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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I've deliberately avoided commenting on the Schapelle Corby case for a variety of reasons. Some in the blogosphere, such as Weezil, have thrown themselves into fighting for her freedom. All well and good for a woman seemingly set for a long prison term in Indonesia. Personally, the case against Corby has always seemed highly questionable, to say the least.

Believing her innocence is one thing, slamming Indonesian justice is another. Last night's ABC Media Watch revealed a presenter on Sydney's 2GB Radio, Malcolm T. Elliot, making some utterly unacceptable racist jibes against our northern neighbour. Some "highlights":

"I believe right now Bambam Yodhoyono is sitting up there and his hands are tied because it’s a legal matter. Wham Bam Thank You Mam Yiddi-yono is going to be called into all of these — well, that’s what he is, isn’t he — have you ever seen them? Whoa, give them a banana and away they go ..."

"I have total disrespect for our neighbouring nation my friend. Total disrespect. And then we get this joke of a trial, and it’s nothing more than a joke. An absolute joke the way they sit there. And they do look like the three wise monkeys, I’ll say it. They don’t speak English, they read books, they don’t listen to her. They show us absolutely no respect those judges."

"What about that little midget woman who was up there, what was her name? Midget. Who was the president? Megawati. Megawati midget, yeah. Goodness."

The emotion charged proceedings, and foreign surroundings of the Indonesian justice system, has brought up the sadly familiar Australian trait of mocking a foreign culture. If an Indonesian radio presenter made similiar statements about the Australian legal fraternity, rest assured Ray Martin, Channel 9 and the pack of media hounds would be demanding an official apology. But it's silence when directed elsewhere.

Professor Tim Lindsay, a specialist in Indonesia law and society and Director of the University of Melbourne's Asian Law Centre, argues that the Indonesian legal system has been woefully misrepresented over the past months. Take this exchange from a recent ABC World Today interview:

ELEANOR HALL: "Is it the case that the Indonesian legal system is based on the presumption of guilt?"

TIM LINDSAY: "No, that is completely false. As a matter of fact it is completely the opposite. The system in Indonesia is the same as the system in Australia, and our Commonwealth system. Article 66 of the Criminal Procedure Code specifically states that the burden of proof to prove guilt in a criminal case lies with the prosecution. In other words, that unless the prosecution can prove guilt, the person is innocent. So the common furphy that is being circulated in Australia in the media at the moment that people in the Indonesian system are presumed guilty until proven innocent is totally false."

Presenting these facts is no justification for the myriad of failures at the heart of the Corby case, not least of which was the absence of fingerprinting the suspect's bag of marijuana. My point simply lies in not presenting this case as a prime example of a debauched system up north and a perfect, more fair and equitable arrangement in Australia, one clearly more likely, in the eyes of critic, to return a not-guilty verdict.

On the other hand, many in the Australian media have prejudiced the case beyond belief, making assumptions and claims that would be completely unacceptable if the case was running here. Last weekend's Australian carried a remarkable headline: "Meet the Corbys - a dad with a drug record, a brother in jail, a former bankrupt who wants 50 per cent of the action." ABC's Tony Jones asked Attorney General Phillip Ruddock last night if such behaviour was prejudicial:

RUDDOCK: "Oh, look, I think if it was run in an Australian court, it would be seen as very prejudicial and unhelpful and wouldn't be run in the media. But you still have to look at these matters in the context of how, right from the beginning, these matters have been addressed by the defence using the media."

TONY JONES: "Yes, but this is a case of the media apparently making up its mind about a family and putting out a headline which suggests the family essentially have criminal connections, at a time, just a week away from the actual verdict. Now, given the Internet, given satellite broadcasting, given the judges may actually read that headline, could it be prejudicial to the trial in Indonesia?"

RUDDOCK: "Well, I think you made the point right at the beginning that people have been barracking for both sides. It seems to me that's been part of the barracking that's occurred on both sides, and I've made the point that I consider it very unhelpful."

