This post is part two of a four-part forum: "Transnational Memories: Sites, Knots, Methods." An earlier version was presented as part of a roundtable at the Modern Language Association's 2015 Convention in Vancouver that featured Rosanne Kennedy, Ann Rigney, Michael Rothberg, and Debarati Sanyal.
In 2012, Joshua Oppenheimer’s celebrated film, The Act of Killing, was released to significant acclaim, garnering awards at film festivals around the world. The film remembers the massacre of 500,000 alleged communists in Indonesia in 1965-66. In interviews, Oppenheimer states that he hoped to open a national conversation in Indonesia on the killings, abetted and protected by the military under the leadership of General Suharto. During Suharto’s reign (1966-1998), the killings were not so much ‘forgotten’ but deliberately misremembered: a four and a half hour propaganda film -- mandatory viewing for all school students -- narrated the slaughter as a patriotic act of ridding the nation of the ‘evil’ of communism. The Act of Killing aims to bring into visibility the culture of impunity that still persists in Indonesia, and enables perpetrators, who have never faced justice, to live as ‘free men’. Over a five-year period, Oppenheimer and his anonymous Indonesian co-director filmed one of the executioners, Anwar Congo, and his circle of friends as they discussed and re-enacted their acts of killing through a range of Hollywood genres. In focusing the camera exclusively on Indonesian perpetrators and locations, The Act of Killing represents the genocide through a national frame. My focus here is not on the film, fascinating though it is, but rather on its human rights packaging. The film has been embedded in campaigns for justice on behalf of the victims, tying publicity for the film with advocacy for human rights. Leaving aside the moot question of the efficacy of such campaigns, their websites provide insight into how the film is packaged for travel, to promote the film and address transnational audiences.
Of particular relevance for transnational memory studies, these human rights campaigns productively illustrate the workings of the global memory imperative. As elaborated by Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, the ‘global memory imperative’ refers to the idea that “memories of the Holocaust …have the potential to become the cultural foundation for global human rights politics.” In interviews, Oppenheimer repeatedly invokes Holocaust memory to justify making the film and thereby ‘breaking the silence’ surrounding the mass violence in Indonesia. For instance, he contends that Medan, the town in which Anwar lives, is like Nazi Germany “forty years after the Holocaust” with “the Nazis still in power…” He acknowledges Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust film, Shoah, and particularly his testimonial methods, as a major influence on his approach to filming The Act of Killing. Of particular significance for my analysis, Levy and Sznaider argue that the global memory imperative is “transforming nation-state sovereignty by subjecting it to international scrutiny,” and by empowering the human rights regime to intervene into current sites of violation. On this conception, the moral imperative to remember the victims of mass violence, activated through the film-human rights campaign assemblage, functions as a spur to global civil society to pressure a nation-state that refuses to acknowledge accountability for violating the rights of victims. How then do these advocacy campaigns use the film’s act of memory to solicit and address their intended publics? How do concepts of the national and transnational play out in these campaigns?
‘Say Sorry for ’65’: Art, Advocacy and Transnational Accountability
The official website for The Act of Killing includes a ‘Take Action’ hyperlink to a bright yellow page titled ‘Say Sorry for ‘65’. The ‘Minta Maaf: Say Sorry for ‘65’ campaign was launched in London on June 28, 2013 by the British human rights organization, TAPOL, which campaigns for human rights in Indonesia, especially in East Timor, West Papua and Aech. (TAPOL means ‘political prisoner’; the organization was formed in 1973 by Carmen Budjiardjo, who was a political prisoner in Indonesia following the massacres.) The campaign is supported by another human rights organization, East Timor Action Network (ETAN), which describes itself as ‘a U.S.-based grassroots organization working in solidarity with the peoples of Timor-Leste (East Timor), West Papua and Indonesia’. The publicity for the ‘Say Sorry’ campaign on The Act of Killing website asks visitors, if they can do one thing, to “write to your local representative and let them know your feelings about the genocide in Indonesia and ask that we put pressure on the government there to acknowledge their past so they can try to fix the wounds left from the killings.” Through this humanitarian appeal, the ‘Say Sorry for ’65’ campaign aims to generate support from global civil society to pressure a national government – Indonesia - for its failure to prosecute the perpetrators and thereby secure justice for the victims. With its familiar rhetoric of ‘feelings’ and ‘wounds’, this campaign positions non-Indonesian signatories as humanitarian subjects, who can express empathy and transnational solidarity with activists working for justice in Indonesia by signing an online petition.
The ‘Say Sorry for ‘65’ campaign is an example of deterritorialized advocacy: the ‘you’ that is addressed could be in any geo-political location, as could the ‘local representative’. By contrast, the target is territorialized: the invitation to ‘put pressure on the government there to acknowledge their past’ locates the violence and the responsibility in Indonesia. The ‘Say Sorry’ publicity on the film website asks viewers: “if you can do two things, please ... sign the Say Sorry for 65 Petition: The Indonesian president [at the time, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] is very conscious of his international image, and support from outside of Indonesia is really important to persuade him that he has to act now.” In this instance, we see the global memory imperative at work: film viewers are addressed as members of a transnational ‘witnessing public’ who can do something to right the wrongs in Indonesia. The ‘Say Sorry’ campaign grounds transnational solidarity in humanitarian values of compassion, justice, witnessing and empathy, but it does not require viewers to consider their own positioning or implication.
