Why did Indonesia's police chief laugh with the Bali bomber? (I saw this on film--very disturbing)greenspun.com : LUSENET : Current News - Homefront Preparations : One Thread
November 15 2002
Little could so sharply show the cultural divide as yesterday's front-page photograph.
The gut reaction for a great many Australians will have been a profound, nauseating, anger. The repugnant images of an Indonesian police chief and a confessed mass murderer smiling and laughing before the cameras in Bali reinforces, as powerfully as any symbolism could, the magnitude of the challenge in bridging the gulf of misunderstanding between Australians and Indonesians.
Put simply, there is a fundamental disconnect between each country's understanding of the other's sensibilities.
Optimists had wanted to believe that, if there was to be anything to be salvaged from the horrors of the Bali bombings, it might bring a narrowing of differences between Canberra and Jakarta.
The October 12 terrorist attacks were, after all, a tragedy for both nations. One immediate practical effect was an agreement to cooperate in a joint investigation.
But, for all the best of intentions, the spirit of shared loss and the sense of common purpose is beginning to unravel.
The Howard Government's task in rebuilding a tattered relationship, never simple or straightforward after the 1999 East Timor crisis, has become infinitely more demanding.
This was clear when Indonesia, only weeks after the deaths at the Sari nightclub, complained about Australia penalising the Indonesian economy by warning travellers not to go to Bali. Jakarta saw this as un-neighbourly. To Australians, it was plain common sense.
The tensions were highlighted again by the over-reaction in Jakarta, fuelled in part by anti-Western Islamic hardliners, to ASIO raids on a small number of Muslim families in Australia.
Now it has been magnified by a public relations debacle in Bali that most Australians will find distressing, hurtful and offensive.
The first instinct on seeing the bizarre happy snaps of Bali bombing suspect Amrozi surrounded by beaming interrogators is to wonder how anybody could demonstrate such cavalier indifference to the deaths of innocent civilians.
The second instinct should be to look for a sane explanation.
The one and only mitigating factor that readily comes to mind is the confusion and anxiety among Indonesia's political and civic leaders over how best to grapple with the threat of radical Islam.
The government of Megawati Sukarnoputri is spooked by the rise of Islamic militancy, and, rightly or wrongly, is struggling to calibrate its responses to the war on terror. It does not want to be seen to alarm or alienate mainstream Muslims.
How does this bear on the decision of Indonesia's national police chief, General Da'i Bachtiar, to put on parade a grinning Amrozi, a man who claims to have assembled the bomb-making materials for the October 12 atrocities?
It is reasonable to speculate that Bachtiar's actions were driven predominantly by the need to ensure public opinion in Indonesia was comfortable with the handling of the Amrozi interrogation. This meant demonstrating not only that the investigating authorities had succeeded in capturing one suspect in a crime that caused untold damage to the nation's reputation and economy.
A second consideration was to reassure Muslims that Amrozi, although an Islamic extremist, had been treated with dignity, confessing freely without coercion or torture.
That doesn't excuse the apparent mirth and merriment. But it does put the staging of this event in a broader context. Presumably, Amrozi can now be put through the process of trial, and probably execution, with less risk of Islamic radicals taking to the streets.
John Howard has sensed the dangers. By declining to comment directly on the antics in Bali, he is refusing to fuel the fire. He will say or do nothing to threaten cooperation with Indonesia. Tactically, this is probably sound. Nothing could be surer to inflame emotions in Jakarta, and risk an escalating backlash, than words of censure from the Australian PM.
In any event, for all the hopes of closer engagement, a truly stable relationship will always be problematic unless and until Indonesia resolves the question of national identity that has consumed the politics of the archipelago since the end of Suharto's reign.
Will Indonesia be true to the principles of secular nationalism embodied in its founding constitution? Or is there serious traction in the push to entrench Islam as the official religion?
A world-renowned authority on political Islam in South-East Asia, Boston University's Bob Hefner, told The Age recently he doubted radical Islam would ultimately prevail in Indonesia.
But he acknowledged the radicals had been far more nimble-footed in shaping public opinion in Indonesia than their rivals in the nationalist tradition, successfully exploiting Indonesia's economic reversals in 1997 to stoke anti-Western sentiment.
"It's a very simple-minded and old-fashioned view of international capitalism, characterised as a zero-sum game in which Indonesia suffers reduced opportunities," said Hefner. Hence, the backlash against the West. Hence, the suspicion of US and, indeed, Australian motives. Hence, the increasing appeal of more doctrinaire Islamic values. "This has happened quickly. The core base is a very small minority, but it has become a minority able to put the great majority on the defensive.
"My concern is not a descent into some sort of radical Islamist government. That is extremely unlikely. My concern is that the presence of radicals combined with economic decline will create circumstances in which the return of stability and a sense of national purpose is much harder to achieve. In these circumstances, a radical fringe can exercise influence way out of proportion to its support in society."
The truth is, Australia can be little more than a queasy onlooker as Indonesia confronts its own demons. As events in Bali have shown, whatever the outcome, the journey will not be pleasant.
Tony Parkinson is The Age's international editor.
-- Anonymous, November 16, 2002