Today's Sydney Telegraph reveals the Australian pastor who baptised Corby behind bars and her snap decision to embrace God. Media organisations are struggling to find new angles only days before the verdict. Nothing surprising there, that's what journalists should be doing.

Unacceptable is the denigration of a country, its legal system and people simply because one woman may well be innocent. Indonesia has a history of avoiding taking responsibility for past crimes (including those behind the 1999 massacres in East Timor) but this should not be carte blanche to express cultural superiority.

Racism is never far away in the Corby debate.


Blogger David Heidelberg said...


I've written about another case on my site today. Involves an Australian who has just been sentenced to death by firing squad, yet was basically not reported in the media.

The major difference between him and shapelle, is she's an attractive white girl, and he is a middle aged man of Vietnamese extraction.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 10:53:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Very well said. Good post on your blog, btw.
Corby is the media's wet dream. Female, white, attractive and wide-eyed. A cleavage helps. And being anglo is essential.
To even consider placing an Asian Australian on a similar plane is unimaginable in Australia.
And we're more insular in the process...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005 11:28:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Would be nice if the Australian hacks showed as much concern with our system of justice.

Folks like Marc Renton, Brett Griffith, Stephen Jamieson, Trish Byers, Wayne Butler, Noel Han (to name a few) would be much obliged for a bit of media attention on wrongful convictions closer to home.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 12:17:00 am  
Blogger Ambrose said...

Great post, says exactly what I feel about this case.

The Jakarta Post have reported Indonesia urging Australia to stop detaining illegal fishermen aboard their boats, after an Indonesian died while being confined to his vessel which are often cramped and ramshackle boats.

These are often illiterate villagers who know only one way to survive and that is to fish.

These fishers are burdened by debt to the handful of families that own the boats. They are barely able to eke a subsistence lifestyle..............for many their journey ends in detention holding areas off Darwin and Gove in the Northern Territory, Broome in Western Australia and Thursday Island in Queensland.

But of course there are no websites or live TV programs for these people.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 11:53:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can a culture ever be superior to another?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 12:34:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

The issue isn't cultural superiority, it's the idea that our culture, Western culture, is essentially better, more mature etc, that others. Since 9/11, especially, the racism towards Islam and the Muslim world, mainly from devotees of Bernard Lewis, who think Arab people, not just their govts, are backward.
When will they ever understand...?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 2:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But Western culture is superior and more advanced...and don't give me that 'Islam was better than us in the Dark Ages' hooey, that's just because they ripped off the Byzantines.

Anyone who's travelled in the Third World knows that things work a lot differently there, justice-wise, and it's simply a fact.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 5:30:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Oh dear, how best to respond to this rubbish? Better or different? Assuming for one second that you're right, does that give the Western powers the right to import their defintion of justice and democracy onto others? Clearly not, except, of course, for the closet little imperialists who like the idea of countries on the map being friendly to their interests and ambitions and giving them access to their natural resources.
Your comment is racist, pure and simple. You're clearly the kind of person who travels, if at all, and spends the entire trip bashing the various countries and people. If everything is so much better here, why leave home at all?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 5:39:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You don't know me at all, mate, you don't know me at all. But thanks for calling me racist, it'll come as a surprise to an awful lot of non-Anglo mates of mine, especially in some of the Third WOrldy places I've lived.

Thanks also for ignoring the elephant in the room, which is that justice in a place like Indonesia operates by very different rules, no matter what the laws on the books say. Look at the sentences given to the Bali bombers.

Query: Can non-white folks be racist?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 5:51:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Of course non-whites can be racist.
To suggest that Western culture is better, more civilised, more advanced etc is inherently racist, not sure why this is so hard to understand.
I have no doubt that your friends in Third World may agree, though not sure if that's such a good thing.
The Indonesian justice system is flawed, no question about it. Personally, I don't believe in the death sentence so the Bali bombers being executed, if it ever happens, is a problem for me, but what to do?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 5:58:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"You don't know me at all, mate, you don't know me at all".

