DCSIMG

Hydra-headed movement at war against the West

THE Australian tourist said he planned to come back to Bali. "I love the place," said Jeff Day, catching his flight home to Sydney. "This bomb isn’t a Balinese problem, it’s a world problem."

But the charred corpses in Kuta are being presented as the fault of the Indonesians. Why wasn’t President Megawati’s government more vigilant? Why didn’t she move against Jemaah Islamiah, the fundamentalist Islamic network with links to al-Qaeda? Why hasn’t she arrested its leader, Abubaker Baasyir, chief suspect for Saturday’s merciless bomb attack?

The double standards are awesome. We might equally ask why President Bush failed to prevent the 11 September attacks, why US intelligence did not keep track of al-Qaeda, why Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still free to "roam", as Mr Bush puts it.

Mr Baasyir, whose group has bombed churches, claims he has nothing to do with the attack. Indonesian ministers advance the novel argument that they cannot detain people without evidence - a consideration that does not seem to trouble their US and UK counterparts.

To stiffen the Indonesians’ resolve, FBI agents have turned up in Jakarta. This will strengthen the hand of those who subscribe to the conspiracy theory, peddled by Mr Baasyir, that the bomb was somehow got up by the Americans "to justify allegations that Indonesia is a base for terrorists".

As world leaders call for culprits, one simple fact is getting lost. The Sari club was closed to Indonesians. Those Indonesians who died in the blast (between ten and 13, according to reports) were passers-by. This was a bomb aimed specifically at foreign tourists. Most of those killed or injured were young, pleasure-loving westerners.

For many, that makes their deaths particularly poignant. But there is a danger that the country where they died is seen as a blameworthy backdrop, rather than a fellow-sufferer from the carnage.

It is not just that Bali faces the collapse of tourism. Some reports claimed foreigners were given hospital beds and treated first while Indonesians were forced to lie on the floor and wait.

There is no more sense in pointing the finger at President Megawati than in laying the Twin Towers at President Bush’s door. We do not hear of the Emir being rebuked for the shooting of two US marines in Kuwait, or Tunisia being held responsible for a suicide bomber who killed 21 people outside a synagogue.

Blaming individual nations is as fruitless as naming individual villains. This is a hydra-headed movement. The al-Qaeda label is convenient but falsely comforting, suggesting a network that can be identified and confined.

As Peter Bergen, a US-based expert on bin Laden, told The Scotsman: "Let’s say it is nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Is that a cause for comfort? I don’t think so. Because then, we are moving into a new phase of leaderless resistance where people are doing things on their own."

The psychological urge to see the face of the enemy, to demonise bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, is as instinctive as the urge to finger a particular country - Afghanistan, Iraq - as the danger zone.

But the severed bronzed limbs and grieving friends in Bali should be the final wake-up call. This is a war against the West, born of rage at cultural imperialism and global injustice. As Mr Bergen suggests, it is "leaderless".

We can no longer pretend that resentment is limited to a few "Islamic terrorists" (a phrase which many Muslims find offensive). The bombers may be few, but the sentiment they exploit is widespread. Only last week, a coalition of Islamic parties scored a big success in Pakistan’s elections, having campaigned for American troops to leave the country.

Nor is anti-western feeling directly solely at the US, as Australians have learnt to their bitter cost. Kuta is a relaxed resort, associated with sex, drink and drugs, in a predominantly Muslim country where many people are offended by such behaviour. Bali hosts the only openly gay bars in Indonesia, and tolerates topless sunbathing. The town was targeted as an oasis of western decadence.

It is time we faced up to this, not as an excuse but as a reason. Neither the John Wayne soundbites of President Bush nor the outraged idealism of Tony Blair address the problem. Their focus on Iraq, a relatively westernised society run by the secular Baathist party, blocks a deeper understanding of where al-Qaeda’s cruelty derives from.

The spread of satellite and cable television has a part to play. Images of prosperity and sensuality are beamed into communities where they have the potential to provoke envy and outrage. Rupert Murdoch’s Star TV network shows Dynasty and Baywatch throughout Asia. Indonesians see Britney Spears on MTV.

Borderless television communicates western priorities. Naomi Klein, the Canadian author and activist, argues that "our lopsided coverage of global conflicts is helping to feed ... a rage at the persistent asymmetry of suffering".

Klein was shaken by how many Third World friends, from South Africa to Iran, contrasted the continual re-playing of images from 11 September with the near-invisibility of those who died in Afghanistan or during the Gulf War. Networks such as CNN appear international, she writes, but they still report "from clearly American and European perspectives".

Her point is borne out by a study of British Muslim reaction to news coverage in the aftermath of 11 September. The research, by the British Film Institute, found "a deep lack of trust" in UK and US television news, and deep resentment at the way other tragedies, from earthquakes in Turkey to the shooting of Palestinian children in Gaza, were felt to be ignored. Respondents spoke of "our ground zeros", a phrase being echoed by stricken Australians this week.

The Prime Minister has been sporadically sensitive to these concerns. He took care to meet British Muslims after 11 September, emphasising that the bombing of Afghan-istan was not "a war on Islam". In his Labour conference speech, he insisted that both Israelis and Palestinians should observe United Nations resolutions and pledged to restart the peace process, although no more has been heard of that promise.

But neither George Bush nor Tony Blair will accept the idea of a cultural clash. "Our values aren’t western values, they’re human values," said the Prime Minister in Blackpool.

Both men could benefit from skimming a new report which explores whether western ideas of democracy and human rights are compatible with Islam. Published by the United States Institute of Peace, a think-tank funded by Congress, it finds grounds for hope in grassroots campaigns by women and young people in countries like Afghanistan and Iran.

The authors come up with the subversive suggestion that the US should give aid and back democracy across the Muslim world, citing Turkey’s peaceful reforms under pressure from the European Union.

That is no consolation to the injured and bereaved in Indonesia, a country which, until four years ago, was run by an Australian-backed dictator. But it is food for thought.

 
 
 

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