from The Spectator, October 19th 2002
An appeaser, said Churchill, feeds the crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last. But sometimes the croc eats him first anyway. For months, the US, Britain and Canada had warned the Indonesian government about terrorists operating within its borders. So had Singapore and Malaysia. President Megawati's administration responded by calling Washington anti-Muslim. The American ambassador was publicly denounced by her vice-president. Hassan Wirayuda, the foreign minister, said in February that the outside world's fears of Islamic terrorism in Indonesia were overblown and that in Jakarta 'we laugh at it'. Ha-ha. From government contacts to police indifference, the administration's strategy was to deny the crocodile existed and then quietly slip him the a la carte menu.
Now, Indonesian stocks are down, the rupiah's in the toilet, the national carrier's flying empty, and the official tourism websites have switched to continuously updated info on dead tourists, safe in the knowledge that they're unlikely to be getting any new bookings from live ones. 'We're finished, ' says the chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce. The members of the Maroubra Lions Rugby League Club, who visited Bali at this time every year, won't be back.
On Saturday night after dinner, the blokes agreed to babysit while the wives went out dancing. They didn't return. On Monday, Craig Salvatori put his two young daughters back on the plane to Sydney and told reporters he had to stay to 'look for mummy'. He found her in the morgue a couple of hours later, so badly burned she was identifiable only by her jewellery. But not to worry, Mr Wirayuda: if the Western partygoers are fleeing, the high-rolling Islamofascists are here to stay. On Monday, for the first time, Mrs Megawati's government conceded that al-Qa'eda are operating inside the country.
The slaughter of hundreds is, relative to population, an Australian 9/11, with the same heart-rending details of people clawing desperately through the rubble in search of husbands, wives, children. When Osama's boys hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the root-cause crowd, after some pro forma regret about the loss of life, could barely conceal their admiration for the exquisite symbolism of the targets, the glittering monuments to American militarism and capitalism. The New Statesman dismissed the victims as Wall Street types who made the mistake of voting for Bush rather than Ralph Nader.
If you had to pick anywhere on the planet where Bush voters are thin on the ground, Bali's hard to beat. Lots of Aussie beach bums, Scandinavian backpackers, German stoners, braying English public-school types taking a year off to find themselves, but not many registered Republicans. This mass murder was clearly going to be harder to excuse, but the root-causers gamely rose to the occasion. The Sydney Morning Herald's Margo Kingston fretted over 'whether we've respected and nurtured the place we love to visit or colonised it with our wants. . . . Maybe part of it is the lack of services for locals.'
A completely inadequate hospital, for instance, so graphically exposed in the aftermath of the horror. Some people - foreigners like us, elite big-city Indonesians - make their fortunes. Have residents lost their place, their power to define it? Did the big money fail to give enough back to the people who belong there, whose home it is?', etc. , etc. Well, if the insensitivity of Western tourism is the root cause, Margo can relax: it's not gonna be a problem any more. Whether or not, as Margo would say, poverty breeds terrorism, in Indonesia last weekend's terrorism will certainly breed poverty.
While we're singing the old favourites, here's Bruce Haigh with a timeless classic. Mr Haigh was an Australian diplomat in Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and he's in no doubt as to why hundreds of his compatriots were blown up in Bali. As he told Australia's Nine Network, 'The root cause of this issue has been America's backing of Israel on Palestine.'
You don't say. It may well be true that, for certain Muslims 'frustrated' by Washington's support for Israeli 'intransigence', blowing up Australians in Bali makes perfect sense.
But, if even this most elastic of root causes can be stretched halfway around the globe to a place conspicuously lacking either Jews or Americans, then clearly it can apply to anyone or anything: my advice to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness is to put down the Omagh bombing as an understandable reaction to decades of frustration at Washington's indulgence of the Zionist oppression of the Palestinian people. As the likes of Mr Haigh demonstrate every day, the more you insist the Islamist psychosis is a rational phenomenon to be accommodated, the more you risk sounding just as nutty as the terrorists.
On which subject, The Independent's Robert Fisk thinks the Aussies were targeted for a more specific reason - blowback for being too cosy with the Great Satan: 'The French have already paid a price for their initial support for Mr Bush. The killing of 11 French submarine technicians in Karachi has been followed by the suicide attack on the French oil tanker Limburg off the coast of Yemen. Now, it seems, it is the turn of Australia...' And don't worry, there are plenty of others who'll be getting theirs any day now. Just in case al-Qa'eda had missed one or two, Fisk helpfully provides a useful list of legitimate targets: 'Belgium, which hosts Nato HQ; Canada, whose special forces have also been operating in Afghanistan; Ireland, which allows US military aircraft to refuel at Shannon...' Blessings be upon you, Mister Robert, we had entirely forgot to add 'Kill the Irish' to our 'To Do' list.
I wonder if it was a cautious editor who added 'initial' to that French 'support for Mr Bush'. The French were supportive for about ten minutes after 11 September, but for most of the last year have been famously and publicly non-supportive: throughout the spring, their foreign minister, M. Vedrine, was deploring American 'simplisme' on a daily basis. The French veto is still Saddam's best shot at torpedoing any meaningful UN action on Iraq. If you were to pick only one Western nation not to blow up the oil tankers of, the French would be it.
