Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

West Papua’s War with the Modern World Should Be All of Ours

By Nicky Reid aka Comrade Hermit

Exile in Happy Valley

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words. If that’s true, then a hostage video must speak at least a million. The only problem with this technology and indeed most technology is that most of these words tend to get garbled when they’re all being shouted at once. This deluge of information often results in a sort of narrative overdose that makes my head spin. That is the dilemma I face when watching the videos that have surfaced online of Philip Mehrtens, a 37-year-old bush pilot from New Zealand taken hostage deep in the jungles of the Indonesian occupied region of West Papua this February. In the few clips of footage made available to the public to prove that this man is in fact still alive, Mr. Mehrtens appears wide eyed and dislodged, like a tourist lost on a different planet. He stands as tall and as pale as a ghost, dressed in a denim jacket and a Boonie cap, surrounded by dark men with bushy beards and furious eyes.

One thing that is hard for anyone to deny about this footage is that those reems make it crystal clear that this captured Kiwi has stumbled smack dab in the middle of something which he too is struggling against reason to comprehend. However, I can’t seem to ignore the fact that his captors appear to be just as frightened and out of place as their own hostage. Armed with an odd assortment of assault rifles, bows and arrows and dressed to the nine in a clashing hodgepodge of tribal headdresses, war paint and second-hand military fatigues, these men who the western media has largely written off as quixotic savages somehow look strangely familiar to my own furious eyes.

The only words that my mind can collect to make sense of the fear and loathing that I somehow share with Philip Mehrtens’ kidnappers tells me that on the other side of the planet there are men who are also at war with the modern world. The same one that haunts my dreams with menacing footage of freeways and skyscrapers that scream a million words a second in my face, that looming metropolis that holds my soul hostage and stirs a terror deep inside me that smug doctors in white lab coats diagnose as a mental illness. Those dark men with their bushy beards and furious eyes clearly share my private war but unlike me they refuse to lose it in the privacy of a psychiatrist’s office, and they refuse to allow the terror we share to rob them of the dignity of not going down without a hostage. God bless them.

Those men are the soldiers of the West Papuan National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement and I am not ashamed to admit that I admire them. They are a poorly armed and loosely affiliated collection of hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers from ancient rival clans who have been united over the last half-century by a shared struggle for the liberation of their own tiny corner of nowhere which has long been cruelly occupied by the colossal juggernaut of the Indonesian Army and its colonialist backers in the United States, the E.U., Australia and New Zealand.

It is in fact the financial and military support of those western hegemons that has led this mighty little army to kidnap Philip Mehrtens from his single-engine passenger plane in a desperate attempt to hold one of Babylon’s own for ransom. That ransom originally took the form of a bold demand for nothing less than full international recognition for West Papua’s independence but has since been reduced to simple access to UN peacekeepers. Indonesia’s counteroffer was delivered by heavily armed commandos sent to rescue Mehrtens Rambo-style, but the West Papuans sent these western trained killers back to Jakarta wrapped in body bags. In the only hostage video released since, Mehrtens appears alive and well to condemn Indonesia for resorting to dropping bombs on his position in the mountainous Nduga region in the wake of this failed raid.


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