Tuesday, June 20, 2017

INDONESIA: What can we learn about #nuclearban from wayang?

INDONESIA: What can we learn about #nuclearban from wayang?
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It is breathtaking to follow the #nuclearban hashtag and read the live tweets about specific contributions being made minute-to-minute at the "United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination."

We're talking about a treaty banning nuclear weapons globally.

Notably, my own country (the US) is boycotting the talks. So are a few other "big powers." But what is becoming clear day by day is that this is really about who is at the table. And what you see by clicking on #nuclearban is the way 100+ countries are successfully creating a treaty.

I reflected yesterday: "To me, the enormous significance of the #nuclearban is this: global rules are no longer going to be dictated by a small number of countries -- those with the most money, the most weapons, who 'know better,' who have appointed themselves the 'leaders' and 'policemen' of everyone else. With this treaty and other efforts like it -- on climate, for instance -- the majority of people in the world -- the people who for decades have been saying 'we want a nuclear weapons free world' -- are going to be the ones leading the way."

Here's a single tweet that helped crystallize that idea for me:

via @nuclearban
"We need to delegitimize nuclear deterrence as a concept,
says Indonesia. The treaty's preamble can help us do this."
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The representative from Indonesia is wearing native batik. For one thing, it serves as a reminder that the Western business attire of US diplomats is not in the picture because the US chose to un-include itself.  For another thing, it invites you to wonder, "What do I really know about Indonesia and its people . . . ?" Indonesia is a very populous country - did I remember that there are about 260 million people there? Indonesia is one of the supporters of the #nuclearban - did I remember that Indonesia was one of the co-sponsors of the original proposal to hold the #nuclearban talks? India is a growing economic power - did I remember that Indonesia is a member of the G20?

The second aspect of this image of the Indonesian representative at the #nuclearban talks that grabs my attention is all the retweets and "likes." This speaks to the enormous power of social media to help spread these new perspectives and examples of heroic leadership like that of Indonesia around the world in real time.

Then: there are the Indonesian representative's words themselves: "We need to delegitimize nuclear deterrence as a concept. . . . The treaty's preamble can help us do this." This goes to the very heart of what the #nuclearban treaty is about. It is a challenge to the "conventional wisdom" or "global security system orthodoxy" that has been thrust upon the world by a few countries with large nuclear weapons arsenals. A big part of the treaty creation process is to jolt people into breaking out of these old ways of thinking and embracing a new perspective. (See "Deterrence": As a strategy, it makes about as much sense as "proliferation")

I think it's not irrelevant to remark that Indonesia has intellectual and cultural traditions that help give insight and solve problems, and sometimes in ways that those of us outside of the South/Southeast Asian sphere miss. By coincidence, a few months ago I was learning about the epic involving the hero Rama at the Ramayana exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The Ramayana is the subject of an enormous body of performance art in Indonesia -- shadow puppet or wayang theater. When I learned about Rama and the Ramayana, I learned about is arch-foe, the evil king Ravana. Ravana is so bad, so evil, so rapacious, that he actually wants to swallow up the entire universe.  That's when it occurred to me, "Ravana is like the nuclear weapons states!" That's when I created this meme, based on a scene from the Indonesian shadow puppet theater in which Rama battles the evil Ravanna:

Thank you #INDONESIA.
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(Ravana is the scary-looking guy on the left with the bright red eyes and bulging nose.)

The story of Rama's struggle with Ravana extends across many episodes, and wayang performances are marathons -- often lasting all night. This is helpful to remember as we embark on an epic struggle to rid the world of a nearly inconceivable evil, wielded by adversaries willing to contemplate plunging the world into darkness and chaos. The #nuclearban treaty will be just the beginning.

This epic struggle to get the nuclear weapons to disarm: perhaps we can only fully understand it with the help of the  world's great literature and mythology?

Related posts:

VIETNAM and the NUCLEAR BAN: Out From Under the Shadow of US Nuclear Terror

Why People Want a Pacific (and World) Free of Nuclear Weapons

China DOES Have a Role in the Nuclear Ban Movement

Korea: A History of Living Under Nuclear Terror and The Cynical American Scapegoating of Korea as a Cover for Nuclear Terror

Tlatelolco 50: A Gift to the World

133 Is a Lot of #Nuclearban-Supporting Countries

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