The New Rules of War

We Must Remain Firm

Indonesians mourn the victims of the terrorist attack in Bali
Jakarta, Oct.17, 2002: Indonesians mourn the victims of the Oct. 12 car bombing in Bali (Photo: AFP).

Australia is in mourning. The sense of sorrow mixed with disbelief, outrage, and fear that followed the Sept. 11 attacks last year in New York and Washington consumes us again. Except this time terrorism has come to our doorstep, to the holiday home away from home that is Bali. The tourist destination familiar to most of us as a safe, cheap, and friendly island of tolerance and fun has been turned into a charred graveyard. Horrifying images of bodies burned beyond recognition, seriously injured young men and women, and the street scenes of utter devastation recall a war zone.

What the Indonesians are calling the worst act of terrorism in their country’s history is an international tragedy that is especially painful for us. And we are only just beginning to grasp what has happened. Many Australians were in the nightclubs or nearby when they were bombed, and casualties will be very high.

Women and men from around our large country, scores of them, some of them footballers enjoying an end of season break, are dead or missing. Certainly more Australians have been killed in Bali than in any other international disaster. Authorities are still counting the cost to human life, and will be doing so for some time.

The race is on to save the lives of those injured by the bomb blasts; many tourists, however, are unaccounted for. Families and friends are desperately trying to get in touch with loved ones. But it is clear that Australians along with French, Germans, Swedes, Britons, Americans, Canadians, and other foreigners as well as Indonesians have lost their lives. The death toll could rise above 200.

Hundreds more have been injured, some of them critically. The search is on for the murderers who planned this brutal attack. We cannot yet be sure whether Australians were specifically targeted. But we do know this was a terrorist attack that killed and injured mainly foreign tourists. It occurred in a non-Muslim enclave of Indonesia that is a magnet for fun-loving young Western holidaymakers.

Another bomb went off near the U.S. Consulate, adding to the sense that this was a coordinated attack motivated by the same kind of indiscriminate anti-Western rage that drove the murder-bombers into the World Trade Center. Already our own government, some Indonesian politicians, Bush administration officials, and academic experts are making the obvious connections with the same radical Islamic terrorist networks that masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. As Clive Williams argues in The Australian today, Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups are the likely Bali bombers. Jemaah Islamiyah heads the list of suspects.

The sadness is overwhelming, yet we must steel ourselves for the struggle ahead. This is a wake-up call to Australia, to our region, and to the entire civilized world to unite more strongly than ever to defeat terrorism.

The Bali bombings expose the lie that the act of war on Sept. 11, 2001, was simply an attack on Americans and American values. Bali proves that all freedom-loving peoples are at risk from terrorism, at home and abroad. We cannot let national rivalries, domestic political differences, or cynical anti-Americanism divide us. The Bali bombings should serve as a lesson to the waverers who have let their distaste for George W. Bush or knee-jerk isolationism blind them to the realities of terrorism.

No one is safe from the terrorist threat. Many have warned since Sept. 11 that terrorism strikes innocent civilians as they go about their ordinary lives. As Australia’s Prime Minster John Howard said yesterday, the young Australians partying at Kuta Beach’s club strip were doing what young Australians will often do at this time of year: “mark the end of the sporting season with some fun in another place.” Yet they were seen as legitimate targets of the terrorists.

We must resist the pressure that is already building for Australia to withdraw from its alliance with the United States against terrorism, to “protect” ourselves from future attacks. This would be both disloyal and against our national interests. We are involved in a war against terrorism not because we are a United States’ ally but because we are a Western democratic country.

There is no coward’s safety in retreating from what unites us with the Americans, the French, the British, the Canadians, and the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims living in Indonesia and other parts of the world. The terrorist threat is widespread, and the various fronts cannot be separated. The sickening reality is that Al-Qaeda has moved from Afghanistan into Southeast Asia, and as far as Australia.

It is not an overstatement to say we have entered a new and dangerous phase in the war on terrorism. This is a phase that has necessarily drawn Australia and our region into the center of the struggle. The warning signs were coming. Days before the Bali attacks the Americans warned of signals that Al-Qaeda was regrouping. The attacks on U.S. Marines in Kuwait, the French tanker in Yemen, and the release of an Osama bin Laden video, as well as U.S. intelligence, pointed to this fact. Australia and the United States had been pressing Indonesia to get tougher on terrorists.

Clearly not enough was done. We need to be ever more determined to root out the terrorist curse. Our anti-terrorist agreement with Indonesia is already in place. Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri is making the right moves, and the Australian government is drawing the right moral by refusing to back down on its anti-terrorist commitments.

One focus of Australia, the United States, and the region should be to stabilize Indonesia. This event will be catastrophic for the world’s most populous Muslim nation. The first consequence is economic. Bali is the center of the nation’s tourist industry, and it has remained a steady source of income as Indonesia has battled years of financial and economic instability since the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. Indonesians over the short and long term will pay a heavy price.

The Bali bombings, however, will damage the cause of the fundamentalists even more in the eyes of ordinary Indonesians. One positive outcome may be that President Megawati will be emboldened and have the political and public support to clamp down once and for all on Islamic extremists within Indonesia linked to terrorism.

The naysayers are using this terrible event to try to talk down Australia’s openness to involvement in any military action against Iraq. But we must keep the focus on terrorism and Al-Qaeda.

The terrorists in New York and Washington had planes. In Bali they used car bombs. The destruction would be unthinkable if these same terrorists had weapons of mass destruction courtesy of Saddam Hussein. We cannot not lose our nerve. Instead, we should continue, and even intensify, our program to eliminate terrorism.