In September 2005, the House of World Cultures in Berlin held its largest programme on South-east Asian contemporary arts titled Spaces and Shadows. The Film programme, curated by PHILIP CHEAH, has as its theme, Whose Terror Is It Anyway?, which looks at the role of the state in terrorism in the region’s modern history.
In 2004, the massive US spending on the war on terrorism pushed the global military expenditure above US$1 trillion, the sixth year that the figure has risen. In fact, the Stockholm Int’l Peace Research Institute, which tracks these figures, observed that this is just six per cent below the Cold War high of 1987-88.
The film programme, Whose Terror Is It Anyway?, attempts to understand the legacy of terrorism in South-east Asia. And that legacy is that the state has often been the main perpetrator of terrorism in this region. From the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the bloody student riots against the military dictatorship in Thailand, martial law under Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines, the mass executions when President Suharto took power in Indonesia to the present military regime in Myanmar; the region’s history is rife with repression, oppression and mass killings.
After Sept 11 2001, the issue of terrorism became a media sensation. It felt as if a new enemy was being created to replace the old one (which was the specter of communism). Day in and day out, we were told of the new terrorist nightmare by the media. We were told that there are terrorists in our midst waiting to strike. Arrests without trial were made throughout the region. Security and surveillance efforts were stepped up. New laws were signed into being. Since 2003, $ingapore’s intelligence agency could monitor your internet use without any court order and in June 2005, Indonesia revived a Suharto-era intelligence agency, used to suppress his opponents, and disbanded after his downfall in 1998.
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