Although ETAN, a US-based grassroots human rights organization, supports the ‘Say Sorry for ‘65’ campaign, it has launched a linked campaign to demand that the United States government acknowledge its role in the mass killings in Indonesia in 1965. It invites visitors to watch The Act of Killing on PBS, the American Public Broadcasting Station, and to “take action on US support for mass violence in Indonesia.” It includes fact-sheets detailing the role of the United States in the killings, and a link to Brad Simpson’s article, ‘It’s Our Act of Killing Too,’ published in The Nation. By including these ‘factsheets’ and links, the ETAN campaign acts as a prosthetic to the film, extending its act of memory beyond the nation. It thereby addresses one of the criticisms of The Act of Killing – that is fails to reveal the extensive involvement of the United States and other
Western nations in the massacres.
The rhetorical address of the ETAN campaign for US accountability differs markedly from the ‘Say Sorry for 65’ campaign. The ‘Say Sorry’ campaign directs international scrutiny in one direction only – ‘over there’ – and solicits global civil society to pressure the Indonesian government to apologize. While supporting the ‘Say Sorry’ campaign’s call for justice for victims in Indonesia, ETAN’s campaign for US accountability directs attention to the American home front and thereby reterritorializes accountability for the genocide. It addresses Americans as participants in a national public sphere, and – to borrow a term from Michael Rothberg -- as ‘implicated subjects’ in this past. The campaign solicits Americans to pressure their own government to acknowledge its complicity in the massacre by, for instance, signing a petition asking the United States government to “declassify and release all documents related to the U.S. role in the 1965/66 mass violence, including the CIA's so-called "job files." As these two campaigns illustrate, human rights discourse and organizations provide a transit lane that facilitates the global travels of The Act of Killing. But these border-crossing campaigns have different effects: the ‘Say Sorry’ campaign, while soliciting a transnational humanitarian public to pressure Indonesia, nonetheless reinforces nationalism by locating responsibility for the mass killings within Indonesia alone. By contrast, the ‘Acknowledge US Support’ campaign uses the film’s memory of genocide to demand accountability from the US, thereby transnationalizing accountability.
World Memory and the Transnational Public Sphere
What issues does this case raise for transnational memory studies? To the extent that The Act of Killing aims not simply to remember the killings, but to facilitate a dialogue, in the present, about the genocide and justice for survivors and victims’ families, it brings into play the issue of the public sphere, for it is in the public sphere that advocacy does its work. As Nancy Fraser (2007) has argued, the concept of the public sphere has implicitly assumed a Westphalian frame, in which the public sphere was “a bounded political community with its own territorial state”, which authorized citizens to hold their national governments accountable. In memory studies today it is widely acknowledged that ‘sites of memory’ are no longer contained by the nation-state, and that memory texts and practices circulate across national borders. The transnational travels of memory render the issue of the public sphere – and of how memory texts are addressed to transnational publics (who are also simultaneously ‘national’) -- a compelling one for memory scholars. As we have seen in relation to the human rights campaigns that aid the transnational circulation of The Act of Killing, global civil society – rather than a national public sphere - is called upon to police nation-states of which its members are not citizens. This is, of course, a significant development facilitated by the growth of a powerful global human rights regime. But as the ETAN case shows, citizens can also exercise transnational solidarity – and perhaps with more integrity and self-reflexivity – with victims and survivors elsewhere by acting as members of a national public sphere, to hold our own governments to accountability for their actions, and simultaneously recognize our own implication in these events.
 The film is directed by Joshua Oppenheimer and an anonymous Indonesian co-director; see http://www.actofkilling.com. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 Scenes from this film are featured in the Director’s Cut of The Act of Killing.
 Levy, Daniel and Natan Sznaider, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age. Trans. Assenka Oksiloff. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2006: 4.
 Levy, Daniel, and Natan Sznaider. Human Rights and Memory. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 2010: 149.
 See the ‘Take Action’ link on the film’s website: http://www.actofkilling.com/#action. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 http://www.etan.org/action/saysorry.htm. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 See the ‘Say Sorry for 65’ campaign publicity on The Act of Killing website: http://www.actofkilling.com/#action. This page has a hyperlink to an online petition, hosted by ‘change.org’ (https://www.change.org/p/president-sby-say-sorry-for-65). Accessed 4 March 2015
 http://www.actofkilling.com/#action. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 On the concept of a ‘witnessing public’ see Meg McLagan, “Principles, Publicity, and Politics: Notes on Human Rights Media.” American Anthropologist 105.3 (2003): 609–612.
 http://www.etan.org/news/2014/09breaking_the_silence.htm. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 Originally published in The Nation, Feb. 28, 2014; see: http://www.thenation.com/article/178592/its-our-act-killing-too. Accessed 4 March 2015.
 Rothberg, Michael. “Beyond Tancred and Clorinda: Trauma Theory for Implicated Subjects.” The Future of Trauma Theory. Eds. Gert Buelens, Sam Durrant, and Robert Eaglestone.London: Routledge, 2013. xi–xviii.
 Fraser, Nancy. “Transnationalizing the Public Sphere: On the Legitimacy and Efficacy of Public Opinion in a Post-Westphalian World.” Theory, Culture and Society 24.4 (2007): 7–30.
 For further discussion of global memory and the transnational public sphere, see Rosanne Kennedy, "Moving Testimony: Human Rights, Palestinian Memory, and the Transnational Public Sphere," in Chiara De Cesari and Ann Rigney (ed.), Transnational Memory Circulation, Articulation, Scales, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and Boston, 2014: 51-78.
Other Posts in this Forum
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