Terror in Paradise: The Bali Bombing

By Suter, Keith | Contemporary Review, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Terror in Paradise: The Bali Bombing


Suter, Keith, Contemporary Review


The bombs that exploded in Bali on the night of October 12-13 sent debris, so to speak, all over Australia. This was the largest loss of Australian lives in one operation since World War II. Not even the Korean or Vietnam wars resulted in such a massive single loss of Australian life.

This article puts the attack on the resort of Kuta in context. As of writing, it is still unclear which group was responsible for the attack or what the motive was. A group called Jemaah Islamiah (JI) has been blamed but little is known about it. JI was first identified by Singaporean authorities in the late 1990s; the title apparently means Islamic communities. Its links (if any) with Al Qaeda are not yet known. The Indonesian authorities have arrested some suspects, but it will take some time to complete any investigation.

Meanwhile Australia is coming to grips with a new form of warfare. Since the European settlement two centuries ago, Australia has faced various 'enemies', such as the French, Germans, Japanese, North Koreans and Vietnamese. The 'enemy' was always known. Now Australia confronts an enemy about which it knows little and one with no chain of command, capital city, or even territorial claims. Australia is an American ally in the 'war on Terrorism' which is open-ended. How will Australia know it has won or when the war is over. If the experience of the British Army in Northern Ireland is any guide, Australia could still be at war on September 11, 2031.

Bali is a paradise on earth. I have very much enjoyed my trips there and I have never met a tourist who was displeased with it. It is very different from the western islands of Indonesia (particularly Java). Indonesia is a country of about 17,000 islands running across about 3,000 miles of waterway (about the distance from London to New York). With about 220 million people, it is the world's most populous Islamic state, though generally with a form of Islam far more tolerant than in (say) parts of the Arab world or Iran.

Bali is a predominantly Hindu island of about three million people. Eighty per cent of its economy is based on tourism. The bombings have wrecked the tourist industry. Before the attack, the Kuta region had 212,000 hotel rooms and over 200 bars and restaurants, where an equivalent of about half a million pounds was spent each week on alcohol. The Balinese rarely drink large amounts of alcohol and so foreigners were easily the prime consumers.

Two bombs exploded simultaneously in the resort of Kuta, blowing up two popular nightclubs. About 187 people were killed (there is still a continuing attempt to identify the remains). About half the number were Australian, with Britons and Indonesians being among the other casualties. It is now claimed that the terrorists hoped to kill Americans with this bomb. Another bomb went off about 100 yards from the US consular office at Denpasar, Bali's capital city.

The two nightclubs were popular with foreign tourists, particularly young ones. For fundamentalist Moslems contemplating an attack, such venues represented what they despise in what they see as the alcoholic, sexually promiscuous Western lifestyles. The terrorists could count on hitting foreign tourists while minimizing the risk of killing fellow Moslems (who ought not to be frequenting such locations anyway).

This type of violence is not new to Indonesia. First, the military takeover in the mid-1960s that brought the Suharto regime to power, cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. They were presumed to be communists and so were killed or died in prison. The exact figure will never be known. The military maintained their central role in all aspects of Indonesian life. There was no democracy. Instead of general elections, they simply had elections of generals. Three decades later, when the Suharto regime started to collapse, over a thousand lives were lost in riots in May 1998 alone. Second, thousands of people have been killed in recent years in Indonesia by Islamic fundamentalists. …

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