Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power

By Hernawan, Budi | Contemporary Southeast Asia, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power


Hernawan, Budi, Contemporary Southeast Asia


Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power. By Eben Kirksey. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2012. Softcover: 305pp.

Violence in the Indonesian province of Papua remains unresolved. In fact, over the past decade Papua has experienced one of the worst periods of violence in its history, with many killings unresolved. The attention and sympathy of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono towards Papua has been minimal. For instance, as reported by the Jakarta Post on 12 June 2012, Yudhoyono publicly stated, "The recent incidents in Papua can be considered small, with a limited number of victims. They are hardly as severe as the violence in the Middle East where we have witnessed deadly attacks with many fatalities almost every day." While the international community remains disengaged with the current situation in Papua, Papuan aspirations for merdeka (independence) continue to flourish. These calls remain loud and clear despite the continuing Indonesian treatment of Papua as "abject" (J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror, An Essay on Abjection, 1982). This is the context in which Eben Kirksey and other contemporary scholars have tried to make sense of the conflict in Papua, one of the longest unresolved conflicts in the Asia Pacific.

John Braithwaite et al.'s Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and Reconciliation in Indonesian Peacebuilding (2009) provides a lengthy chapter on Papuan peacebuilding. Drawing on John Galtung's perspective of peace, the authors argue that Papua has experienced only an absence of war over the past five decades rather than genuine peace. Moreover, Muridan Widjojo et al.'s Papua Road Map (2010) identifies the major root causes that underpin conflict in Papua. This analysis has been presented to the Indonesian government as a framework for peace negotiations between Papua and Jakarta. Similar to Braithwaite et al. and Widjojo et al., Danilyn Rutherford's Laughing at Leviathan (2012) offers a dense analysis of the notion of sovereignty. This analysis remains the focus of defining the relationships between the nation-state of Indonesia and Papuans, although the latter are able to ridicule the former suggesting a degree of resistance against the domineering power. Overall, these analyses conclude that the main obstacle to peace in Papua resides in the asymmetric power relationship between Indonesia and Papua.

In contrast, the specific contribution of Kirksey is his ethnography of merdeka. Kirksey's analysis offers a new and insightful contribution to this existing literature. It specifically explores the internal dynamics of merdeka drawing on the author's deep engagement with the Free Papua Movement (OPM) over the period 1994-2003. This engagement is remarkable. The tight restrictions imposed by the Indonesian authorities on foreign researchers, journalists and humanitarian organizations travelling to Papua have made Kirksey's work a testament to his commitment to justice, exemplified in this rare and original text. Furthermore, Kirksey asserts that he upheld the integrity of academic research by drawing clear boundaries between activism and academia. This explains the remarkable authorial voice which comes through so confidently in the book.

Kirksey develops an intriguing thesis of "collaboration as an alternative to resistance" (p. 1). This idea strikes at the heart of the Papuan resistance movement, which tends to perceive any engagement with Indonesian authorities as a mortal sin. Collaboration is equated with betrayal. On the contrary, non-cooperation is considered sacrosanct; a common feature of any resistance movement. Kirskey's proposed strategy is not a cynical one. Rather, it is based on a deep sympathy for the Papuan freedom fighters gained during his fieldwork. Moreover, it is an argument based on a well-informed understanding of Papuan factionalism that needs to be resolved in order to consolidate the aspirations of merdeka. …

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