Our place in the international neighbourhood
7.06.2004 | Andrew Cameron and Tracy Gordon | Briefing 013Tweet
Xenophilia is commanded of us: the neighbour whom we are to love is the foreigner whom we encounter on the road. [Oliver O'Donovan]
Jesus' repeated citation of Leviticus 19:18b, “love your neighbor as yourself”, has had a spectacular effect upon the world. As more and more people took this word seriously, the world eventually caught on to the fact that all people are equally precious—which is something like what is meant when people speak of ‘human rights’.
Of course a part of this story is the way Jesus also blew the doors right off any attempt to limit the idea [Luke 10:36-37]. Once a Samaritan treated a wounded Jew according to Lev. 19:18, there was no longer any space for the self justifying question, “and who is my neighbour?” After this incident, and Jesus' subsequent action to save people “from every nation, tribe, people and language” [Rev. 7:9], we become able to love people of different national or social groupings.
But for us, there is a downside to this development. It can be extremely draining to love neighbours when there are so many ‘neighbours’, and in an age where every night, television introduces us to hundreds or thousands or millions more, who we will never meet face-to-face. Love for the neighbour can easily degenerate into a vague sense that although people out there might matter, there's not much that we can do about it.
A good antidote to this is to focus again on particular people, who are nearby. John makes a related point when he says that “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” [1 Jn 4:18] The call to love, it seems, begins with those whom we live, work and church near. This stops it becoming abstract.
Is something like this also the case when it comes to thinking about other nations? The quotation above, from Oliver O'Donovan (who is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University), reflects a general position argued throughout his work that groups of people (such as nations) need to take an interest in particular groups of other people. That is, rather than holding a general goodwill for ‘the world’, we need to pay special attention to those with whom we share borders, or natural resources, or cultural ties, or the bonds of family.
The purpose of this briefing is to begin to help us think about the nation of East Timor. Rather than arguing for or against anything that is happening there, we simply want this to be a background briefing. Of course, thinking about whole other nations might not be for everybody: after all, you may already be hard pressed just to keep up with the particular people nearby. But since our leaders have a particular relationship with the people of East Timor, it makes sense if some of us become more familiar with the place and its people.
- East Timor is the eastern half of the island of Timor, located on the northern edge of the Timor Sea, roughly 500km north of the Western Australia/Northern Territory border. The whole island is about 350 km long, and East Timor itself is roughly 200km long, not including another enclave on the northern shore of the Indonesian-controlled western half of Timor. (For a handy map, see http://www.etan.org/timor/1whitepg.htm.)
- The population of East Timor is 0.998 million (as at July 2003). It consists of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of which are of Malay descent and some of older Papuan stock. There is also a small ethnic Chinese minority. The people are predominantly Roman Catholic (90%) with some Muslim (5%) and Protestant (3%) groups. There are smaller Hindu, Buddhist and animist minorities. East Timor's two official languages are Tetum and Portugese.
- In December 1975, Suharto's Indonesia invaded East Timor, which at the time was being taken over by its own population after the collapse of the Portugese empire. Controversy surrounded what some saw as U.S. and Australian ‘authorisation’ of the invasion. Since East Timor has oil reserves, and since the Indonesian army relied on the U.S. for 90% of its arms, it seemed to some that Australia was conscious of obtaining more favourable terms of trade from an Indonesian government than from an independent East Timorise government.
- The UN Security Council ordered Indonesia to withdraw, but to no avail. Within a few months 60,000 Timorese had been killed. The massacre continued, peaking in 1978. The toll to-date is estimated to be at 200,000, which some calculate as the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust. But Western media coverage was light.
- In 1989, Australia signed the Timor Gap treaty with Indonesia, relating to oil within “the Indonesian Province of East Timor”.
- In 1999 the East Timorese people were given the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted their independence from Indonesia. They chose independence, and violence erupted. Images and reports of fighting, looting, arson and murder committed by pro-Indonesian militias and Indonesian troops were beamed around the world.
- The UN authorized an international force to enter the country, to provide protection and security to the local people. On 12 September 1999 Australian troops joined those from other nations to provide security and to allow local people to begin rebuilding. The Australian-led International Force in East Timor comprised at its height 6300 troops. InterFET, as it became known, was headed by Major General Peter Cosgrove. In February 2000, InterFET handed over much of its role to a UN force—the UN Transitional Administration East Timor (UNTAET).
- In May 2004, five years after more than 14000 UN troops and police restored order to a devastated East Timor, and on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the country's independence, Dili took over responsibility for its defence and internal policing. President Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, and the departing UN police and peacekeeping commanders were all confident that the country's new police and defence forces were sufficiently well-trained and equipped to cope on their own. The UN and Australia have each left behind small forces.
- Oily issues. The country has energy deposits worth an estimated $A20bn in royalties. Controversy surrounds Australia's continued access to these reserves: a recent report released by Oxfam Community Aid Abroad is critical of Australian interests on the island, and warns that East Timor risks becoming a failed state unless Australia comes to a fairer agreement over sharing of oil reserves. Approximately $A40 million was allocated for East Timorise foreign aid in the 2004/2005 Federal budget, but a dispute has arisen between the two governments over these oil reserves, and over the Australian government's method of negotiating maritime boundaries covering the country's oil fields. Australia has received approx $2.1 billion in royalties from oil and gas since 1999, compared to total aid contributions of $234 million, although this figure does not include the cost of Australia's substantial military and police presence since independence. A spokesman for Alexander Downer said that the Australian Government had been “extremely generous” to East Timor, and the Australian Government maintains that the dispute is a legal issue, not a moral one, and has indicated willingness to meet twice yearly (but no more) to discuss maritime boundary issues.
Over time, we will keep you posted on East Timor and will pass on more about the oil dispute. Perhaps we can all start noticing anything reported about East Timor, so as to become more knowledgeable about (and more able to love?) these near-neighbours.
O'Donovan, Oliver, The Just War Revisited. Cambridge: University Press, 2003.
Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, Two Years On…What future for an independent East Timor, 20 May 2004; can be viewed at: http://www.oxfam.org.au/campaigns/submissions/easttimor/twoyearson.pdf
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade brief on East Timor: http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/east_timor/index.html
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