Seems like this is quite a week for remembering…

First there’s this one:

SomethingToThinkAbout-33

But important as that is, no doubt most Australians and very many in Indonesia will be thinking of Bali.

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I can recall when and where I first heard of it – in The Forresters in Surry Hills while having Sunday Lunch with Ian “The Dowager Empress” Smith and others. My colleague at that time at SBHS, Russell Darnley, was considerably closer.  Read Russell’s own account on that link and also My First Visit to #Bali Since the October 2002 #Bombing (2010).

Violence and extremism are no more a recent phenomenon in Indonesia than in countries like the UK and the USA.  Both Indonesia and the USA fought wars of national liberation against colonial powers.  Both have constitutions and a sense of nationhood, grounded in such violent struggles. Many countries have their own uniquely violent histories and their own particular forms of extremism.  Attempting to make some historical sense of violence, extremism and associated acts of war and terror, requires some consideration of their context.  This is often a useful exercise because it helps to resolve a sense of perspective and scale.

The Bali Bombing was an horrific event that touched me personally, yet for me it’s difficult to distinguish between the madness of the suicide bomber and the madness that suffuses the actions of a nation state that, while understanding the imprecision of its technology, still persists with actions that euphemistically result in collateral damage, the death of innocents and destruction of their homes and infrastructure.  When I see images of white phosphorous raining down as people scatter in terror, I’m reminded that we live in a world where love for our fellow humans is held in scant regard by many.

Writing about the Bali Bombing of 12 October 2002 is a theme that recurs for me, but I’ve published only a small part of what I could say on this tragic event. Some of my work is far too graphic for accessible online publication, such material best lends itself to the print medium not the openness of the Internet. More is yet to be written but I’ve waited for a greater maturity of insight, which I hope might come, before writing further on this subject.  Part of the process has been a re-visiting of the places where I lived and worked before and during those tragic days…

See also Honours for carers of Bali wounded (2004).

There are some good items appearing at the moment in The Sydney Morning Herald. For example: Bali’s hidden bomb victims.

…"They all know I am a widow of a Bali bomb victim," Rencini says. "I’ve been coming here for more than two years. They don’t treat me special because of that, but they do treat me kindly. We are all here struggling. This is a man’s world; I am a woman. They protect me."

By the end of the night, Rencini has earned the equivalent of $4.50 after costs – less than half the price of a cocktail at a tourist hotel bar.

She is one of many widows, fatherless children and survivors who are the hidden victims of the Bali bombs. Each has dipped into a near unimaginable well of resilience to survive, often helped by the good hearts of strangers…

And while some direct their energy into a generalised hatred or fear of Islam – we all know the Islam=Terrorist mindset – we would do well to reflect on the many nuances we non-Muslims and non-Indonesians hardly ever grasp, thereby missing what could be parts at least of real solutions, solutions that are indeed appearing right now and deserve to be known and encouraged. For example: Turning away from radical doctrines.

The radical Islamist preacher who once helped establish terror group Jemaah Islamiyah in Australia admits he wanted to make the country a financial hub for the attempt to overthrow the Indonesian state.

Abdul Rahman Ayub was once one of Australia’s most wanted men, also believes a cell of 30 or more jihadists that he helped indoctrinate may remain active in Australia and that authorities know little about them.

Ayub, who was the deputy leader of JI in Australia to his twin brother, Abdul Rahim, has told The Sun-Herald they were sent by Indonesia’s godfather of terrorism, Abu Bakar Bashir, in 1997 to train young radicals in their form of Islam.

Abdul Rahman Ayub … once one of Australia’s most wanted men. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Both brothers stayed until 2002, the year of the Bali bombing. In his first interview with an Australian journalist, Ayub says the brothers taught perhaps 100 people about the violent form of jihad.

”When I came back from Australia in 2002, to my knowledge there were about 30 people [who were still radicals in Australia],” he says. ”I don’t know about their recent development, whether they’re still active or not, but I believe they are still there. Neither I nor ASIO know the exact figures, nor how active they are.”

