Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bali Low

In the left hand corner, the Judaeo-Christian tradition and the Enlightenment. In the right hand corner, Confucianism. Javanese animism and the Buddha. Oh, we can argue about the sources, but this week’s news underlines clear differences between Asian and European cultures on the crucial issues of forgiveness and redemption.

Drug couriers are the rank and file foot soldiers of the crime world, and by definition foolish, not very bright, and a little bit evil. But should a child of seventeen, or even twenty-five, pay for a serious moral error with their life? Most thoughtful Europeans would say no. There is always time to repent, be forgiven and begin again. Justice and mercy.

These archaic phrases retain their relevance and moral power, the more so in a post-religious world: indeed paradoxically today it is the religious fundamentalists who dole out death so casually, while we modern secular moral relativists will always favour the medieval paradigm of confession, repentance, forgiveness and absolution.

Does reflection on these issues, or indeed any shred of careful moral reasoning, inform the actions of the Federal policemen who delivered a bunch of young Australians so readily into the callous and corrupt arms of their Indonesian colleagues? And can we rely on our Western, civilised courts to unwaveringly condemn their actions even as Indonesia's shadow puppet courts line their sad victims up before the rifles?

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