority of them provoked an vile islamophobic reaction. But Merkel herself, and her people, aren’t Nazis and aren’t engaged in some diabolical plot to dominate Europe by stealth. As I’ve blogged about endlessly, ad nauseam.

Mike’s article cites the comments from three continental papers, who I believe have rightly assessed the situation and BoJob’s shenanigans with the EU. They differ in that some of them think the Blonde Beast is aiming for a no-deal Brexit, or that, denied that, he wants a Brexit extension. But whatever the outcome, he wants most of all to blame it on the EU. Those nasty foreigners are responsible! He and the Tory press are trying to present it as though Boris and the Tories have done everything they can to secure a deal, and it’s all due to those horrible, intransigent foreigners, and particularly the Germans, that they haven’t. Thus they’re seeking to work up nationalist sentiments so that they’re voted back in with a massive majority, having seen their lead in the polls.

I can well believe it. It’s what they’ve always done.

I remember how the Tories became the Patriotic Party under Thatcher in the 1980s. Thatcher stood for Britain, and anyone, who opposed her and the Tories more widely was definitely not One Of Us. They were some kind of traitor. The Labour party was full of Commies and IRA sympathisers, as well as evil gays determined to corrupt our youth in schools. Thatcher represented Britain’s warrior heritage and island independence. She constantly and consciously harked back to Winston Churchill. Their wretched 1987 general election video showed Spitfires zooming about the skies in what Alan Coren drily called ‘the Royal Conservative Airforce’. Over the top of this an excited male voice declaimed ‘We were born free. It’s our fundamental right’. Actually, the quote comes from Rousseau’s Social Contract, and is ‘Man was born free, but everywhere he is in chains’. Which is a far better description of the free trade, low tax world Thatcher wanted to introduce and her destruction of workers’ rights and the welfare state. Thatcher was our bulwark against domestic terrorism and the IRA at home – even though she was secretly negotiating with them – and the Communists and Eurofederalists of the EU abroad.

The Tories continually used the imagery and memories of the Second World War and the Empire to drum up support.

It’s a crude, nationalistic view of British imperial history. The idea that somehow we stood alone against Hitler during the Second World War is a myth, but one that all too many of us buy into. We survived and were victorious because we had the support of our empire. We were fed, and our armies staffed, by the colonies, including those in the Caribbean, Africa and India. If it hadn’t been for them and the Americans, we would have fallen as well.

And the history of the British empire and its legacy is mixed. Very mixed. I don’t deny that many of the soldiers and administrators that founded and extended it were idealists, who genuinely believed they were creating a better order and were improving the lives of their imperial subjects. But there was also much evil. Like the history of the Caribbean and the slave colonies in North America, or the treatment of the Amerindians and other indigenous peoples, like the Maoris or Aboriginal Australians. They weren’t noble savages, as portrayed in the stereotypes that have grown up around them. But they didn’t deserve the massacre, displacement and dispossession they suffered. The Irish patriot, Roger Casement, was a British imperial official, and was radicalised by the enslavement of South American Amerindians by the British rubber industry in the Putomayo scandal. This turned him against British imperialism, and made him an ardent fighter for his own people’s independence. To get a different view of the empire, all you have to do is read histories of it from the perspective of the colonised peoples, like the Indians or the slaves in the Caribbean. Or, for that matter, the horrific treatment of Afrikaner civilians in the concentration camps during the Anglo-South African ‘Boer’ War. In too many cases it was a history of persecution, dispossession and oppression, fueled by greed and nationalism.

Ah, but the British Empire stood for democracy!

It was largely founded before the emergence of democracy, which everywhere had to be fought for. And parts of the British imperial establishment remained anti-democratic after the Liberals extended the vote to the entire working class and women at the beginning of the 20th century. Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two world wars states that sections of it were not happy with the extension of the franchise in the 1920s, especially the diplomats and administrators in the Indian office, like Lord Curzon. It’s highly dubious how much of a patriot Churchill was. In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, Orwell remarked in one of his press articles how strange the times were, with Churchill ‘running around pretending to be a democrat’. And there was a very interesting article years ago in the weekend edition of the Financial Times that argued that it was only because Britain needed allies during the Second World War, that the English Speaking Union appeared as one of the leading organisations in the spread of democracy.

But still we’ve had it drummed into us that the Empire was an unalloyed, brilliant institution, our country is uniquely democratic, and the Tories represent both and our national pride and heritage against the depredations of Johnny Foreigner.

Salman Rushdie and the rest are right. We need proper, balanced teaching about the Empire to correct some of these myths.

