Chomsky blasts Australia's role in Indonesia


Among NOAM CHOMSKY's public activities during his visit to Sydney was a press conference on January 19. An earlier issue of Green Left Weekly covered part of that conference; here JOHN TOGNOLINI excerpts Chomsky's replies to several questions on Indonesia.

The argument's been if we don't sell them [Indonesia] arms, someone else will.

There's proof of it: when the US stopped selling them arms, Australia moved right in to do it. Australia is a small player. As soon as the US began to back off, Britain saw the opportunity, especially under the Thatcher government, just as they were selling arms to Saddam Hussein and so on.

They'll happily sell arms to anybody. They moved in on a massive scale. France will try. In fact, all the way down to the Swedish Social Democratic Party: as soon as they got into office, they switched from being pro-Timorese to being pro-making money.

These things are largely symbolic. The fact that the US is not selling arms is a message to Indonesia. It's saying, "Look, the world doesn't like what you're doing".

The Wall Street Journal has come out in an editorial saying Indonesia should get out East Timor. Does this mean East Timor is no longer a radical issue, and what does this say about your media theory of manufacturing consent?

The idea that one should oppose murder and aggression is not a radical position.

As far as the mass media are concerned I think it illustrates the thing I've often said. The news part of the Wall Street Journal is some of the best news coverage in the world. The reason is one that I've talked about. Their constituency is people who matter. That's the business community, and the business community has to have a fairly realistic picture of what is happening in the world; otherwise they're in trouble.

So the news coverage in the WSJ and in the Financial Times often tends to be the best. The editorial stance of the WSJ is jingoist fanaticism; I usually read it for comic effect. That editorial stance of the WSJ in this I think reflects an opinion of corporate America.

The opinion of corporate America is: our interest in Indonesia primarily is robbery; it's to gain access to its resources and to control them and make profit and have super-cheap labour. Those interests are not being enhanced by the international program associated with this relatively marginal question.

There is enough popular protest so they just don't want to be bothered. It's gravel in their shoes too. And their advice to Indonesia is: get it out of your shoes, you're going to control the place anyway through neo-colonial methods. So just get out and let them have their vote for independence and figure out ways of robbing them. We'll get their oil anyhow.

What do you think of the democratic movement in Indonesia?

Indonesia imposed incredibly harsh censorship over what it was doing in East Timor for the usual reasons. They are afraid of their own population. Every state from totalitarian to democratic is afraid of its own population, and that's the primary reason for government secrecy.

In the case of East Timor, the Indonesian government was so afraid of its own population that it kept the whole thing secret. Indonesians simply didn't know. Indonesian students who came to the US were amazed to discover what their government was doing. They didn't believe it at first.

But it is gradually seeping through, partly because the soldiers are coming back, families know somebody was killed, things drift out. There are some very courageous people — George Aditjondro is the most well known — who have been working on this for years and have been outspoken. It's not easy to be outspoken in Indonesia.

Several of the Indonesian student associations have come out with quite strong statements calling for Indonesia to get out. There is a union movement. Most of the leaders are in jail or get killed, but they're fighting.

When people talk about supporting Indonesia, that's just Orwellism. You have to ask: which Indonesia are you supporting? Are you supporting General Suharto and his cronies or are you supporting the people who are trying to organise the women workers under miserable conditions so that they can survive?

You may have seen a letter that Jill Joliffe had in one of the Australian newspapers recently. She's an Australian journalist, who was recently expelled from East Timor, and the Australian embassy treated her pretty badly. In the letter she pointed out that Australia is not making friends with the people who sooner or later are bound to take control of Indonesia, namely its own democratic forces. Those people are going to hate Australia for what it's done. I think she had her finger on the pulse.