#BoycottBali? Nuh-Uh

Ricefields in BaliThe 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:

An Indonesian take on Australian tourists.

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:

countries that support the death penalty

I’m British, and there are British nationals on Death Row both in the US – for this deeply suspect conviction – and in Indonesia – for this rather less suspect conviction.

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.

19 Responses

  1. Nonplussed says:

    I marched that day in London too and hadn’t again until a recent #NigerianLivesMatter protest outside the Nigerian Embassy just off Trafalgar Square (because nothing had been done to #BringBackOurGirls). I’m wondering if rioting isn’t more effective, I really am.

    • Theodora says:

      Maybe you should have protested with a banner saying “#BringBackOurGirls or I’ll vote UKIP”? Seems to be the only form of protest that has any impact on government policy, and not in a good way. I was very shocked – perhaps naively – at how a protest that size, complete with Dear Ken the Great Leader speaking against the war, had absolutely zero impact.

  2. Lia says:

    I feel a bit sad reading this.  

    Firstly because it’s about two young men being shot dead for no reason other than that ‘Jakarta’ has ordered it.  Indonesia has a new Prime Minister who is attempting to assert himself and thats all he cares about.  He doesn’t even know the facts of the case.  He thinks they were attempting to smuggle drugs into Bali but they were actually smuggling them out.  He has not recognized the huge effort these two men have put into improving the lives of inmates at Kerobokan and that these two men have made a huge contribution towards the inmates rehabilitation, as well as their own.   Nor will he focus on the fact that these two men are being murdered because they could not afford to bribe the judges. They were offered a life sentence if they paid a bribe, but they are poor families who were instead forced to placed their faith in the fairness of Indonesian Law.   

    Also, as an Australian, I don’t like being stereotyped.  Each and every country on our planet has their fair share of drink fueled bogans, thats why the place is such a shithole.  But I don’t like being stereotyped as being one, I’m not.  Plenty of good, intelligent Australians love and support Bali too, I’m one of those. If I was to boycott Bali it would be purely out of concern for the damage that tourism is doing to Bali and its culture.  

    If Australians decide to boycott Bali as a holiday destination, then bring it on.  Let the Balanese have their beautiful island and culture and historical sites back.  Let the Balanese people regain their independence and dignity.  Any culture that relies wholesale on tourism for its survival is fucked.

    Australians have a deep and endearing affection for Bali and the Balanese, many Australians have married Balanese and borne their children who are now Australian.   Yet more have holidayed there as young children with their families and gone on to holiday there later with their own children.  My dying neighbour cried at the idea that he would never see Bali again. 

    People were as deeply concerned about the Balanese bombing and it’s effects on the Balanese people as they are now about the murder of two young men and the complete devastation to their families and friends as a result of their brutal murder.

    There are also a huge number of Australians living in Bali who have made a substantial  contribution towards Balanese economy.  Janet DeNeef for example, an Australian, founded the Ubud Writers Festival after the bombing in an attempt to encourage tourists to visit Bali again.

    Although we didn’t have hash tags after the Bali bombing, people here in Australia were beside themselves worrying about losses suffered by the Balanese.   There was a huge push to support the Balanese and their economy.  

    I can see why you have become cynical about attending protests, I’m cynical too, but every now and again there comes a time in my life when I think ‘this is shit, I’m not supporting this’ and even though it will make fuck all difference in our power hungry corrupt societies, I’ll raise my hand and say ‘I’m not supporting this’.  

    I don’t support capital punishment and I don’t support neighbors throwing shit at each other over stuff they have absolutely no control over.  This is a power play between leaders and has nothing to do with bogans at all.

    Sorry for the length of this but I’ve been trying to bite my tongue for too long.  I have also tried to stay out of this murder of two young men by Jakarta (my birthplace) after becoming too emotionally involved in the murder of another young man, Van Nuyen, by the Singapore government ten years ago.  

    It’s just a great big fucking waste and such a pity that it has served to turn the Balanese against Australians and vice versa.  That’s a real disappointment.

    • Theodora says:

      Hi Lia, Going to replicate a little what I said on Facebook. Yes, I know lots of Australians love and understand Bali and respect the culture – I know plenty who are here. The problem is that the hashtag wildly overrepresents an Islamophobic grouping – and that responses focus on Australian mass tourism, which as we all know generally isn’t pretty. (Hell, I’m British: there are all sorts of countries where I feel embarrassed by my co-nationals. At least Australians only misbehave in Bali.)

      But, you’re right. It’s horrific that those two boys (young men, whatever) are being shot. I’m a little dubious about the rehabilitation activities if only because I’ve read the gripping, trashy and toxic Hotel K book – but rehabilitated or not, they don’t deserve to die.

