Magazine article USA TODAY

The Irony of Bali Terrorism. (World Watcher)

Magazine article USA TODAY

The Irony of Bali Terrorism. (World Watcher)

Article excerpt

THE OCT. 12, 2002, bombing of nightclubs in Bali has turned ,the world of travel and tourism in Southeast Asia upside down. Bali had always been an island of tranquility in Indonesia. Its history dates to the powerful Madjapahit empire that existed from 1100 to 1500 A.D. on eastern Java and the adjacent islands. The Madjapahit political dynasty traced its origins to the Indian Hindu polities that led to the development of all Southeast Asian states except Vietnam. Most of Madjapahit was eventually subjugated to the expanding Islamic empires that followed the founding of Malacca in 1400 A.D., but Bali escaped with its Hindu culture intact.

It is that Hindu culture that has made Bali the most-attractive vacation site in the region for the last half-century. The more-permissive atmosphere of Hinduism allowed sunbathing, partying, and general relaxing by Australians, Europeans, and Americans that didn't fit the local culture in the rest of Islamic Indonesia. The hotels and resorts of Bali have been bringing hundreds of millions of dollars steadily into foreign currency-starved Indonesia for decades.

The bombing in Bali killed more than 190, mostly Australians, but others as well, including seven Americans, in a tactical hit for the terrorists' cause. It was also a strategic strike at the heart of Indonesia and the region. It reflected a desire on the part of many fundamentalist Muslims to quell the constant intrusion of Western influences into the country and incidentally served to send a message to the Hindu population of the island. Where Bali's domestic population gained from the interaction with the flow of tourism, there has been a leveling to the least common denominator. Jakarta's Center for Labor and Development estimates that 150,000 tourism-related jobs will be lost on Bali and close to 1,000,000 for Indonesia as a whole.

The bombing was a powerful message across the region. Those nations with fundamentalist and radical Islamic populations--whether in large numbers or small minorities--are now deemed physically vulnerable to attacks on Westerners. These states include Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, and the Philippines. The U.S., Australia, and Great Britain have issued warnings to their citizens about visiting these countries and, if they do, about avoiding groups and some locations.

There have been sufficient departures and trip cancellations that the meeting of the heads of state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in November began with a focus on the devastating effect the drop in tourism revenue is having. The two-day summit of the 10 heads of state resulted in pledges of further cooperation among law enforcement bodies to protect visitors and investors, and the establishment of an antiterrorism center to be located in Malaysia, but these measures are probably too late.

The lessons of the Bali explosions for the tourism industry have compounded those already provided by attacks by Islamic radicals on tourists at Luxor and other sites in Egypt, Algeria, Sabah, Malaysia, and the southern Philippines. The lessons are, first, that Western tourists are viable targets for terrorists. Second, the danger is global, and no country or location is immune. Third, Islamic populations are the source of active terrorism. …

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