Maybe not, but we know what you've written on this blog.

I wouldn't know if you are a racist, but your own words tag you as either a cultural chauvinist, hypocrite or a liar.

So you tell us.

Do you really not believe in the innate superiority of your own culture (i.e. you lied in the above post)?

Do you travel through the third world expressing your self perceived cultural superiority to the people you meet (a cultural chauvinist)?

Or do you inwardly sneer at their 'inferior' culture while pretending to respect it (a hypocrite)?

You underestimate your own eloquence, Anon, because in a few short sentences you have indeed taught us all about at least one aspect of your character.

Your moral bankruptcy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 6:09:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who said race = culture? I sure didn't.

Do I think Western culture, which embraces, thrives and grows off of so many diverse ideas and opinions, is the highest expression of human ideals? Absolutely...and just about everything we enjoy or bitch about is a product of it, including the ability for me to sit here in a room with high-speed internet access that let's me debate people all around the world. I make no apologies for this. But being a Westerner has nothing to do with race; rather, it's an embrace of an idea, which is why it has thrived while others have been more limited: it can keep growing and enfolding new ideas from new sources.

Do I think other cultures and civilizations are good/great? For the most part, yeah, absolutely. I don't sneer at them when I travel in other lands; I have a blast.

Do I think Islamic culture/civilization is inherently dysfunctional? Absolutely, and I don't think that's racist (you can be any race and a member of Islam).

Would I rather be tried in an Aussie court than one anywhere else in the world? Yep. And I'm not talking about beheading the Bali bastards, but giving them a real jail sentence, you know?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 6:22:00 pm  
Anonymous Bruce M Warrington said...

"Do I think Islamic culture/civilization is inherently dysfunctional? Absolutely, and I don't think that's racist (you can be any race and a member of Islam)."

Racist? Perhaps not; but bigoted? Definitely.

You assume Islamic culture to be a monolith. The culture in Indonesia is very different to the culture in Saudi Arabia, which in turn is different to Pakistan, and so on.

You also contradict yourself. You claim that Western culture is "the highest expression of human ideals", and that it "embraces, thrives and grows off of so many diverse ideas and opinions". But earlier, you dismissed Islam as just "ripp[ing] off the Byzantines." You also forget that much of the West's progress was itself the result of "ripping off" (or "embracing, thriving and growing off", if you prefer) Islamic culture.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 7:10:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

"Would I rather be tried in an Aussie court than one anywhere else in the world? Yep."

From that statement, I can deduce that you are white, Australian born and either middle class or higher.

No poor, black, Muslim or Aboriginal Australian could have said something like that. And a white Australian born in most northern European countries would have a better grasp of how corrupt our legal system is, too.

(A German friend of mine on his first visit to Australia once told me how surprised he was at how much like South Asia it was. "Your police and trains are the same as in Pakistan and India". I corrected him by pointing out how much more they cost).

But the Australian justice system sure works for some. If you are a white gang rapist from Trinity Grammar rather than a Lebanese Australian one from SW Sydney for example.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 8:30:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but Islam was never able to syncretize ideas into it, always going back to that bloody (literally!) book of theirs...there was that Islamic thinker in the 1300s, I think, his name escapes me, who tried to integrate Aristotle into Islam and pull apart mosque and state, but the demands of the Koran prevented him from being an Islamic Aquinas...because a 1500-year-old book is considered the be-all and end-all and utterly uncontradictable (to say nothing of unflushable!) intellectual growth in Islam is stifled...

Thursday, May 26, 2005 7:55:00 am  
Anonymous Bruce M Warrington said...

You are doubtless referring to the Mutazilite philosophers.

When it comes to bloody holy books, the Quran has nothing on the Bible. And Christianity has been far more hostile to scientific progress than Islam.

The West's great strides occurred as a result of both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, the combined result of which weakened the chokehold of the Church on society. The main problem with Islamic societies is that a similar process has not happened yet. But that does not make those societies "inherently dysfunctional". One must consider the reasons why it hasn't happened.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 10:36:00 am  
Blogger Brownie said...

