Monday, October 03, 2005

But seriously, regarding Bali... let us learn from terrorism, not fear it, nor justify it

Kuta Beach Street, Bali, Indonesia It is a bit sickening to have another attack in Bali, but it seems especially this way because it's close to home again. I tried to get a perspective on the scale of this latest tradgedy in Bali and noticed that according to Wikipedia this is one of eleven major* terrorist attacks around the world so far this year (three in Israel).

  – Thirteen major attacks are listed in 2004 (two in Egpyt, two in Iraq, two in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2003 (five in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2002 (three in Israel)
  – Ten major attacks are listed in 2001 (three in USA, seven in Israel)

* Note: Major being a kind of callous arbitrary definition that corresponds to a terrorist attack having enough casualties and diplomatic/commercial upset to be newsworthy on its own.

So my thoughts turned to Israel again and I was reminded of one of the best articles I've read about terrorism in Israel by Ami Isseroff: Wafa the hospital bomber. Of course, this is about the worst of the worst -- attempting to blow up a hospital where you are to receive free treatment! But some other "acts of terrorism" aren't as easy to condemn somehow. I think it is easy to be tempted to wonder if terrorism is sometimes justified, but really it is not justifiable and I congratulate Isseroff on his article which makes this compellingly clear.

Probably violence is never morally justifiable, but clearly indiscriminate brutality against civillians is absolutely not morally justifiable. In fact I'd put certain aspects of the invasion of Iraq as well as the Iraqi insurgency into this category. Terrorism doesn't build any kind of confidence, doesn't relieve any tensions, doesn't achieve anything - its aim is to create terror. How can this ever be justifiable? I used to ask myself if Palestinian people felt they were in such a desperate situation that they simply had no option to make people aware of their plight except through bombings. Harsh as it sounds though, every individual and every ethnic/social groups are free to choose how to try and broker peace where there is conflict. Just because you are a minority doesn't actually excuse violence or terrorism. The same should apply to the Israeli Defence Force except that we tend to make exception in the case of national defence forces. No doubt this is a source of great frustration and unfairness for Palestinian people but it still cannot justify terrorism.

What about Bali and the talking heads encouraging us to keep visiting Bali so we're not "giving in to the terrorists"? Well it sounds like a cliché now, but I suppose it's still true. I was impressed with how sensitively people around me reacted to the Maxim Restaurant bombing in Haifa in 2003 when I was in Israel (well most of them). I'm sure most people would not think we have much to learn from Israel in terms of responding to terrorist attacks but I had the good fortune to be in the presence of both Arab and non-Arab Israelis in Haifa at this time and their response was to look at the attack (which killed 19 people including a baby) in terms of the noting the lessons to be learned and then continuing life making our best effort as individuals to understand the causes and envision a future of greater confidence and understanding between Israel and Palestine. To me this is the best way we can respond to terrorism: with our minds genuinely oriented towards this kind of 'peace-building' activity; not responding with fear, not responding with violence, nor going the other way and responding by justifying the terrorism or glorying in the fear the attack created.

But here in Australia following this attack, we should go beyond even this response. As usual Howard frustratingly had a far better response than any other politician: he noted that we should use this as an opportunity to build more bridges with Indonesia [my words]. (Damn his strategy-man is good! :( Or maybe he has just been in the game long enough to know the exact right thing to say). I definitely agree anyway, and hope that we can build public pressure to make this really happen. Massive exchange programs with students from all over Indonesia and Australia might be nice. Perhaps extend this to PNG too so it facilitates more meetings between young Papuans and Indonesian and Aussie youths...

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Blogger Anthony said...

I agree that to be in fear of terrorism is a waste of energy (though I think some governments would like their people to be kept in fear. To quote one US politician: "You can make people do anything if they're afraid.")

I also agree that it is extremely tempting to consider that perhaps terrorism is justified (particularly from the perspective of the terrorists and their associates). And additionally, I agree that the right conclusion to make is that it is NOT justified when we consider what it actually involves: the purposeful slaughter of civilians.

Yesterday, in my 'Terrorism and World Insurgency' lecture here at Uni, the lecturer put forward the question: 'What is the best way for our government to respond to terrorism?'. Answer A) Diplomacy and economic measures; Answer B) the military; Answer C) Don't know.

It was great to see about 75% to 80% of the entire lecture hall answered with (A). About three people responded with (B). And the remainder answered (C).

October 04, 2005 11:48 am  
Anonymous nahum said...

Congratulations on our 2nd Longest Serving Liberal PM for knowing what to say, except for when he agreed to join a coalition 'War on Terror.'

As demonstrated by your statistics on terrorism, (and you could take this back further (read my confessions of a terrorist) terrorism has existed for a long time, and I believe it to be a constant of civilized society.

A war on terror is one we cannot win.

By the way, Kim Beazley's blog. is not actually Big Kim. It's satirical, much the same as John Howard's blog isn't actually him either. All the best.

October 04, 2005 4:10 pm  
Blogger mick said...

Nice post, I was kinda away from all the news and the interent on the weekend and am totally behind on the whole Bali situation.

I don't think terrorism is ever justified. There was an interesting debate about the definitions of "terrorism" and "war" at Larvatus Prodeo the other day. I kept out of it and let the real pol sci and sociology people argue about it. The thing that I could take away from the argument is that the lines seperating terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, and war are very blurry.

Unfortunately, terrorism has always existed and I think it probably always will. Is the war on "terrorism" winnable? Yes, maybe. Insofar as any war is ever "winnable". I think you kinda need to define what you mean by a "win". I think if you define it as a war against extremists Islamic terrorism, it might be winnable (in the short to medium-term). However, I think we will never really put an end to terrorism altogether...

October 04, 2005 6:49 pm  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for your comments.

And thanks Nahum for pointing this out even though I should have realised it myself. Too bad I am too new to blogging and made a foolish judgement there. Apparently the ALP is trying to get the site removed (or the author to make it clear it is not *the* Kim).

October 07, 2005 4:10 pm  

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