Left: Kensington, Maryland, USA.
Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera was shot here while vacuuming her van. AP photo by Ken Lambert
Center: Vantaa, Finland. AP / Lehtikuva photo by
Right: Funeral procession in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. AP photo by
An October marked by
Bali, Indonesia is to the young Australians what Majorca
or Corfu is to the Britons, or the Bahamas for the Americans: an exotic
spring break not too far away from home. Until
12 October 2002, its famously artistic and open Hindu society has long been immune to the
economic collapse and inter-ethnic strife that have troubled much of the world's most
populous Muslim country. Now it's haunted by the deaths of 187 people, victims
of a powerful car bomb detonated just outside the landmark Sari Nightclub
near Kuta Beach. 30 Australians are confirmed dead, and 89 others have not
been identified -- by far the largest contingent amongst the casualties
from locally and all over the world.
Five days later, a series of bombings began
in the southern Philippines port of Zamboanga at Mindanao Island, killing
seven people in shopping centers, commercial
districts and at a Roman Catholic Shrine.
While these barbaric crimes easily fit the modus
operandi of zealots and pirates
well-entrenched throughout the East Indies (the bombings of churches attributed to
Jemaah Islamiyah, Abu Sayyaf's kidnappings of tourists and nurses), two coinciding
atrocities elsewhere appeared to be self-motivated manifestations of evil.
Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia. (AP / Ed
Just as every
mass- or serial shooting in America will challenge the merit of firearm
proliferation, every death of an Australian national abroad is a cause for
fellow citizens to review their place in the world.
three weeks, a series of sniper attacks killed ten people and critically
wounded three others in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia. With an
elderly aunt, two cousins, their wives and six young nieces and nephews
this area, these shootings overwhelmed me with anxiety and anger.
In Finland, the bombing at a shopping center in the Helsinki suburb of
Vantaa killed seven (including the bomber, a young Helsinki native),
injured many others, and dealt a grievous blow to yet another nation long
regarded for its progress, prosperity and blissful ennui.
not for the Finns. The citizenry of Suomi have come a long way since
wrong side of World War II, overcoming their geographic isolation to become a
prominent exporter of technology and culture. For now, the Finns can afford to feign indifference towards any single act of
madness. They most certainly will not.
It's the Indonesians who need all the help
they can get. People of diverse religious and regional loyalties are
discovering, belatedly, that
their many years of petty but deadly conflicts have given
themselves to the ways of syndicated terror. Quarrels amongst those prone
to violence may as well be halted by the emergence of a common threat. If
the Bali attack was indeed carried out by the usual suspects, perhaps the dreaded Indonesian army will have
someone else to intimidate besides the Christian minority or the East
The Australians now stand, uncomfortably,
somewhere between the insularity of the Finns and the precariousness of
their Indonesian neighbours. Just as every mass- or serial shooting in
America will challenge the merit of firearm proliferation, every death of
an Australian national abroad is a cause for fellow citizens to review
their place in the world. The Bali tragedy -- the worst loss of
life during peacetime in Australian history, and the most devastating
terrorist attack since September 11th, 2001 -- will
surely harden the nation's resolve to combat terror originating from
half a world away, while raising the question of whether to join the
United States and Britain in a possible invasion of Iraq.
Australians are accepting their undeniable
role as a leading world power, even as they are expected by the White House
and 10 Downing Street to confront both the apparent evil-doings of al-Qaeda
and Baghdad's alleged propensity to restock its weapons of
mass destruction. That said, whatever action the Aussies choose,
it will be held accountable to themselves before anyone else. In recent memory, Canberra was both condemned
for its treatment of asylum-seeking refugees (long confinement in remote
outback camps, exile in Nauru), and commended for its
provision of defense in the founding of East Timor.
Let's hope both the DC sniper and the
Finnish bomber acted on their own depravity, and not the behalf of other sinister forces. As
for the mass-murderers in Bali and Mindanao, they will achieve nothing but their own
Charles Weng, 15 October 2002, updated