State killings: 'Death is theirs, honour is ours'

State killings: 'Death is theirs, honour is ours'

Man, death and honour are interrelated in certain ways. Those whose lives end are solemnly buried, commemorated and remembered. To honour the dead, we are preoccupied with their memorable past and live with a common memory.

For them we pray they will rest in peace: RIP, requiescat in pace. Everything will have to be done for their sake and we accept this.

For God, as they say, made destiny.

Years ago a Dutch anthropologist, based on his ethnographic descriptions of historic and complex funeral rituals, argued that what happens is precisely the opposite.

It's all about those left by the dead since the ritual actually reflects who among the living are to deserve the honour in the first place.

Rhetorically, it's a tribute for the dead; actually, it's a message of classifying honour from among and between the living.

That's what happened when society's first-class members - the state dignitaries and the aristocracy - were involved in funerals. All this has, to this day, basically structured events upon the death of any citizen.

However, when it comes to deaths caused by the state's actions - be they legal, extra-legal or summary executions and massacres - that system of symbolic honour and messages is intentionally, abruptly and radically disrupted.

State killing is now re-packaged as a political issue and justified despite God's destiny, with which the believers themselves abruptly intervene.

Here is the case par excellence about honour among those left by the dead, but that has to be claimed, which the modern state usually did forcefully and almost absolutely.

Indeed, in the case of the eight drug-dealing convicts executed on April 29, no one would expect the state to honour the dead - no matter what crimes they were formally indicted with.

Quite the contrary: the South Sumatra governor banned the burial of one convict, Zainal Abidin, in his hometown of Palembang and there is no clarity on the state of the mental health of the schizophrenic Brazilian convict Rodrigo Gularte during the court proceedings.

Not surprisingly, hopes of a change of heart by state dignitaries, given the good behaviour of some convicts, were ignored.

Instead, and quite consistently, the state dignitaries, supported by the greater public, took the honour for themselves as they justified the killings with the absolute claim of guarding state sovereignty "to save the future of the nation".

Any opposition to that claim would touch the nerves and the sensitivity of the state and the general public - even more so when it's loudly pronounced by foreign states. It's not just because of high nationalistic fervour.

The state, i.e. the weakened president, badly needs the claim to reassert credibility to enforce the law; yet he might welcome critics as he can use them to strengthen his position to show he is not a puppet.

There seems to be little space, unfortunately, for sensible arguments timely put forward by experts at home and abroad that pointed to the state's own Constitution (which acknowledges "the right to live"), to the state's policy inconsistencies (on drug-related policy and in relation to death penalties for Indonesians abroad) and to the fallacy of the use of the statistical method (which absurdly concludes "40 to 50 deaths a day", as the president quoted, because of drug abuse).

Thus, however much we cherish the rule of law, the question arises as to how the state could claim the honour of respecting and strengthening state sovereignty over law when much of its apparatuses are corrupt.

Worse still, it has been a public secret that the illegal drug trade, thanks to corrupt public servants, continues from inside the prisons.

Moreover, in the case of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, when the foreign press just days before the executions reported that the judges had attempted to extort bribes from the accused, Jokowi responded by asking, "Why didn't they say it earlier?" Did the president implicitly acknowledge those mistakes?

If so, why didn't he try to postpone the executions and review the cases - as what happened with Veloso? If it's true that there were serious deficiencies that are ultimately fatal, why didn't the state issue a mea culpa instead of proudly defending its honour and sovereignty?

None of the above, needless to say, is to deny that drug abuse could potentially be the nation's first enemy.

Nonetheless, to have capital punishment at all and to apply it in deficient way is a serious matter that needs to be addressed.

If the death penalty and the way it is implemented may put the state in an awkward position, even more so, potentially, do the past state killings.

The announcement that Jokowi's administration plans to resolve seven cases of human rights violations should be welcomed. However, one case of state killing - that of the rights activist Munir - is missing from the list without explanation.

Of the seven cases of state killings and atrocities, the 1965 human catastrophe is the most serious.

Here, too, the state had throughout Soeharto's period claimed the credit and honour, however bloodily achieved, for having "saved the nation". Its political and mental legacy has since remained strong among the establishment - although not without serious queries.

State-sponsored massacres thus convey a similar message to the state's legal killings and historic funeral rituals.

They all celebrate their credo: death is theirs, life is ours, and so is honour.

To many it's time to rethink state discourse and practices.

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