Bali Low: body parts piled on tin
Journal of a Futurist - 21 October 2002
Sick of the Sound of My Own Voice
Numbness & gloom pervade my spirit in the wake of the bombings in Bali, a place many westerners think of as a second home. Yet so unlike home, this tropic tourist Xanadu, where family, community, magic, religion and the arts hold sway with wild relish, despite the buzzing of Hondas, the barking of dogs, the flash of daggers at midnight.
As the smoke cleared, it was heartening to hear how the ethos of mateship and the courage of backpackers spirited the wounded from the inferno. The beefy Aussie jocks tearfully reminding us to remember the sufferings of these beautiful Balinese people. The righteous on-camera anger of relatives and survivors sticking it up the Australian Government for dragging its heels over providing consular help. No flag waving, no calls to bomb Mecca. Our Prime Minister, John Howard, finally hopped on a plane and behaved like a statesman. His everyday self, that cold, malicious robot, fell away. Howard spoke with warmth and sensitivity, his words aiming to unify. The Balinese wounded were airlifted to our hospitals.
Others chose this moment to settles scores. The thought police laid into the cosmic cartoonist, Michael Leunig, whose decades of quirky insights will remain pertinent long after their own leaden accusations have turned to dust. Last Xmas, Leunig had apparently played around in print with the notion that Osama bin Laden might actually be a human being, one even deserving of compassion. Such naked spiritual conjecture flies over the heads of our ASIO wannabe pundits, who build their careers on the distorted files they compile on their enemies.
Alternative Visions of War
Such types would have you believe the bombs in Kuta have blown away all possible objections to George W Bushs War on Terror. Far from it. This ruthless mass murder of innocents confirms my oft expressed fears that the war on terror will beget more terror. (See AmeriKa Psycho, Ocean Press). To argue this point is not to brown nose Osama or suggest the West should send flowers to Muslim fanatics. Terrorism needs to be de-fused, not carpet bombed.
If a tenth of the energy the Whitehouse puts into its plans to control the destiny of Bagdad was spent crafting a fair minded peace resolution in the Middle East, most terrorists would call it a day. The one ray of hope is the breathtaking grit of the Israeli refuse-niks, the soldiers who say no to serving in the occupied territories. Our armys policies create a hot bed of terrorism, one of them said on Sunday nights brilliant SBS doco, It Is No Dream. These defiant souls are motivated not by ideology, but by their own eyes. They have seen soldiers commit murder, day after day. Apartheid is public policy. The press is supine. The Supreme Court has declined to rule on the policy of liquidations. This is a group that speaks the language of truth - the former victims are todays victimisers. And so the cycle repeats. I doubt if there is a single Palestinian suicide bomber who has not lost a loved one by foul means.
Not even US strategists believe that terror networks can be crushed with battle ships & cluster bombs. In 1999, while at a conference in Washington hosted by the World Future Society, I listened to a riveting presentation on tomorrows war by Dr Steven Metz of the US Army War College: Metz laid out several alternatives: 1 Orthodox war, 2 Barbarian war, 3 Tech war, (sub-divided into Robowar, Nanowar, Biowar & Psychowar). The fourth alternative was Net War, defined as coercive violence used by complex networks against states, corporations, non-state organizations or each other. In this scenario, traditional state-on-state war declines in effectiveness and significance . Battles between organized militaries are rare. In Net War, the dominant form of combat is infrastructure attacks. In such a scenario, said Dr Metz, state militaries will be hard pressed to understand and counter networked enemies. These words are no longer conjecture.
Tourist hot spots are plump targets. Easy to infiltrate, massive body counts, loads of media coverage. There is something about the nature of the industry that incites the rage of the zealot. Despite its capacity to vulgarise & despoil, tourism is one of the worlds most effective antidotes to intolerance. It bypasses governments, it outwits fanatics. The road rubs us up against strangers, allaying our fear of the stranger, a fear which is the mainspring of hatred.
But fanatics thrive on hatred. How could they sleep at night, unless they hated their victims? No matter that these tourist prey are innocent, generous hearted, fun loving mere dancing infidels to be blown apart. The joint pursuit between Australia & Indonesia looks like bearing fruit. The plus of a police operation, as opposed to a declaration of war, is that neighborhoods dont get cluster bombed. And the perpetrators may even get caught.
A Perfect Date with the CIA
To escape the shock of the Bali bombs, my wife and I went to the movies. The shows we wanted to see were inconveniently timed, so we settled for the Bourne Identity, recommended by a normally reliable 13 year old girl, our daughter. Based on a story by Robert Ludlum, the Sydney Morning Herald extols it as the perfect date movie. Sure, if your date happens to be a homicidal maniac. What a hackneyed bloodbath of fisticuffs, shoot-outs, explosions and car chases. No, Im not thrilled my daughter gets to see this stuff it wasnt even witty - but them Im not the one bringing her up. US culture is.
However, the Bourne Identity is not entirely without interest. The movies portrait of the CIA is so vicious that even I find it over the top. Perhaps John Pilger was a script consultant. By now I suspect pirated copies are screening at Al Qaida training camps, with a somber voice intoning, these are the kind of terrorist thugs who are holding the world to ransom. All CIA operatives are depicted as deranged serial killers who are happy to blow away innocent old ladies, fellow agents and the heads of African nations. Even if it was half true, a just government would freeze it funds and send its staff to Camp X-ray.
