After Bali: The Verdict is Out Before the Guilty Are In!

Farish A. Noor

Posted Oct 3, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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After Bali: The Verdict is Out Before the Guilty Are In!

By Farish A. Noor

Hardly a week has gone by after the bombings that took place in the
Indonesian island resort of Bali, but already it appears as if the world�s
media and the doyens of international affairs have made up their minds over
the question of who was guilty, and more importantly why.

Four years after the events of 11 September 2001, it appears that we are
none the wiser and the world has become a more dangerous place for ordinary
people; the generation of consensus proceeds in earnest and shows no signs
of abating in the near future. An enemy is in the making, and that enemy it
seems has a name: Islam.

In scenes reminiscent of the hysteria and orgy of finger-pointing that
occurred barely twenty-four hours after the Oklahoma bombing incident of
1995, a host of self-proclaimed �experts� have come to the fore to grace our
television screens and newspaper pages to inform us that � despite the
obvious absence of concrete, irrefutable evidence � those responsible for
the recent Bali attacks were �most probably� members of the nebulous
�Jama�ah Islamiyyah� group.

From high-profile media-savvy pundits holed up in Singapore to previously
unheard of academics based in London, the song remains the same. The thesis,
if one could call it that, is simple enough: These Indonesian Muslim
radicals want an Islamic state; they hate the West, all things Western and
Westerners in toto; they hate Bali because Bali is somehow more
�pro-Western� than the rest of Indonesia; and they hate Bali because it
happens to be predominantly Hindu. It follows from this thinly spread layer
of platitudes and cliches that the Jama�ah Islamiyyah group could only have
sprung from within the bowels of Indonesia herself, and that it is they who
are guilty.

Should anyone care to spend more than two precious minutes to dissect the
logic of this clumsy suite of assumptions, the argument begins to fall apart
faster than one can stand it up:

For a start, any �hatred� towards the �West� today stems more from the
foreign policies of some Western governments rather than the West per se.
Nowhere in the discourse of even the most radical religio-fundamentalist
group have we come across blanket condemnations of all things western, and
indeed upon closer examination it is clear that many of these groups happen
to admire the material, economic and educational advances of the Western
world more than anything else. Anger at the foreign policies of the United
States of America and its allies � notably Britain and Australia � should
not be confused and conflated with generic anti-Westernism for the sake of a
convenient argument; unless a convenient argument is precisely what the
media pundits yearn for, which increasingly seems to be the case here.

Secondly the anger towards the major Western powers, primarily America, is
certainly not the exclusive monopoly of Muslims. A cursory overview of the
state of global affairs today would show that such feelings are widely
shared and held by millions of ordinary people from all over the world, from
Latin America to the Far East. America�s flaunting of global norms of
conduct, its pollution of the global environment and its steadfast
insistence that it should go on consuming and polluting more than any
nations its size has angered environmentalists, anti-globalisation
movements, NGOs, intellectuals, citizens groups from Brazil to Japan. So we
need not jump to the conclusion that whenever there is a bomb going off
somewhere in the world it is the immediate result of Muslims losing their
temper for whatever reason, surely.

Thirdly, the so-called �terrorism experts� who have thus far opined in a
singular direction have failed to take into account the very real factors
that dominate Indonesian politics today: Indonesia remains under the grip of
a powerful pro-Western (or rather pro-American) elite who remain closely
connected to the forces of global capital and who remain strongly supported
by the armed forces, as was the case during the dark days of the Soeharto
regime. Then, as now, these elites remain aloof, out of touch with reality
(cocooned as they are in their fortified enclaves in the elite suburbs of
Jakarta), feudal in their political manners and values, and Western-centric
in their outlook. The parroting by Indonesia�s President Bambang Yudhoyono
may go down well in Washington and serve a nifty soundbite for CNN, but it
brings him no closer to the Indonesian people he purports to lead.

Under such circumstances, Indonesia�s current economic hardship (made worse
by the recent dramatic rise in domestic oil prices) is bound to lead to
instability, but of a local variety where the primary target is the
government of Indonesia itself and not the precious lives of Western
tourists who are obviously deemed more valuable than Indonesians.

And finally the claim that the attacks on Bali were somehow part of a larger
anti-Hindu campaign being waged in the country rings hollow when we consider
the affinity and affection with which most Indonesians have for their
pre-Islamic past. Hindu monuments dot the Indonesian landscape till today,
and should one be on the lookout for Hindu symbols to destroy, then one can
begin with Jakarta itself rather than Bali. The Indonesian national airline
is called Garuda, named after the winged steed of the Hindu deity Vishnu.
Indonesia�s patriotic symbols include the Hindu monkey-God Hanuman and
heroes of Hindu epics like Rama and Krishna.

No, the stories we have been fed of late do sound vacuous indeed when we
take the facts on the ground into consideration. But this fact remains a
certainty nonetheless: the recent bombings in Bali have provided the West
with yet another pretext to extend the �war on terror� longer and deeper
into the region of Southeast Asia, which has been dubbed the �second front�
in this clash of ideologies. Who, pray tell, stands to benefit from such an
outcome? Indonesia�s Islamist opposition movements � who today happen also
to be leading the country�s campaign against corruption and who are calling
for the restoration of full democracy � or the neo-Con securocrats and
strategists of the West?