Ayub was trained in Afghanistan between 1986 and 1992 to fight as a mujahid, or holy warrior. He was an expert in unarmed combat and became a confidant of the Bali bombers Hambali (whose wedding he helped pay for) and Mukhlas. He says at one time he respected Bashir ”more than I respected my parents”.

However, he denies he had any advance knowledge of the Bali attack and insists he never wanted an attack on Australian soil.

”My mission was to preach Islam … Bashir told us not to commit any violence in Australia – we treated Australia as a country for taking political asylum,” he says.

”But we did teach jihad against Indonesia, against Suharto at the time. We taught about forming an Islamic state, but in Indonesia, not in Australia.”…

Ayub says the attack of September 11, 2001, Bali and Roche’s plot were errors that had changed how Islam was regarded and had damaged his own faith in violent jihad. ”I was furious. I was very against those attacks because it hurts Muslims themselves … It hurts humanity and it hurts our principles,” Ayub says now.

Over a number of years he abandoned his former belief in the overthrow of the Indonesian state. He says he believes now that Muslims should fight only as soldiers in a war zone.

Ayub hoped Indonesia might become an Islamist state but now believes it cannot be rushed: ”It’s God’s decision. If Allah wants to give it to us, it will happen.”

He works around Jakarta as a freelance theologian, preaching Islam. His brother, who left Australia three days after the Bali bombing, runs two schools. Abdul Rahim declined to be interviewed but, according to Abdul Rahman, has also given up belief in violent jihad.

With about 35 other former mujahideen, Abdul Rahman is working through the ”Afghan Alumni Forum” to de-radicalise some of Indonesia’s young jihadists and inoculate Indonesians against the radical doctrine.

You might prefer that people like this all became Christians/Atheists/Agnostics/Dudists and forgot all about Islam, but it isn’t ever going to happen. On the other hand, this is now someone that no longer reoresents any kind of threat to us – and isn’t that the outcome we really desire as well as the outcome we can actually have, it appears. Bless the “Afghan Alumni Forum”, I say.

See also Indonesia’s jihad factories: uncovering nurseries of terrorism’s next generation.

I see that at the time I tangled, so to speak, yet also almost agreed with Piers Akerman, whose bon mots on Alan Jones we can no doubt look forward to on QandA tonight. Let’s replay 2002:

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Piers Akerman has really done a fine job on Osama bin Laden in today’s Daily Telegraph (Sydney). Now it so happens that I do not disagree with much of what he says: Osama bin Laden is a frightening creep with a very deep hatred of the West and is undoubtedly a ruthless, dangerous, fanatical and murderous opponent of tolerance, particularly for "any who may be interested in fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling or trading with interest" — all of which, incidentally, are frowned on by the Bible and, traditionally, by the Catholic Church and to this day by the Anglican Church in Sydney — not to mention my own (or erstwhile own) Presbyterian Church**. There is a certain irony in Akerman here, as gay-friendliness (to select one aspect of interest to me) is not really the thing one associates with Akerman, though intoxicants is possibly another matter. Or so I am told.

Nor do I disagree that bin Laden and his like (that sad and murderous young man in Indonesia comes to mind, the human bomb that it is now thought blew up Paddy’s Bar in Bali) are "perverting the tenets of Islam", to quote Akerman’s headline. Well, they are at least perverting what the majority of the practitioners of Islam actually believe, though the Good Book (the Islamic one) is just as embarrassing as its Jewish and Christian cousins in this respect. All the Big Three Sacred Books have things in them that are anti-civilisation.

