There aren’t too many countries with leaders who are diehard metal fans, but Indonesia’s President Jokowi is one of the few. Running the most populous Muslim country, as well as the world's fifth youngest population, Jokowi has plenty of sensitive cultural issues on his roster since taking office in October 2014. The latest controversy is the fate of two convicted drug traffickers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, both Australian citizens who are set to be executed by firing squad this week.
Amid the diplomatic pressure by several countries for Jokowi to grant clemency to the convicted pair, both in their early 30s, non-governmental efforts towards their release have also been utilized, namely personal letters from members of Jokowi’s favorite metal bands.
Napalm Death frontman Mark “Barney” Greenway wrote a letter to the Indonesian leader a few weeks ago: “As a follower of our band Napalm Death, you would appreciate that our lyrics and ethos challenge the unbroken cycle of violence in the world, whether it comes from a state or as an individual. If these things are not challenged and ultimately changed, I believe we will never truly move forward as humankind."
On March 3, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi joined the effort as well: “I appeal to you, as a forgiving man, to take note of their transformation. They are now reformed men who are making a positive difference to the lives of their fellow prisoners. That they have been transformed so much is a real credit to the Indonesian authorities."
While these two direct letters are not Track I communication, they could still have an alternative influence on the situation. Diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Australia have recently suffered due to this conflict and for Jokowi, hearing reasoned arguments by some of his favorite musical identities outside of the political spectrum could help him open his mind and explore a more humane fate for the two prisoners—based on his own cultural tastes.
While Indonesia’s stringent Islamic laws are still in the backdrop no matter who writes to Jokowi, it’s critical to see how much non-state actors are increasingly playing larger roles in international affairs. This particular case is not cultural diplomacy by definition, but Iommi and Greenway are both using their cultural influence to affect change, a concept that appears to be more realistic and effectual now compared to decades ago.