Supporters of the Labour Party and Remain campaign in response to the latest eruption of bilious racism and xenophobia have released their own posters. One shows Boris Johnson and has the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fascist’. Another shows Nigel Farage with the slogan ‘We Didn’t Win Two World Wars to Be Pushed Around by a Fraud’. At the bottom is another legend, reading ‘Let’s Not Leave EU’.


They’re right. And the Tories and the Leave campaign are whipping up racism simply for their own benefit. If they get a no-deal Brexit, or win a general election, they will privatise the NHS, destroy what’s left of the welfare state. Our industries will be massively harmed, and whatever’s left of them will be sold to the Americans. 

It will mean nothing but poverty and exploitation for working people. That’s how the Tories use racism and xenophobia.

Don’t be taken in by their lies. Stand up for democracy and peace and harmony between peoples and nations. Get rid of Boris, Farage and Aaron Banks. And support Corbyn and Labour.


We Are Not Monkeys!, by Peter Arndt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/10/2019 - 9:54pm in

The date 15 August 1962 is significant in the history of the people of the western half of the island of New Guinea, the place commonly called West Papua. On that date the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which had occupied the territory since the nineteenth century, and the Republic of Indonesia signed what was called the New York Agreement. For some years, Indonesian president Sukarno had been pushing hard for the territory to be handed over by the Dutch, but the Netherlands was not keen to agree. Under pressure from John F. Kennedy’s administration, which wanted to keep Indonesia as a friend of the West, the Netherlands, which had been preparing the people of Western New Guinea for independence, agreed to hand over the territory, first to a UN Temporary Executive Authority and then to the Republic of Indonesia.

The agreement was supposed to give all adults a free choice between staying with Indonesia or becoming independent, but  in 1969 Indonesian authorities organised what many observers consider to have been a sham vote of just over 1000 Papuans. It resulted in West Papua’s integration into the Republic of Indonesia.

Overwhelmingly, Papuans have never accepted their land’s being integrated into the Republic of Indonesia. They have resisted the occupation tenaciously throughout the subsequent decades to the present. Most Papuans have resented Indonesian rule and many have expressed this resentment publicly in various forms of protest. This protest has attracted swift and sometimes very dismissive and brutal responses from both Indonesian authorities and Indonesian migrants who have moved to West Papua over the years to seek economic opportunity.

Fast forward fifty-seven years to 16 August 2019 and we see an incident that suggests that nothing much has changed in all that time in the conflict between the Indonesian authorities and the people of West Papua. The incident did not occur in West Papua but in the Javanese city of Surabaya: a number of Papuan students living in a local dormitory apparently burnt an Indonesian flag outside their accommodation. This act of Papuan defiance on Indonesian soil provoked a hostile response from a group of Indonesian nationalist militia, who surrounded the dormitory, threatened the students, called them ‘monkeys’ and used other racist slurs, and demanded that they go home to Papua.

Indonesian police arrived on the scene, but instead of dispersing the militia they threw tear gas into the dormitory and eventually arrested forty-three of the students. There are reports that the students were beaten by police while in detention. Although the students were eventually released, the damage was done. The incident sparked a wave of protests across West Papua. The last five years had seen demonstrations in support of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), a coalition of major Papuan political groups formed at the end of 2014. The ULMWP is engaged in an ambitious mission to convince the world to support the right of Papuans to be free and independent. The protests inside West Papua have often been organised by a group of young nonviolent activists, the West Papua National Committee, and the ULMWP’s representatives inside West Papua. However, the current wave of demonstrations has been, for the most part, organised by university students incensed at the pervasive racism, marginalisation and violence that have marked the treatment of Papuans by Indonesian security forces and migrants since Indonesian occupation in the 1960s.

Since the beginning of the current wave of demonstrations, over 6000 extra police and soldiers have been flown into West Papua to ensure that Papuan dissent is crushed decisively. The internet has been shut down in many parts of the region to make it more difficult for Papuans to inform the world about the actions of security forces.

Sadly, dozens of Papuans, including schoolchildren and even toddlers, have been killed during the demonstrations throughout August and September. Some of these conflicts have descended into turmoil, with public buildings being set alight. Alongside Indonesian police and soldiers, growing bands of militia threaten and abuse Papuans during the demonstrations. In major cities such as Jayapura, security forces are stationed on the streets every 50 metres. Indonesian migrants freely roam the streets, brandishing machetes and other weapons. They confront Papuans, telling them that they should migrate to other countries in the Pacific if they do not want to be part of the unitary Republic of Indonesia.