      Had no idea you were born in JKT, btw. That must have changed a lot over the last few decades…. Theodora

  3. Carla says:

    From an Aussie perspective:…well said! I have not seen that chart before, it’s very interesting.
    I agree with pretty much everything you have sound succinctly stated. Thanks.

  4. Cath says:

    You found 2, I will never go to Indonesia. They are so corrupt police put drugs in passengers bags just to keep their jobs. Life means nothing to Indonesians, only money has value and if we stop giving it to them, all the f….ing better. I hate Indonesia and what it stands against, death. Bali Death, Indonesian Death, Death…

    • Theodora says:

      So you cancelled a flight and a planned trip? If so, you should contact the journo. If not, I’m still at 1. Corruption is endemic in the police system here, but it doesn’t extend to putting drugs in passengers’ bags – if you’ve got a credible source for that, please do link to it. For consistency’s sake, I do hope you’re also boycotting the US.

  5. Lia says:

    Found this in Travellers section of The Age today. Everyone hates bogans 😉


    • Theodora says:

      Oh yes, especially Aussies. I just find it so refreshing being somewhere where we’re not the worst tourists – firmly outclassed by bogans, Russians and Chinese tour groups…

  6. Dhanie says:


    Is that what u think about Indonesia, Cathy?
    Did u know that Indonesia had more than 17,600 island? with lot of ras?
    Its not wise to judge the country just because its people.
    There are lot of people, in Indonesia, who like peace
    Drug kill lot of men, is it Worth for an excused to kill 2 Australia’s youngman? its depend on the person .
    if my kid ( I hope not ) using drug then killed, I’m sure I will support that kind of punishment.

    dear Theodora, I like your post. but Indonesia, is larger than Bali. Why dont you come to my City, Surabaya.
    I’ll be your guide, so you can write lot of more about Indonesia.

    Sincerely yours
    Dhanie Dee,
    Surabaya, Indonesia

    • Theodora says:

      Thanks, Dhani: I’ve been to quite a lot of Indonesia – Sulawesi, Kalimantan, east Java, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku – but I’m not too good on Java and I’ve not yet visited Sumatera or Papua.

  7. Al says:

    Hi,Theodora. Haven’t checked your blog for ages, stuck in Finland and getting nostalgic about Indonesia. It’s strange, so many place to go in the world and I really can’t wait to get back to Bali, where I live 3 happy months, and Papua. that being said, most Aussies don’t know anything about Bali. Most of them never venture out of their Kuta ghetto, they have no idea of the life on the island, of the social fabric, the problems and hopes, changes that the locals face. They won’t boycott Bali, of course, where else can they go on the cheap binge nearby the overpriced Down Under? So things will stay as they are, with Bali getting more and more overdeveloped, all this money from Jakarta’s corporate military elites flooding there. I wonder how is the internet there nowadays, would be nice to set up a base there and live for some years travelling around the region.

    • Rosita says:

      I think this tentative of boicot is awful. Sorry if you found any writ error, I’m not from USA or any country who’s speak English, so, I’m learning this language, and I’m only 14 years old, so, be patient with me, please.

  8. Rosita says:

    Oh, thank you! 🙂 I really think English’s very difficult for me. sorry for the late answer!

  9. Rosita says:

    Hi! I have a thing to say: some Brazilians was killed in Indonesia (not in Bali) recently, due to drug trafficking – it’s a serious crime in Indonesia -, but here on Brazil we have most serious crimes. And I DON’T imagine a boycott to Bali as a good solution. First: because it can cause economical problems to the island, second: because the tourism to Bali WASN’T stop, because tourists to Bali aren’t all Brazilians and Australians, correct? 🙂 and I think the drug seller paid by his acts, because he destroyed so much families. OK, kill anyone isn’t a good thing and don’t solve none, but it’s the Indonesian law for drug traffickers. It’s their law and all we have to respect it! If you want to sell drugs, go to Peru, don’t go to Indonesia, because they can kill drug traffickers. And the family and friends of these traffickers can menace make this stupid boycott to Indonesia, who don’t solve nothing. A boycott only cause problems. See Cuba, for example. USA made an economic blockade with Cuba and the Cuban people live in a poor situation, if compared with USA 🙁 it’s sad, of course. And I don’t like this try of a boycott to Bali by the motives who I explained. And if the boycott would made, it can cause problems not only for Indonesia, but for several another countries, as Australia, for example. Australians visit Bali with frequency, and if the Australians make a boycott to Indonesia, it can cause problems EVEN (and principally) for the Australians, because Bali’s a “backyard” for Australians, specially young people. I say NO to the boycott!