Getting past “third-order issues” is hard when they keep coming up

It’s easy to sympathize with foreign-policy hardheads like Hugh White when they suggest that Australian body politic should get past third-order issues like people smuggling, or even animal slaughtering practices.

But what happens when an Indonesian court throws a public servant in jail for two and a half years for stating he’s an atheist and posting to that effect in a Facebook group.

Yes, bigger picture, world’s largest Muslim democracy, etc. etc. etc., but it’s really really hard to get past the fact that a properly constituted court, implementing legislation presumably passed by the democratically elected parliament, has jailed somebody for being an atheist and saying mildly rude things about Islam. The last time somebody was imprisoned in Australia for blasphemy was Robert Samuel Ross, 93 years ago (though it’s worth noting the 1977 private prosecution in the UK of newspaper editor David Lemon for publishing this poem).

Anyway, it’s easy to dismiss “third-order issues” when they’re things that you’re not particularly emotionally invested in. But whether it’s the fate of the Bali Nine, the furore surrounding a Lady Gaga concert, the mistreatment of animals in Indonesian abattoirs, or the death at the hands of police of a West Papuan independence activist, these “third-order incidents” keep happening on a regular basis, and no matter what your political leanings in the Australian context, it seems like there will be something that’s going to push your personal buttons.

As such, I might respectfully suggest White is being more than a tad unrealistic expecting Australians to just get over themselves and look at the big picture, when that big picture includes the fact that the Australian collective and the Indonesian one clearly have very different views on issues that are, whether White likes to admit it or not, key parts of the big picture for most of us.

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