Dozens of Papuans have been rounded up by police and detained. Reports suggest that they have been beaten with wooden and metal rods, burnt with cigarettes and stomped on while in custody. Many have been charged with vandalism offences allegedly committed during the violent demonstrations. Authorities have claimed without any evidence or justification that Papuan activist leaders inside and outside the country have ‘masterminded’ the protests, the violence and the property damage. Key leaders of the freedom movement are in hiding, but some have been captured and face charges of treason. On 4 October seven of them, including Buchtar Tabuni from the ULMWP and Agus Kosai and Stephen Itlay from the West Papua National Committee, were flown out of West Papua to East Kalimantan, where they will be tried.

In the Central Highlands city of Wamena at least thirty people were killed in violence that erupted during one of the demonstrations. This resulted in many Indonesian migrants evacuating the city, and security forces and militia blockading all roads into and out of the city and controlling departures at the local airport. Many Papuans in that city are fearful of what will happen. Rumours have spread that Indonesian extremists are using new laws to form militia groups to defend the integrity of the Indonesian republic and to threaten and attack Papuans who seek independence.

Papuan church leaders have issued several statements condemning the violence of the security forces and calling for the extra troops to be removed from West Papua. They also suggest that there is evidence that the security forces have worked with the militia to light the fires, damage property, and cause more violence and mayhem. The church leaders have called on the president of Indonesia to sit down and engage in dialogue with the political leaders of the Papuan people, the ULMWP and other major groups in West Papua. In a surprising development, President Widodo is reported to have said that he is now willing to meet with Papuan leaders, including representatives of the ULMWP. However, experience suggests that such presidential peace offers do not result in any concrete action.

The situation is tense. Papuans are gripped by fear and are pleading for help from Australia and other countries. Yet, in the face of this prolonged and significant violence, the response by the Australian government and others across the world has been very limited. The Republic of Vanuatu is leading efforts to instigate a strong response from the UN and the international community. Vanuatuan and Papuan leaders have reminded the Indonesian government that it promised the former high commissioner for human rights that his representatives could visit West Papua to investigate the human rights situation freely. President Widodo made that commitment in February 2018, but the UN is still waiting to be allowed into the troubled territory. Human rights defenders and journalists have found it very difficult to enter West Papua and to investigate the situation there freely. Indeed, when the current conflict erupted, military authorities announced that foreigners would not be permitted to go to West Papua.

Those of us who have travelled to West Papua and spoken to many Papuans in all walks of life are not surprised by the current developments. The basic elements of the conflict in West Papua have remained constant. Papuans do not want to be part of Indonesia. The Indonesian government persists in using a repressive and brutal military and police strategy to try to quell Papuan resistance, but Papuans are amazingly resilient in the face of sometimes immense brutality—as occurred in the Central Highlands in the late 1970s, in Biak in July 1998 and in Paniai on 8 December 2014. The arming and training of militia to back up the repressive presence of security forces has heightened Papuans’ feeling that they are under siege. Papuan resentment is fuelled by a deep-seated racism evident in the attitudes, behaviour and actions of many of Indonesia’s security forces and those of Indonesian migrants. As more and more Indonesians migrate to West Papua, Papuans are losing their traditional lands and control of their economic resources. They see their traditional cultures and languages being marginalised. They see the unrelenting march of Indonesian nationalism in their land rapidly wiping out their identity as Papuans.

A young Papuan filmmaker recently sent me a photo he had taken during one of the recent demonstrations. It is of a Papuan with a placard in Indonesian that translates as: ‘We Are Not Monkeys!’ After decades of being told by many Indonesians that they are inferior and uncivilised, after years of being called monkeys and having Indonesians hold their noses in their presence, after being repeatedly humiliated by many forms of discrimination by Indonesians, Papuans are saying loudly and clearly that they have had enough, not only of this treatment but of Indonesian occupation of their land.

The current period of conflict is seen by many Papuans as a critical moment in the history of their struggle. The growing aggression and arrogance of Indonesian security forces and militia means that they face the prospect of annihilation as individuals and, more importantly, as the First Peoples of the land of Papua. The stakes are now high and many are prepared to risk all to take on the armed might of Indonesia, not with weapons but with a commitment to an idea—an idea that has stubbornly resisted Indonesian efforts over the past fifty-seven years to stamp it out. The idea is that Papuans have an inalienable right to live in freedom in their land of West Papua. Their courage and commitment is remarkable. May this idea continue to shine brightly in their hearts like the morning star that is the symbol of their struggle for freedom. As Papuans defiantly proclaim, I say Papua Merdeka! Free Papua!

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/02/2015 - 10:16am in