Thursday, October 24, 2002

There is a good piece on UPI by James Bennett (via Instapundit ) discussing what Australia's options are now after the Bali bombing. The basic point is that no, Indonesia is not going to go away, and it is foolish to try to pretend that it might. It's worth a read. Plus there is the issue of the Balinese.

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Because our media has predominantly featured the Australian, British and other Western victims of the radical Islamist attacks on Bali, it is easy to forget that the primary intended victims of the assault were the Balinese themselves. To the extent that Australians and other non-Balinese were intended victims, it was primarily for the purpose of destroying the Balinese tourist industry. Killing Westerners was a tertiary, albeit welcome benefit in the eyes of the jihadists.

For them, the root cause they seek to fight against is not Israel, or Afghanistan. It is Christian "infidels" and Balinese "idolaters" polluting the Land of Islam, of which, in their view, Bali is part.

I am not actually sure I agree with this. I think that probably the attack was principally on westerners, and specifically on Australians, and that the Balinese were the side damage. It was an attack on Australia at least partly because of Australia's support of an independent East Timor. Now of course, East Timor is one other "non-Islamic" part of Indonesia (or at least "Indonesia" as perceived by the Indonesian army) in which the non-Islamic people were massacred for 30 years before the Indonesians were kicked out. But it doesn't matter much. The terrorists clearly wanted to do both things, so which was their primary aim is perhaps not the point.

Based on the Taliban experience in Afghanistan, we have a pretty good idea what the Balinese can expect should the radical Islamists fulfill their plans to take power in Indonesia. Bali's temples and religious monuments representing its unique blend of Hinduism and Buddhism would be destroyed -- remember the Bamiyan Buddhas -- and replaced with plain whitewashed mosques. Balinese music would be outlawed and their instruments destroyed. Those who resisted conversion to Islam would have to wear an identifying symbol such as a saffron patch on their clothes at all times. The Balinese tourism industry would be destroyed and the island, now poor but developing, would be plunged into primitive semi-starvation.

The Balinese understand this, and for the time being fervently support the national government, which preserves the traditional accommodations between Balinese and Muslim Indonesians. Should the government lose coherence, their only hope would be independence with foreign support which, as East Timor demonstrated, would be a very problematic option.

In the case of Bali, it would be impossible. Whereas Timor is a reasonably remote Indonesian island, Bali is right next to Java, in the sense that you can see Java across the strait easily. There are a few million Balinese, and 100 million Javanese. Foreign support for an independent Bali would be like foreign support for an independent Tibet. While a sense of justice might demand it, the facts of geography rule it out. To be truthful I find it astounding that Bali has retained its unique character. Traditionally the Balinese have accepted Javanese rule, and in return the Javanese would largely leave Bali alone. My gut feeling has been that if it has lasted this long, it will continue to last. (On the other hand, the Bamiyan Bhuddas lasted in Afghanistan for over a thousand years, before being blown up by the wretched Taliban, so maybe he is right).

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