Australia loses its innocence.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Oct. 14 2002 4:44 PM

Bali's Paradise Lost

Saturday night's car-bombing in Bali, Indonesia, killed at least 183 and injured more than 300. It also "shattered any illusions Australians may have had of their immunity to the heightened tensions of the post-September 11 international environment," according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Victims from the blast, which destroyed a nightclub and a bar in the Kuta Beach area popular with Western tourists, came from at least 20 countries, but the majority of the dead and injured were Australian. (The Times of London reported that "Bali is where young Australians go to party. It is the country's most popular overseas tourist destination, with more than 300,000 visiting last year.")

Several commentators fretted that tourists in Bali had become targets because of the Australian government's robust support for Washington's war on terrorism. The Sydney Morning Herald observed that while "[s]ome will argue the bombings strengthen the case for Australian support … we must also question whether the present, aggressive direction of US foreign policy is, in itself, proving counterproductive." The editorial concluded, "The question is whether external actors are manipulating nascent, radical Islam inside Indonesia, or whether international events—in particular US war plans for Iraq—are, themselves, creating a new breed of Indonesian terrorists." The Straits Times of Singapore took a similar view: "President George W. Bush needs to take a step back in the light of the attack and think hard: Has his campaign against organised terror, so well-marshalled after the New York devastation and leading on to Afghanistan, been side-tracked by his obsession with Iraq?"

The Australian said: "We must resist the pressure that is already building for Australia to withdraw from its alliance with the US 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 the US's allies but because we are a Western democratic country."

Among the heart-breaking stories of loss were several suggestions that travel warnings had been inadequate and that the tragedy could have been prevented had Indonesian authorities heeded warnings from the United States, Singapore, and Malaysia. Although Singapore and the Philippines have detained numerous terror suspects, Indonesia has held back, in part, according to the Times, "because [the Islamist extremist group] Jemaah Islamiyah is more than tolerated by some senior members of the Government and because of the fear of alienating moderates in a country with a large Muslim majority." The Daily Telegraph thundered that "Bali is the price of indulgence," dismissing Indonesia's contribution to the war on terrorism as "feeble" and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri's treatment of Muslim extremists as "a slap on the wrist." The editorial concluded, "[T]he terrible events in Indonesia have proved that feeding this creature whets, rather than satisfies, its appetite."

In retrospect, it's clear that Bali, a tranquil mainly Hindu vacation haven, was a "soft target" for the bombers, now said to be linked to al-Qaida. The Jakarta Post admitted that Indonesia's attitude to the terror threat has been lax: "Until Saturday night's blast, very few people in Indonesia had taken the threat of terrorism seriously. This goes not just for the government, the politicians and major political parties, but also the public, including the media. Just about every single warning that has come from foreign governments was treated with disdain." An impassioned op-ed in the Age of Melbourne declared, "The body count in the Bali bombings will stand as condemnation of the cynicism, complacency—and, sometimes, plain cowardice—of the Indonesian authorities."

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.