Theres a lot more to say about Bali, but Im sick of the sound of my own voice. As a treat, lets close with a strong, strange voice from Asia. This comes from the New Straits Times , Malaysia, written by Rehman Rashid, whose puritan sentiments I reject, whose heartlessness is chilling. However, his fiery eloquence is educative:
Why bomb the Sari Club?
From Rehman Rashid: YES, I knew the Sari Club. Filthy place. Reeking of beer and sweat; the air thick with smoke and jagged with Strine; packed out and heaving into the night at the scummy end of the Legian-Kuta strip, down past the Gado- Gado, Hard Rock and Peanut.
Everybody knew the Sari Club. It had been there about 15 years, sopping up the dregs of the Kuta night, where the carousing begins in the early evenings at the chi-chi Legian end of the strip, then cascades down the drag in seven water-falls of deepening drunkenness to debouch onto Kuta Beach and sprawl snoring at the dawn, or sink into the strip's last sump, the Sari Club.
It was well known. If you couldn't score anywhere else, you could score at the Sari Club. To that rickety firetrap would lurch the last of the night's purblind drunken foreigners.
Almost entirely white foreigners, at that, because the Sari Club did not welcome locals, and charged them Rp50,000 for entry while foreigners got in free.
The Sari Club and Paddy's Irish Pub on Poppies Lane, where the other Kuta bomb went off, were the only clubs on the strip to do that. Even foreigners with local girlfriends had to pay for them. It wasn't race discrimination; black, brown or yellow foreigners were allowed in. Unless they looked like Indonesians.
Choking Haze Never Reached Her Skies
It was so unnecessary an insult. The nightspots of Legian and Kuta are all jam-packed with a uniform crowd of foreigners and a spattering of their local associates. It did not sit well with those locals that the Sari Club - the slimiest, scuzziest, sleaziest dive of them all - practised such discrimination.
Among the reasons Bali was enjoyed even by people who enjoy being hideously drunk is that it was a somehow safe and protected place.
No matter what happened anywhere and everywhere else in Indonesia, Bali was fine. The island seems always to have dwelt within a force-field. Indonesia's murderous crazes did not cross Bali's waters, just as its choking hazes never reached her skies.
Bali's principal involvement with recent political history was in roundly endorsing Megawati Sukarnoputri's candidacy for president last year, thereby being no more trouble to her than to anyone else.
A Hint of Mystery; a Certain Darkness
This was Bali, the last Hindu outpost in the Malay world. Having for centuries had to appease the outlander or die, Bali's survival strategy was to open up like a lotus by clinging to its roots while letting the foreign lotus-eaters shape her beauty to their taste.
In exchange, the foreigner would protect Bali with love and currency.
Bali feels ancient, almost primal, but modern Balinese art was schooled by early 20th-century European romantics such as Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet. The Kecak trance dance - a tourist favourite - was adapted and choreographed in 1931 by Spies and one Baron Victor von Plessen, to add excitement to a film they made entitled, Island of the Demons. (That later became the more widely known Gods.)
Generations of court musicians and Balinese dancers have grown up with the nightly performances for tourists at the Puri Saren in Ubud, where forthcoming temple ceremonies, weddings and funerals are advertised by flyer.
Bali offered these charms and wonders to the West in a manner the West itself was able to specify. It was all here; all the exotic sensuality of the Malay archipelago, its oldest myths and legends and most graceful arts, in settings of near-miraculous natural beauty, plus all the nightlife you could drink.
There is even a hint of mystery; a certain darkness. Most of Bali is off-limits to casual tourism.
A Small, Mean, Corrosive Act
A foreigner wandering into the places where Bali's people live is often gently but efficiently guided back to the nearest tourist quarter, while those in groups often recall the stillness and silence of the places they hiked through in Bali's interior.
Light and dark are literally woven into the fabric of the saput poleng, the ubiquitous chequered cloth of Balinese ritual. Bali can be a forbidding place for the disrespectful.
This is not to say that those who planted the Kuta bombs were Balinese. They might have been outsiders who neither knew nor cared that they parked their Kijang outside the worst place in town.
It wasn't even a very big bomb. None of the three that exploded in Bali last Saturday night - the two in Kuta and a third outside the US consulate in Denpasar - was a large or sophisticated device. Nor was the fourth bomb that exploded 1,400km away outside the Philippine Consulate in Manado, northern Sulawesi.
The Sari Club bomb was the biggest of them, but it didn't have to be much more than a large grenade: it exploded outside a flimsy two-storey wooden firetrap stocked with cylinders of cooking gas and wadded with human beings soaked in flammable liquids.
It could have been sheer bad luck for the 500 people in and around the Sari Club in Kuta last Saturday night. If that particular place was specifically targeted, however, there may have been something personal in the choice.
Which would mean this may not have been the work of a global terrorist network, conspiracy or alliance, but a smaller, meaner act; an act of local vengeance. No doubt tapping the corrosive new resources of the global "War on Terrorism" for the material and gumption for mischief, but basically assailing local grievances.
The Bali bombings may be linked to global affairs only in that America's blunderous new war is giving every garden-variety thug, hoodlum, malcontent and troublemaker in the world an excuse to make trouble and blame it on the Americans, the Muslims, the Elders of Zion, Osama Bin Laden, corrupt politicians, capitalism, globalisation, drunken Caucasians in general or the bossa nova, for all they care.
It's called anarchy, and it is the antithesis of the global conspiracy of organised evil the American axis needs so badly to seek and destroy. While the Western alliance tilts at shadows, the real beast is abroad and feeding on the remains of governments. October 16/02.
Phew. In a few days Ill add links related to this journal entry and more, warmest, R. ends