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Not All Tsunami Death is Natural

The Political Tsunami:
Not All Death and Destruction is Natural

by Michael I. Niman, ArtVoice (etc.) 1/13/05
Humanity deserves a solid pat on the back this
week as the global
humanitarian outpouring of support for tsunami
victims has surpassed all
previous relief efforts in history. The American
government may have been
stingy, but the American people certainly
haven't, forking over checks to a
host of relief agencies.

Shock and Awe

We've also seen the tsunami bring out the worst
in humanity - the bottom
feeders who move in when their prey is injured or
disabled. In this arena
we're seeing parasitic entrepreneurs bearing
their fangs and engaging in the
purchase and sale of tsunami orphans. And in the
Aceh region, where nearly
two thirds of the tsunami victims lived, we're
seeing the government of
Indonesia attempting to finish off their brutal
campaign against the
Acehnese people and their movement for

Ache is what we call a "breakaway province."
Officially part of Indonesia,
for 28 years the Acehnese have been fighting a
military campaign for
independence as a supposedly democratic republic.
Using the Bush
administration's "War on Terror" and the recent
U.S. invasion of Iraq as
justifications, the Indonesian military invaded
Aceh in May of 2003. They
termed this a "Shock and Awe" operation, complete
with "embedded
journalists" and the blasphemous "blessing of
September 11th." Though the
Indonesians claimed their military operation was
a police action aimed at
restoring order in Aceh, it quickly took on the
brutal aura of an invasion,
complete with F-16 bombing missions and strafing
runs using low-flying
American-built planes.

The Indonesian military is employing the same
tactics in Aceh as they did
during their brutal quarter-century occupation of
the now independent nation
of East Timor, where their military operations
killed one third of the
Timorese population. In an October 2004 report,
Amnesty International
documents "a disturbing pattern of grave abuses
of civil, political,
economic, social and cultural rights" in Aceh,
including a wave of "unlawful
killings, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary
detention" that encompass the
entire province. Amnesty International also
documents that under Indonesian
military occupation, "women and girls have been
subjected to rape and other
forms of sexual violence," often doled out in
retribution when family
members are suspected of involvement in the
independence fight led by the
Free Aceh Movement, which the Indonesians have
labeled as a "terrorist

Shock and Exxon

Why is none of this in the news? First there's
the "embedded reporter"
factor. Indonesia banned all journalists not
"embedded" (following the U.S.
model - to be in bed with.) with the military.
And then there's the
economic disincentive. The official economy of
Aceh is based on a massive
Exxon/Mobil natural gas extraction project which,
according to estimates on
Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now, has netted $40
billion worth of the
resource. Very little of this money has flowed
into the local Acehnese
economy, where nearly a quarter of the children
suffered from malnutrition
before the Tsunami struck. This relationship
explains both Indonesia's
motivation to maintain tight control over the
province, and the American
corporate media's disincentive to cover this
remote region of the world.
And the neo-cons in the Bush administration will
never have a bad world to
say about Indonesia, a "partner" in their "War on

In this light, the Tsunami has provided a big
boost to the Indonesian
campaign against Aceh, killing more Acehnese than
they could politically get
away while reeking chaos upon the province. Not
satisfied with this sudden
strategic gift, the Indonesian military
immediately set upon the survivors,
excerpting control over relief operations and
using control over food and
water as weapons against the independence

Amnesty International has reported that it is
difficult to document the
extent of the abuses in Aceh since the
Indonesians have banned most
foreigners (with the notable exception of
Exxon/Mobile workers) and all
journalists from the province. With relief aid,
however, came journalists,
who reported on Indonesian troops beating
Acehnese who came to relief
centers looking for food. The Indonesians were
also requiring
identification cards from tsunami survivors, many
of whose houses are washed
away. Acehnese without ID may be interrogated as
suspected rebels - an
interrogation that in the past often resulted in
death. Journalists
reporting this story have been ordered to leave
Aceh, with one commander
admonishing Australian journalists that "Your
duty here is to observe the
disaster, not the conflict."

