A Violent Asia – Ring Of Fire
Indonesia: 17,000 Islands, 300 Ethnic Groups, 250 Languages or dialects….
Shadow of the Condor….
I was never a great 'fan' of Indonesia, – I'd been through Jakarta a few times working during 1994-97, – but had memorably encountered many problems dealing with bureaucracy and corruption. I was always more happy to leave JKT than anything else. Working as I was too, with long hours of tedious hassle, money haggling and a mere few hours sleep didn't leave any happy or fond memories of Jakarta, let alone Indonesia as a whole. Working & traveling the world on board Ukrainian owned Antonov AN-124 Freighters wasn't easy, or always fun, in spite of the "boys own" adventure lifestyle it came with. In brief, the massive Antonov AN-124 dwarfs even the lofty U.S.A.F's C-5A "Galaxy" heavy-lifter in sheer payload capability and was the former Soviet Union's way of out-designing Lockheed's C-5A to provide strategic heavy lift capability for the Red Army's masses of equipments, and deployable ICBM's. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1986, the ubiquitous AN-124 Codenamed "Condor" by NATO powers in the cold war, was reborn as a commercial peacetime freighter in which it succeeds in to this day.
In doing charters with various military elements & powers, and in contrast, the United Nations to International Red Cross, we saw a lot of strife, most notably amid Rwanda's unfurling chaos in 1994, and former Zaire's "Pillage" or civil unrest of 1994/5 now known as the DR Congo…. Parked on a tightly stacked-up apron in Goma's tiny airport once, on the Zaire/Rwandan border in June 1994, we heard Bulldozers working away just over a small hill…. On climbing out on top of the huge Antonov through a dorsal hatch, we saw the Dozer's grimly working the huge lime pits from the Antonov's wings, pits used as mass burial sites for the 1,000's of Rwandan victims of starvation and Cholera from Goma's refugee camp sites….. Needless to say, we were told not to accept fruit from the starved skeletal kids selling on the airport taxiways and to make sure our Cholera jabs were up to date…. Zairian soldiers with huge lengths of sawn off hosepipe, ran, swiped and whipped at kids playing too near the nearby Runway's as we offloaded some Red Cross supplies, amidst the heat haze and smoke, it was a stark vision of hell on earth…. In contrast to relief supplies, we were flying non-stop back and forth to France's military bases, bringing down through Libreville, Gabon, French Commando's & equipment's, to quell the bloodshed erupting in Kigali as enraged Hutu's vowed revenge for the genocide the world was denying existed. Once in Goma, the French forces would assemble and drive across the border into Rwanda and make their way by road to Kigali. To prevent the slaughter of government forces of this once French colonial nation in the grips of genocide.
Somewhat jaded at that time, Thailand had always been, and would become, a welcome port in a global sea of storms and relief, – a respite for me from my memories of those many & varied mid 90's trips throughout Africa's vast continent in flames, and later, through a notably lesser turbulent S.E. Asia, and so on to my first visits to Jakarta…. (aka Djakarta formerly Batavia till 1950?)
Jakarta airlift operations…..
I only glimpsed but a small slice of the prevailing night life that Jakarta had to offer, through tired, somewhat weary jet-lagged eyes, and a mind too otherwise preoccupied on logistical problems at the airport to really pay much attention to the city. The Hotel we stayed in had its own basement Karaoke Club which seemed quite and deserted and probably only came alive after midnight, well after I had succumbed to tiredness from a grueling night/day flight before…
At face-value, Jakarta City was itself similar to Bangkok in being insufferably hot, polluted and grossly overcrowded with horrendous resultant traffic jams. To some, another filthy seething and polluted Asian metropolis…. Seemingly too, with little respite in the way of a lively, liberal & relaxed form of night life, (?) owing in part to the Muslim culture, – or so I thought anyway. To me, Indonesia couldn't compare to Thailand in any way, shape or form, and Thailand for me had a far, far superior overall entertainment appeal.
A change of scenery….Timor 1999-2000.
More recently following a set of circumstances, I found myself ironically working on a former Indonesian Island, ravaged by a violent 1999 uprising following a UN controlled / monitored Referendum in its gallant quest for independence from the former. As a measure of apology, the United Nations in New York agreed with the EastTimorese people to assist in a capacity building administrative mission as a recompense, to help rebuild the shattered country and guide it on its way to democracy and fully fledged independence. An awkward apology for encouraging the population in the first place for voting for Independency, which ended so violently that August of 1999…. Indonesia's Habibie wasn't able to control his Military dogs of war within the powerful and overruling military, who wreaked havoc on the small island and earned the condemnation of the international community and earning the reputation of widespread human rights abuses still unchallenged or answered to, – to this day….
