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.