Meanwhile in the Stone Age

On a more inspiring note, indigenous Great
Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge, Shompen
and Sentinelese people, survived the tsunami with
very little loss of life.
Much of the world originally feared that entire
cultures living on remote
islands in India's Andaman and Nicobar island
chain were wiped out by the
tidal waves. Hence, the global media celebrated
the fact that not only did
they seem very much alive, but that a naked
Sentinelese man fired upon an
Indian Air Force helicopter with a bow and arrow.

In covering the story, the BBC reported that the
islanders have very little
contact with, and by inference, understanding of
the outside world - hence
the arrows. In reality, the indigenous
populations of the Andaman and
Nicobar islands have had extensive contact with
the outside world. These
descendents of African peoples were first visited
by Marco Polo who
described them as "No better than wild beasts."
European slave-traders later
raided the islands for slaves. Starting in the
1800s, British troops visited
wholesale massacres upon the islanders. An
Indian land grab in the 20th
century forced most of the remaining islanders
from their ancestral lands.
Anthropologists report that slavers continued to
raid the islands well into
the second half of the 20th Century, long after
the international slave
trade was thought dead. So it seems that the
islanders have a much better
understanding of the outside world than the BBC
would suspect. And that
quaint bow and arrow thing might be a bit more
complex than a cutesy story
about a naked savage.

The same BBC report (since pulled from their
website) described the isolated
islanders as still living in "the stone-age." On
the very next line, the
BBC reported how the islanders survived the
tsunami that killed hundreds of
thousands of other people living in similar
low-lying environments across
the Indian Ocean. According to the BBC, "they
survived the devastation by
using age-old early warning systems" and running
"to high ground for safety
after noticing changes in the behavior of birds
and marine wildlife."
Western tourists vacationing in the region, by
contrast, stood still and
videotaped each others' deaths as they watched in
dumbfounded stupor as the
sea rose. Other non "stone aged" people
frolicked in the pre-surge tidal
ebb or stood transfixed on beaches watching a
wall of water approach.

Scientists, the BBC went on to report, are
"examining the possibility to see
whether it [the indigenous knowledge] can be used
to predict earth tremors
in the future." D'uh. I guess we don't
appreciate what's lost until it's
almost gone. Anthropologists studying the
Andaman and Nicobar islanders
report that one reason they, like other
indigenous peoples, shun contact
with outsiders is that they fear losing their
traditional knowledge which is
essential in keeping them alive in harmony with
their environment.

Mangroves and Coral

Where this environment has been destroyed over
the years, the tsunami damage
was much greater. The wholesale destruction of
coral reefs and mangrove
swamps across the Indian Ocean removed the only
environmental barriers that
have protected coastal environments from tidal
waves for eternity. Coral
reefs have fallen victim to pollution, dynamite
used both in dredging
channels and in fishing, and in quarrying
operations where crushed coral is
used in construction. Mangroves have been cut
down to make beaches, towns,
shrimp farms and resorts - with the farms and
resorts primarily serving
western consumers.

Some of the worst mangrove depletion has occurred
over the years in Aceh,
where satellite photos show seaside shrimp farms
and towns on former
mangrove swamps. Hence, it's no surprise that in
Aceh, with the mangrove
swamps that traditionally absorbed such waves and
shored up coastal geology
gone, the devastation was so severe. By
contrast, areas that still had
coral or mangrove in tact, suffered only minor
losses of life. People
seeing the turmoil of the waves crashing above
offshore coral reefs ran for
safety before the waters arrived. Likewise,
while the waves uprooted
millions of mangroves, they lost much of their
destructive power in the

The point here is that no natural disaster is
entirely natural. With
mangrove swamps being uprooted for housing and
tourist development across
the tropics, we'll see more and more unnatural
destruction from natural
disasters. Likewise, as oppressive militaries
look for advantage in
whatever disaster comes their way, we'll also see
unnatural death and
destruction in the wake of supposedly natural
death and destruction. This
is not acceptable - no matter how much it
benefits Exxon/Mobil.

Mike Niman's previous columns are archived at
www.mediastudy.com. The
documentary film, "2004 - The Under-Reported
Stories: Michael Niman" is
available streamed or on DVD from
www.snowshoefilms.com. For continuing
developments concerning the 2004 election
controversy, see

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