The impending execution of two of the “Bali Nine”, Australians shopped to Indonesian authorities by Australian police for trying to smuggle heroin into Australia, has the Twitterz positively rabid for the hashtags #BoycottBali and #BaliBoycott.
This is doing little for Australian-Indonesian relations, both at the macro and the micro levels. Bali – specifically, a narrow strip of South Bali – is to Australians as Cancun is to Americans and Ayia Napa is to Britons: around a million visit each year, many of them for cheap sun, sea, sand, beer and sex. And so, to save these lives, Australians, including plenty who’ve never visited and a few who seem to have created Twitter accounts especially for keyboard warrioring, are threatening to, well, boycott Bali.
Indonesians, among them Balinese rockers Superman Is Dead, have taken the opportunity to point out that the island could get along quite nicely without Bintang-singlet-clad bogans starting on the sauce at 9am, starting fights and vomiting on what passes for a pavement, not to mention bikini-clad cretins desecrating their temples, and complaining when folk don’t speak English.
Here’s a fairly representative sample:
What seems to have hit a nerve is the notion that Australian tourists can wave their wallet at a problem and make it go away. Or, in other words, that Australians are acting as though they own the place.
No state has the right to take any human life, be it the life of a citizen, or a foreign national, outside of necessary life-saving activity or a state of just war: the right to life trumps everything.
As it happens, I’m absolutely opposed to capital punishment. No state has the right to take any human life, be it the life of a citizen or a foreign national, outside of necessary life-saving activity or a state of just war: the right to life trumps everything. Further, while nations continue to operate the death penalty, they will inevitably kill innocent people, an outcome both sides of the death penalty divide agree is wrong.
For that matter, in my ideal universe – although I haven’t touched drugs in years – drugs would be legal. Prohibition has never worked – alcohol prohibition in the US demonstrated that. Drug prohibition is not working now, and it’s costing many more lives than these two guys.
Alcohol does much more harm than any illegal drug: it kills people, fuels domestic and street violence, destroys relationships, the works. (And, no, I don’t think we should ban that either.)
I’m a nicotine addict. Cigarettes are legal. They’re probably shortening my life right now. And, no, I don’t think they should be banned – although I do, on balance, support the sorts of measures Australia has taken to make smoking even more unappealing than inhaling burning chemicals, paper and dry leaf should be.
So: to kill two people for smuggling drugs seems absolutely wrong on every single level.
Not unless they’re also prepared to boycott the US, China, Singapore, Egypt and Thailand, or, perhaps most egregiously, Dubai, a popular tourist destination in a state where homosexuality can, in theory, be punished by death.
But should people be boycotting Indonesia? Not unless they’re also prepared to boycott the US, China, Singapore, Egypt and Thailand, or, perhaps most egregiously, Dubai, a bewilderingly popular tourist destination in a state where homosexuality can, in theory, be punished by death.
Here’s a full list of places not to visit if you believe tourism indicates support of the death penalty:
In fact, there are Spanish, German, French AND British nationals on Death Row in the US.
Why aren’t these countries boycotting the US? Probably, to put it crudely, because it’s a wealthy country, and we feel we can’t go acting like we own the place. Are our diplomats working to save these lives? Almost certainly.
Cuba survived not just a Twitter campaign and the odd flight cancellation but an actual, formal US trade embargo that saw the land of the free restrict its own citizens from even visiting.
Now, I won’t be boycotting either the US or Indonesia. If I boycotted every state or government whose policies I disagree with, I’d be limited to, pretty much, Scandinavia and The Netherlands, and wouldn’t be spending much time in the UK either.
Tourism should not be seen as an indicator of support for governments. It’s possible to love a country and be rabidly angry about what its government is currently doing – most of us feel like that about our home countries from time to time. Further, most people’s travel planning does not include reading up the destination’s human rights record on Amnesty.
More importantly, tourism boycotts don’t work. Cuba survived not just a Twitter campaign and the odd flight cancellation but an actual, formal US trade embargo that saw the land of the free restrict its own citizens from even visiting. More than 50 years on, it’s still Communist.
An Australian travel boycott would undoubtedly change some lives for the worse. Some Balinese beach boys and taxi drivers would be unable to educate their children; some small businesses would close; people currently scraping an existence on the margins of mass tourism would be driven into poverty.
What it wouldn’t do is change policy, overrule a court decision, or force an already-embattled president into an extremely public U-turn.
Imagine that. All those people, spending real money to get into town, and using our legs to walk, and making posters, and everything, and giving up a whole day! And did it change policy? Hell, no.
At the moment, however, #BoycottBali is pure clicktivism. And clicktivisim doesn’t – and shouldn’t – change government policy: Dave Eggers’ excellent novel, The Circle, portrays a world where it does, and – guess what?! – it isn’t pretty.
Even massive protests rarely do. In 2003, Zac and I joined a million or so people marching through Central London to stop our government attacking Iraq.
Imagine that. All those people, spending real money to get into town, and using our legs to walk, and making posters, and chanting, and everything, and giving up a whole day! And did it change policy? Hell, no.
Yep, everything that was predicted at the time – hundreds of thousands of lives lost, the rise of an insane Islamist theocracy from the rubble of the Iraqi state, increased Islamist rage and terrorism – has come to pass: ISIS, Charlie Hebdo, the whole shebang. (And, no, describing it as a “crusade” – that’s the Christian equivalent of Islamic jihad – didn’t help.)
One of the most successful hashtag campaigns of all time, #BringBackOurGirls, has not brought back a single one of those poor Nigerian schoolgirls – – and Boko Haram recently massacred hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Baga.
Of course, #BoycottBali is a rather more tractable hashtag than #BringBackOurGirls. The only action required is to cancel your flights or your holiday or move your wedding – the first two of which actions can be achieved entirely online.
Yet journo Steve Lillebuen trawled Twitter for Australians who were actually boycotting Bali: he appears to have found precisely one.
Thanks to Riza Nguraha for her Green Carpet image, on Flickr’s Creative Commons.