In six years of studying International Relations one hears a good deal on the power of The State[i]. In the first couple weeks, you learn how The State is a social contract between individuals to escape their ‘State of Nature’[ii] and The People give up some of their absolute freedoms to allow The State to have what’s called a ‘monopoly of violence’.[iii] After this, the conversation turns to how, why, and in what ways this monopoly of violence is manipulated, restricted, influenced, and undermined by things that happen outside of centuries old political philosophy tomes, but it is on this monopoly of violence that the global system of states is founded.
This week saw two events (good news/bad news kind of thing) that show pretty clearly the power of The State is not just some vague concept parried about in ivory towers. The first is the execution of eight prisoners convicted of drug crimes in Indonesia and the second has to do with the Byzantine bureaucracy of immigration.
Let’s begin with the bad news from Nusa Kambangan, the prison-dotted island off Java, where early Wednesday morning a firing squad executed seven foreign nationals and one Indonesia. The foreigners were from Australia (2), Ghana (1, although he was supposedly Nigerian with a fake Ghanaian passport), Nigeria (3), and Brazil (1) and the governments of both Australia and Brazil (along with the governments of France and the Philippines who also have citizens set to be executed) have lobbied the Indonesia government to spare those convicted for a variety of reasons[iv] but Indonesia, as a sovereign state, had every legal right to do exactly what it did.
The Indonesian government had and has these rights because its power does not come from other states but from its own population (theoretically speaking) and although poll numbers are hard to come by, there seems to be widespread support for the death penalty. So until the Indonesian people change their mind and the wheels of democracy turn away from capital punishment, the firing squads on Nusa Kambangan will continue. It’s also worth noting, albeit depressingly, that the US is still executing its citizens[v], some of whom are clinically insane and/or mentally handicapped, as well as those of other nations at an alarmingly immoral (not to mention extremely undeveloped country-esque) rate.
Now for the good news: Nadia, my partner-in-crime, got her Tourist Visa to the US so we’ll be heading there at the end of this month. She had been denied twice at the American consulate in the Netherlands but this trip to the Surabaya version of the same went much better.
That said, I’m beginning to build a strong dislike for immigration authorities and their regularly arbitrary, burdensome, and otherwise absurd regulations and requirements. After living in the conveniently open EU, albeit on two student visas, dealing with the bureaucracy of both the US immigration and Indonesian immigrasi is very quickly driving me to the libertarian side of this issue and allowing for the free flow of people wherever we/they damn please.
So there you go, just over 500 rather inconsequential words on The State and its power.
Merdeka atau mati.
[i] This basically means national governments but using the term ‘national’ is something academics would call “dangerous” since every self-proclaimed nation doesn’t have a state that is recognized by the international community, which leads us down a whole other rabbit whole that I spent several months researching and about ten of thousand words describing.
[ii] Which is “nasty, brutish, and short”
[iii] I.e. The State, as a representative of its population, is the only organization that can arrest, coerce, punish, execute, make war, et cetera.
[iv] The Philippines probably have the best case judicially speaking. Their citizen, a mother of two, likely had drugs unknowingly planted on her and she was unable to defend herself at her trial due to a lack of translation services.
[v] Perhaps the one difference between the two – Indonesia and the US – is that under Indonesian law, capital punishment is used for drug trafficking offenses and 15 other crimes (including murder) and not just murder as it is in the US. The flawed argument used by the Indonesian government is something like: “33 Indonesians die every day from drugs and it is the traffickers who are responsible.”