The Indonesians lost me when they executed 5 journalists in Balibo, they lost me when they massacred in Dili, they lost me when Wiranto chucked bodies down a well, they lost me when they failed to hang laughing Boy for the sari Club bombing. They lose my respect for harming orangutangs in Sumatra.
Anybody NOW who goes to Indonesia to leave Australian money there, is a fool who deserves whatever happens next

Thursday, May 26, 2005 3:39:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Brownie lost me when she automatically identified the ethics and culture of over 200 million human beings with the oppressive actions of a few human (and orangutan) rights abusers in authority.

Do you know what the definition of racism is, Brownie?

How many Kooris have you killed lately? After all, white Australians are famous for that sort of thing, aren't they?

And don't go spending any money on any orangutan sanctuaries or rehab centres Brownie. I'm told that they employ those evil Indonesians.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 4:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Steve Edwards said...

And you guys wonder why you're completely irrelevant to the vast majority of Australians.

Here's Mr Loewenstein with a hot pepper rammed up his ass screeching "RACISTS!", "FASCISTS!", "ALL OF YOU!". Meanwhile, Bruce et al seem to have convinced themselves that, firstly, all cultures are equal (and anyone who disagrees is a racist) and, secondly, that Islamic culture is superior to all else. Say Bruce, if you love Islam so much, covert! Before it's too late!!

Then Bruce claims that "much of" the West's progress is due to the wonderful influence of Islam and the "weakened chokehold" of the church, while simultaneously proclaiming that "the great problem" with Islamic societies is that they haven't separated church and state.

I couldn't be more cognitively unhinged if I tried.

Look fellas. All I can say is please, PLEASE keep spouting this politically correct claptrap as often as possible - preferably in public as an endorsed ALP candidate. Keep it up, and Mr Howard will still be powerwalking around Kirribilli well into his 80s.

Thursday, May 26, 2005 6:05:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Ahh well, Schappelle has now been convicted and got 20 years. Looks like the Australian media is set for a fallback human interest story for the next couple of decades.

But with all of the confected outrage about the Indonesian justice system on the airwaves, you could be forgiven for forgetting that if she has been wrongfully convicted (as I believe) it was largely because of corrupt Australian AFP officers and baggage handlers.

And anyone who thinks that Indonesian judges who reject defence allegations about official corruption are beyond the pale should try sitting through a NSW court case in which the prosecution relies on police identification or records of interview. Or read the 'Guns' section in Volume 1 of the PIC 'Operation Florida' report.

Friday, May 27, 2005 2:52:00 pm  
Blogger Joyfully Subversive said...

have to agree with the earlier comment about the Bible ... the Old Testament has to be the all-time number one gore and splatterfest and what a bloody old murderous and tempermental bastard God was in that incarnation.

as for the medieval Islamic civilization borrowing from the Byzantines - true to a limited extent but a far greater influence was the former Sasanian (Persian) empire.

Friday, May 27, 2005 9:54:00 pm  
Blogger John Humphreys said...

Sad. I am almost scared to offer my opinion on this blog because I will be labelled a racist and dismissed as morally inferior. What a pathetic way to argue. Ignore debate and have a "I'm more moral than you" hissy fit.

According to the definition of racist being used on this blog -- nearly all people from non-western countries (culture, not race) are racists.

If Anthony hates racists (and he certainly seems to be a hater), then he must hate nearly all the people from non-west countries.

How ironic.

The reality is that the idea of not being racist is a relatively new idea that grew out of the western culture. The modern western culture is the least racist culture in the global history of civilisation.

If all cultures are equal, then I guess Anthony believes that racism and non-racism are morally equivalent.

How ironic.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 12:25:00 am  
Blogger John Humphreys said...

And yes... I know that many cultures in the past have been tolerant of diverse races, religions, cultures etc. Many (most) racist people are tolerant. Tolerance is not the definition of being non-racist.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 12:28:00 am  

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