But they got blown up anyway. And afterwards a spokesman for the Islamic Army of Aden said, 'We would have preferred to hit a US frigate, but no problem because they are all infidels.'
No problem. They are all infidels.
Unlike Mr Fisk, I don't have decades of expertise in the finer points of Islamic culture, so when people make certain statements and their acts conform to those statements I tend to take them at their word. As Hussein Massawi, former leader of Hezbollah, neatly put it, 'We are not fighting so that you will offer us something. We are fighting to eliminate you.'
The first choice of Islamists is to kill Americans and Jews, or best of all an American Jew - like Daniel Pearl, the late Wall Street Journal reporter. Failing that, they're happy to kill Australians, Britons, Canadians, Swedes, Germans, as they did in Bali. We are all infidels.
Back in February, Fisk wrote a column headlined 'Please Release My Friend Daniel Pearl'. It followed a familiar line: please release Daniel, then you'll be able to tell your story, get your message out. Taking him hostage is 'an own goal of the worst kind', as it ensures he won't be able to get your message out, the message being - Fisky presumed – 'the suffering of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees', 'the plight of Pakistan's millions of poor', etc. Somehow the apologists keep missing the point: the story did get out; Pearl's severed head is the message. That's why they filmed the decapitation, released it on video, circulated it through the bazaars and madrasas and distributed it worldwide via the Internet.
The message got out very effectively.
It's the same with Bali. As a way of making a point about Zionist occupation of the West Bank, it's a little convoluted, to say the least. If it's intended to warn America's allies off supporting Bush, it seems perverse and self-defeating to kill and maim large numbers of citizens from countries who haven't supported him. So, instead of trying to fit square pegs into Islamic crescents, why not take the event at face value? It's a mound of dead Australians and Scandinavians and the non-Islamic Indonesians of Bali: no problem, they're all infidels. A Bush-voting social conservative from Mississippi or a gay peacenik from Denmark, they're happy to kill both. If, as some of us maintain, the real 'root cause' of Islamofascism is Islam's difficulty coexisting with modernity, we shouldn't be surprised that an infidel-friendly, pluralist enclave in the world's largest Muslim country would be an abomination to the Islamists, and the perfect target.
In many ways, the sanest Muslims in the world today are those of South Asia. In the Middle East, they're mired in their own long-standing and mostly self-inflicted psychosis. In Europe, they've stood traditional immigration patterns on their head: the Continent's young Muslims are less assimilated than their parents and grandparents; instead of becoming more European, they're becoming more Islamist. So the challenge now is for the Wahhabists to co-opt the Asian Muslims as they have the Arab and European. They've had some success. Lee Kuan Yew has spoken of the change in Singapore's Muslims in recent decades: once relatively integrated, they now keep themselves to themselves, are stricter in their observances than they've ever been, and dress their womenfolk more severely. They've embarked on the same process observers have spotted from the Balkans to Pakistan: the radicalisation of traditional Muslim communities. If Islamofascists were to gain control of Indonesia, it wouldn't be a parochial, self-absorbed dictatorship like Suharto's, but a launch-pad for an Islamic 'superstate in the region.
The easiest way to understand is, again, to take them at their word. Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Gottingen University in Germany, gave an interesting speech a few months after 11 September: 'Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms these mean different things to each of them, ' he said. 'The word "peace", for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam - or "House of Islam" - to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought.' Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar aSalam, or 'House of Peace'. The objective isn't a self-governing Palestine but the death of the West.
On the face of it, that sounds crazy. But look at the gains they've made in the last quarter-century, since they overthrew America's closest ally in the Muslim world and established the first radical Islamic Republic in Iran. In the Middle East, Islamism has proved far more successful and exportable than Nasserite socialism ever was. It's brilliantly opportunist, slyly spotting the openings in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Chechnya, and now Indonesia. In the West, it's been able to rely on cultural squeamishness to advance its presence, ever since British police stood idly by while Muslim groups marched through the streets inciting their followers to murder Salman Rushdie. With the benefit of hindsight, Rushdie's boneheaded buddies in the literary world made a huge mistake in opposing the 'fatwa' on the grounds of the primacy of artistic freedom rather than as a defence of Western pluralism. Everyone was more naive back then.
But we shouldn't be now. As I said a few weeks ago, it's not a clash between civilisations but within them - in the Muslim world, between what's left of moderate traditional Islam and an extreme strain of that faith that even many of their co-religionists have difficulty living with; and in the West between those who think this culture is worth defending and those who'd rather sleepwalk to national suicide while mumbling bromides about whether Western hedonism is to blame for 'lack of services for locals' in Bali. To read Robert Fisk and Margo Kingston is like watching a panto cast on drugs: No matter how often the baddies say, 'I'm behind you!', Robert and Margo reply, 'Oh, no, you're not!'
I began with a Churchill quote, so let me end with one: 'Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.' That's what happened after 11 September: the brief glimpse of the reality of the Islamist scheme was too much, and so we dusted ourselves off and retreated back to all the illusions, like the Oslo 'peace process'. That can't save us, and it certainly can't save Indonesia. And until we're prepared to identify the enemy and confront him as such, there will be more nights like last Saturday night, and more little girls like the Salvatoris', orphaned because their mum and her friends went dancing.
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