Southeast Asia

Indonesia bombed into awareness
By Gary LaMoshi

DENPASAR, Bali - The bomb that killed more than 180 people in Bali Saturday night was a deadly wakeup call for Indonesian authorities to jumpstart their ineffective, politicized security efforts. The attack in a prime tourist area and two other small blasts include some new elements, but they fit a longstanding pattern of deadly, craven violence throughout Indonesia that should have preempted any debate about whether the country has a terrorism problem.

The May 1998 Glodok rampage in Jakarta, unsolved bombings at the Jakarta Stock Exchange in November 2000 and numerous other sites around the capital and archipelago, plus religious clashes in the Maluku islands and Central Sulawesi are among dozens of examples of organized violence targeting innocent people to disrupt the social order, unchecked by security forces. Whether the masterminds are homegrown independent operators, rogue armed force elements, or imports allied with al-Qaeda is irrelevant.

Yet Indonesia's political elite, most notably Vice President Hamzah Haz and People's Consultative Assembly Speaker Amien Rais, characterize claims of terrorist activity in Indonesia as an attack on Islam. Western leaders must clearly differentiate between war on terrorism and war on Islam, and so must responsible Muslim leaders, particularly when playing politics with security may lead to tons of charred flesh on the busiest street in Kuta, Bali's ground zero for tourism, and now for terror.

No responsibility, please; we're politicians

Of course, as potential presidential candidates, Hamzah, Amien, and other ambitious politicians eschew responsible behavior. Instead, they pander to the most extremist elements, such as Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's accused terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah and Laskar Jihad that recruits "warriors" to kill Christians in Ambon, wrapping themselves in white as defenders of Islam.

Rather than expressing concern about the activities of accused al-Qaeda operative Omar al-Faruq reported last month, including alleged plots to assassinate President Megawati Sukarnoprtri, phony populists accused the US of leaking the story to embarrass Indonesia. They challenged American authorities to present evidence that terrorists are operating in Indonesia, rather than simply observing the body count from four years of extremist violence.

These radical huggers also assert that US claims about terrorist activity will incur an angry backlash from Indonesia's people. Does Hamzah Haz believe that Indonesia's people favor indiscriminant destruction over law and order?

Rather than focusing on innocent lives lost and threatened, Indonesia's elite exploits the terrorism issue to burnish its anti-Western credentials. But for Indonesia's 230 million people, what America did in Afghanistan or may do in Iraq is irrelevant compared to the random slaughter that's become an unfortunate fact of life in many areas of the country. Bali earned its star on that map Saturday night.

On Sunday, Megawati expressed her outrage at the latest attacks and flew to Bali. The usually reticent leader even dared utter the t-word, saying the blasts "once again remind us that terrorism is a real danger and potential threat to national security". It will not be long before her prospective opponents in the 2004 election blame American rhetoric that insulted Indonesia for inciting the bombers.

Rights violations?

Most deliciously, politicians questioned whether al-Faruq's rights were violated by his arrest. As for Ba'asyir, police blandly assert that Indonesia is a democracy so they can't simply arrest people on suspicion. Without apparent irony, these collaborators, if not operatives, under Suharto's authoritarian reign now claim to have gotten religion about the rights of suspects.

What about the rights of the country's thousands of innocent victims?

The run of violence since the fall of Suharto in 1998, no matter how it's categorized, is a rich vein for conspiracy theorists. Many contend that forces loyal to the deposed strongman hope to destabilize the country and reassert their grip. Security forces unable or unwilling to staunch the bloodletting and a political class bred under the Smiling General's New Order add to suspicions that bombings, separatist movement attacks (see
Indonesia's gold standard, Asia Times Online, September 7, 2002), and communal violence are a wayang kulit (shadow puppet) show by a hidden puppeteer awaiting a desperate nation's call to emerge.

Copying the signature of international terrorists could be a new scene in that play for power. Or, as Ba'asyir asserted on Indonesian television Sunday, the Sari Club bomb must be a US plot to manufacture evidence for its claims of terrorism in Indonesia, since local groups could not assemble such a large explosive device.

The fundamentalist cleric is right that the size of the bomb and the sophisticated tactic of detonating a smaller bomb nearby to funnel more traffic to the main blast location, rules out a gangster war or local prostitutes angry over being banned from the clubs earlier this year. But it rules in international terrorists (Ba'asyir includes the US on his list) and security forces.

Saturday night's other targets were the US Honorary Consulate in Renon, an exclusive residential area of Bali, and the Philippine consulate in Manado at the northern tip of the island of Sulawesi, just south of the Muslim separatist war zone in Mindanao. Philippine diplomats have been repeatedly targeted throughout Indonesia.

US diplomatic offices in Indonesia closed for five days around the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. US Ambassador Ralph Boyce met with security officials and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda last week to highlight security concerns. The international roll call of victims in the Bali blast will add other governments' voices to demands for greater security.

A US State Department report contends a grenade that exploded prematurely on September 23, killing one of three attackers, was intended for the nearby US ambassador's residence in Jakarta. Indonesian authorities insist the explosion stemmed from a debt collection plan gone wrong, and the location was a coincidence.

Hitting where it hurts

The only possible motives evident in Saturday night's blast were to kill the most foreigners possible, to demonstrate the impotence of Indonesian law enforcement, and/or to further undermine confidence in Indonesia's struggling economy by hitting a major center of foreign exchange and international investment.

If Indonesia cannot protect Bali and its tourists, security in the country has reached a hopeless point, and foreign investment will surely dwindle further. Indonesia is already the only country in the region recording annual net outflows of investment ever since the 1997 economic crisis.

International tourism in Bali generates an estimated $2 billion annually for Indonesia's current account. International hotel chains including Hyatt, Hilton, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Four Seasons, and Novotel/Coralia represent billions more in investment and payroll. A million Balinese, one-third of the island's population, make a living from tourism; up close, it's hard to believe that official figure isn't an understatement.

Bali had been considered a safe haven in turbulent Indonesia. Last November, Bali's police chief, Brigadier-General Budi Setyawan, exhorted more than 100 travel journalists to "tell travelers the island is safe and free from extremist threats against tourists".

At a government-sponsored conference aimed at reversing the post-September 11 drop in tourism arrivals, he assured the journalists that "we have security measures in place at the airport and at harbors to guarantee no troublemakers arrive here". Those assertions now lie in ruins amid the carnage at the infamous Sari Club.

Near tears Sunday morning, Setyawan pledged to resign if his officers fail to crack the case within a month.

It is refreshing to see an Indonesian official take responsibility for failure. Now it's time for politicians to follow Setyawan's lead and act responsibly to safeguard the people they purportedly represent. The Bali blast demonstrates that authorities cannot provide security and strong new measures are needed, whether the threat is international terrorism or something even more dangerous to the republic.

(©2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact for information on our sales and syndication policies.) 
Oct 15, 2002

Defending Islam against itself
(Oct 9, '02)

The simmering threat of Indonesian radicalism
(Sep 12, '02)

Wars and enemies of the state  (Aug 24, '02)

The Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda of Southeast Asia
(Feb 6, '02)

Indonesian militants a law unto themselves
(Jan 19, '02)

Indonesia must confront the terror within (Nov 29, '01)


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