The best thing to do with such books, in my view and also in the view of many others, is to grant their historicity, their contexts of origin, and to jettison what is in them that reflects their age and keep what is still of value, or what still offers guidance for living, as much in all of them does. Islam is in a difficult position here as it has been even more bibliolatrous than Christianity, and proper critical study of the Koran, while not unknown in the Islamic world, encounters difficulties. But so does proper critical study of the Bible in ultra-Orthodox Jewish circles, where the age of the planet equals the current Jewish year (did you know the Jews count from the Creation?), or in Bible Belt America where the seven-day creation still has its supporters, along with nutters who believe the 1611 Bible is itself the very Word of God, and so on. We will consign them to Landover Baptist Church where they belong.

OK, so what is my complaint then, since so far it appears I agree with Akerman essentially? It is this: he is such an prat that he leaps into the theology of Islam with a show of knowledge without even checking his well-thumbed Children’s Encyclopaedia, let alone the Koran, and therefore commits a series of howlers that would have a Muslim kindergartener cacking himself with laughter, except that in the current climate such pig-ignorance is both stupid and dangerous. One recalls what George Orwell said, quoted a couple of entries back. Akerman represents the nadir (a good Arabic word) of opinion journalism; if advertising is brainrot of a particularly pernicious kind, Akerman’s attitude towards accuracy is brainrot of an even more insidious kind, since his opinions become the opinions of thousands of loyal readers. His worldview, God help us, becomes theirs. He is their surrogate brain, as it were.

Had he done his homework, Akerman would have known that the Koran itself, and subsequently Islam, has from the beginning counted Moses and Jesus as prophets. He would know that Islam has no quarrel with the fact that Judaism and Christianity predate it, as it in turn predates Presbyterianism. He would know that at times in Islamic history this has led to policies of toleration for other "people of the Book"– Jews and Christians. For example, the persecuted Jews of Spain found refuge under Islam. It is true that Osama bin Laden does not represent this more benign stream of Islam, of course — Akbar the Great or Suleyman the Magnificent he definitely ain’t. But Osama did not invent the Islamic interpretation of Moses, or the Abrahamic origins of the religion, or its connection with Jerusalem (for what that is worth, which is no more or no less than the Jewish and Christian connections — in other words, best forgotten for the sake of everyone else in the world.) You would think Osama had, to read Akerman.

Then Akerman is so unreflectively Eurocentric (as he almost always is) that you would think Osama had invented Islamic (and Third World) disquiet with Western/American culture and power (the Crusades and all that subsequent Imperialism and the current mess in Israel/Palestine). Yes, Osama exploits these issues, no doubt; but he is not insane in pointing out that they are issues, and the West has been very remiss in coming to terms with them. He is Hitler-like in the way he uses the issues for his own ends, but just as Hitler did not have to invent the ruinous state of the German economy in the 1920s and the injustice of Versailles, so Osama does not have to invent the postcolonial legacy. All this is much better argued by others, so I will not continue, but refer you, for example, to the site the Empress sent last weekend.

Finally: although, as Akerman points out at the end, Christ did say vague things about "rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s", the separation of Church and State is in fact a very recent beast indeed. Ask a Catholic or Presbyterian in early nineteenth century England about that — if you could. Further, it is something the anticlerical Enlightenment won for some of the West (Ireland took longer, Russia under the Tsars never succeeded) not something which the Church willingly granted. It is, further, something the USA still has not really learned — in God We Trust and all those arguments about prayer in schools. Which is not to say that the USA is not a million times more desirable than a Taliban-style (or Cromwell-style) theocracy; it is. And it is true that such liberal values are very much threatened.

But then so is good journalism by the likes of Akerman. His grasp of Church History and Western Intellectual History is little better than his grasp of Islam. The trouble is, people will think I am a smart-arse and Akerman is a good bloke, as ignorance tends to go down well with the mob. Ask any commercial radio talkback jock or station owner. The more meretricious the product the more likely it is to attract the ratings, and advertising dollars just come rolling in.

Slightly ironic today, that last point!

** It’s ten years too late, but I should point out that as far as I know no Christian church currently condemns “trading with interest”. Indeed most of them practise this!

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