Histories of violence, states of denial-militias, martial arts and masculinities in Timor-Leste.
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This thesis examines the complex interplay between violence and concepts of masculinity using the case study examples of former members of pro-Indonesian militia groups and current members of gangs, martial arts and ritual arts groups in Timor-Leste. Thirty-eight former and current members of these groups were interviewed in both Timor-Leste and Indonesian West Timor. While the members of these groups and their violent acts are often cast in relatively simplistic terms as being the work of misguided, socio-economically marginalised, violent young men, the thesis argues that the phenomena of these groups are far more complex and are intricately intertwined with local East Timorese and imported concepts of what it means to be a man. In addition to being political and economic projects, membership in these groups gives the men new, albeit often violent, ways of defining their masculine identity and defining their place in post-colonial, post-conflict East Timorese society. The violent enactments of masculinity displayed by the young men involved in the various groups examined in this thesis have been formed by the violent history of Timor-Leste but simultaneously the young men have also been personally involved in forming this history of violence. Both on the personal and on the level of the East Timorese state, these histories of violence are dealt with strategies of denial when it comes to taking personal responsibility for violence, leading to impunity and denial of justice to the victims. For the perpetrators, though, denial of responsibility and justifications of violence are used in an attempt to regain masculine honour and respectability in the eyes of broader society. Violence continues to be one of the tools they are willing to resort to for addressing real and perceived grievances, both on the personal and public level. Given the disruptive and deadly ways in which the activities of these young men have affected Timor-Leste, a central challenge for building a peaceful, just and equitable society will be to overcome the ways in which masculinities are defined through violence – a task which requires the involvement of East Timorese boys and men, but also their mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, wives and lovers.