Bali – nothing to justify terror

As mentioned below, the Senate devoted most of Tuesday to a condolence debate on the Bali bombings.

It isn’t a good idea to get stridently political too close to such a traumatic event. However, I do find it a bit irritating when I hear gratuitous demands of the Indonesian government that they ban Jemaah Islamiah. Indeed, in yet another example of why I find the current political environment soooo depressing, the Labor Party seems far more gung-ho than the Coalition about demanding of the Indonesians that this be done forthwith.

Personally, I find it hard to see how this will really help very much and am concerned that it will potentially have a counter-productive effect. However, I understand the alternative view and if it can be done with the necessary precision, it may help a bit. But what really bugs me is the inherent assumption that the Indonesian Government needs to be pressured about this, as if somehow they either don’t understand, don’t care or aren’t capable of assessing for themselves what needs to be done to tackle terrorism in their own country.

For all the talk amongst the political class about our close relationship with Indonesia, we still seem to be pretty good at being wildly patronising and incapable of recognising that just maybe the Indonesian Government also isn’t very keen about murderous psychopaths killing their own citizens and buggering up their economy, making it a hundred times harder to alleviate the poverty of millions.

I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the Indonesian Government already believes that the terrorist aspect of Jemaah Islamiah is a bad thing. Just maybe we should also recognise that Indonesians might also have a bit of an idea of what actions might and might not help address this. Perhaps I’m wrong and banning JI is the way to go, but let’s also give the Indonesians a bit of credit for having valid views of their own.

The biggest weapon against extremism is communication. That means improved and shared intelligence, but it also means improved and shared public understanding. For two countries that are so close geographically and share more of a past (and a future) than we usually recognise, it is amazing how little understanding and awareness there is between Australians and Indonesians at grassroots level. Just shouting our views through the letters pages of the mainstream media is not likely to improve that situation.

As one small way to address that problem, here’s a couple of Indonesian blogs I discovered today which seem like they might be valuable. One is called “Paras Indonesia – where democratic minds meet” , which aims to be a web log for comments, debate and discussion on the dynamics and intricacies of Indonesia. I found that site through this entry on a blog by another Indonesian blogger (discovered through Crikey), which also gives an individual insight into how one Indonesian feels about how the latest bombing affects their democratic dreams. Both sites seem to be making a specific effort to blog in English to increase the number and breadth of people that might be reached.

For a thorough and fairly dispassionate assessment of terrorism in Indonesia, check out the latest publication by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – released just before the latest bombings. They disagree with my view on proscribing JI, although I feel they might be mixing up political and social motivations on the part of the Indonesian government.

The Senate debate on the Bali bombings brought back memories of the first bomb attacks in 2002. My speech to the condolence debate on that occasion was my very first to the Senate as the Leader of the Democrats. I just read over that speech from nearly three years ago. Funnily enough, I think Indonesia has made some progress on tackling the issues since then, but I’m not so sure that Australia has moved much down the right paths since that time.

UPDATE: This piece in The Age by Dr Damian Kingsbury explains well some of the concerns I was trying to express.

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  1. It’s interesting to remember that we live in such an Orientalist society. Those poor dumb savages, they’re all so incapable of making decisions for themselves. I totally agree with you – the Indonesian Government certainly doesn’t want these people damaging their economy, killing Indonesians, etc. And it certainly doesn’t want us going all ‘older sibling’ on it, being patronising as hell and bossing them around.
    Can you imagine what would happen if they tried to do that to us??
    It makes me feel kinda ashamed.

  2. I think enough is enough, Senator. Indonesia’s strategy at containment of JI clearly hasn’t worked. Time to get tough. Even the yanks have mostly managed to work out that supporting terrorist groups or even just granting them semi-legal status (IRA) is a bad thing. It should be a no-brainer for the Indonesians.

  3. The calls from the Government and the ALP to ban JI are design to please the few seconds newsgrabs for the 6 o’clock news.
    Is there anyone out there that can think strategically?

  4. I think the question is… if we sit around fist waving about banning JI etc to Indonesia… will that hurt the cause?
    Let’s say there is a group in Australia called “Thong Liberation” that the Indonesians do not like. If Indonesian policians wave their fists at us, telling us what to do… would be ban “Thong Liberation”? Surely, even if we were thinking about banning “Thong Liberation”, we would still be very angry. It might even convince us NOT to ban the group.
    We’ve got to separate what *feels* good, what will make us *feel* better, and what will actually achieve results. I am with the Senator on this one.

  5. But if the Thong Liberation had perpetrated 244 murders in attacks over four years why would we even raise an eyebrow? In fact we’d have to be damn stupid to allow TL any legitimacy. We’d have to be asking ourselves why didn’t we ban them four years ago. I mean we’re not talking about a social club here, we’re talking about terrorists, whose primary aim is to create a Thong superstate encompassing Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific Island nations through violent means. Why on earth would we be angry if Indonesia said, ‘These guys have killed nearly 100 of us, enough is enough, ban them’? I just don’t see the problem.

  6. I am not defending JI, I am questioning what is the best way to go about it. Overinflated fist waving on the 6pm news or communication and diplomacy? We wouldn’t accept fist waving and banter from the Indonesians, why do we think the Indonesians would be cool with that from us? Remember, particularly in the last terrorist attack, far more locals were killed than Aussies. The Indonesians are suffering too. Terrorism like this harms their economy, particularly through loss of tourism. Again, we’ve got to think “looking down on the Indonesians may make us feel good, but does it ACHIEVE anything?”

  7. Skribe – The difference here is that I believe that the “get tough” approach that you advocate, which I call “fist waving”, is not what is going to get the best results. Yes, people are dying. Our objective here, which we surely agree on, is for this problem to be minimised or, preferably, fixed. I have explained why I do not think the “get tough” approach has merit. I think communication, diplomacy and cooperation is the only option that can lead to better results. Once you strip the emotional side out of it, that appears to be the difference of opinion.

  8. I agree with your opinion on Australian calls to ban JL. Indonesia is in a far better position than are we to decide whether banning JL would decrease the threat of terrorism. Now, because of John Howard’s call to do so, if JL is outlawed a section of Indonesia will accuse SBY of being a lackey of Australia. We can help Indonesia best by respecting the intelligence and competence of its leaders rather than by patronising them.

  9. “We can help Indonesia best by respecting the intelligence and competence of its leaders”
    Oh, were you serious?

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