Coming to this small island known as East Timor, (aka Timor-Leste) I had no illusions about it being some slightly damaged post-tourist haven, and from mid 1999 until now, resembles a war-zone more than anything else. It's shattered infrastructure was in comparison to other trouble spots around the world, 'total' and would make even the December 26th 2004's Tsunami damage seem comparatively mild in comparison to the wholesale militarily 'designed' blanket destruction of an island orchestrated by Jakarta's General's with utter impunity.
Indeed, Indonesia had reluctantly pulled out of their former territory, but at what price? Leaving an indelible & bloody stain on its recalcitrant bastard sibling of an island, – crippling & leaving it economically marooned in the grips of desperation and despairing poverty. Only the UN could help Timor now… as Jakarta looked on, licking its own wounds from subsequent international condemnation for the atrocities meted out in Timor….
At what was a strange time for me, and until early 2001, my life too was going through some upheavals of its own, and about mid 2001 my own marriage to a Thai girl (Pia) came to an unhappy conclusion, albeit fairly mutually and 'amicably' by any western standards. Anyway, I found myself working as a Bachelor again on this God-forsaken Island, an Island without a future, and very turbulent past, – and an island with few, if any, women. It was like a "female desert" in terms…
The BigChilli gig…. (Interview)
Earlier days in Timor were punctuated with visits to Thailand and on one occasion at about the time I enrolled in the British Club, (Jan 2002?) I was approached by Bangkok's BigChilli's Editor Colin Hastings to do an article on peacekeeping operations in Timor. We'd met through my enrollment, and Colin asked if I'd like to do an article, once he found out about my work.
The 'interview' was informally held at the then "Shenanigan's" (Thairish) Irish Bar on Soi Convent with Colin who posed some key questions. Much of the article was edited later. It finally appeared in BigChilli's August 2003 edition, and apart from some 'borrowed' library photo's was quite a good opportunity for me to speak my mind.
Living & working in East Timor….
(No place for Miss Goodbar)
Worse still back in Timor, was the apparent 24yr oppressed native population's 'xenophobia' and suspicion towards foreigners ("Malai" = Foreigner) in what was fast resembling an army of occupation rather than its savior, in a fledgling country that had only know an oppressive iron-fist Indonesian rule and its master's inherent bureaucracy since its mass invasion of late 1975. Several Australian Journalist's were killed in Timor, at the town of "Balibo" (aka The Balibo five) by the (TNI) Indonesian Army following the December 7th's 1975 'expected' invasion. TNI claimed they were caught in the crossfire with separatist's, but witnesses bare different testament of outright murder, "execution style" – by the very TNI soldiers they thought would not harm them.
Big trouble in little Timor….the end, and beginnings….
In what was perhaps the biggest seaborne invasion and occupation since WWII (1943 – Japan) of this tiny Island paradise, just 715 Kilometers North of Darwin, yet 'light years' away in terms of international attention or interest, only Australia was looking on as events unfurled that 1975. Indonesia seized the then Portuguese colony's capital Dili within hours of their mass beach landing assault, and parachuting Commando troops in to secure the capital, all 1000 troops under the watchful eye of the Jakarta's military regime. Also, the apparently 'tacit approval' of President Gerald Ford and his (then) aid, Dr. Henry Kissinger, whom had only left Jakarta a day before the event. Washington knew full well that Jakarta was [then] the most phobic, anti-Communist Government's in line with U.S. foreign policies of the period…. The invasion of East Timor was politically 'convenient' and therefore didn't interrupt U.S. foreign policy or its allies, and subsequently Australia's thunder and indignity was taken away from her as the political rug was pulled from under her by the world's biggest superpower…
In preparation for their planned invasion, Jakarta had already been secretly arming 'anti Fretelin' forces throughout 1974/5 within Timor in the then ongoing vicious internecine battle for control of East Timor, then under Portuguese rule. (Not Dutch as in East Indies/Bali etc)
Australia's then Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock gave an extraordinarily watered down criticism towards Jakarta in what some saw as the 'licensed invasion' to evade the possibility of Timor falling into a Communist or Marxist governmental power. Portugal however, immediately severed diplomatic relations with Jakarta citing "aggression" on the part of Indonesia. The small token contingent of Portuguese Paratroopers and their Communication's Units barely escaped with their lives aboard ships anchored off of Dili's coastline before Dili was completely overrun. News network "Reuters" reported Timorese women and children were being mown down indiscriminately by TNI machine gun fire in the landings and securement of Dili's streets….
Decades of Indonesian rule under Suharto's dictatorship had sadly done little if anything to drag this small island kicking and screaming into the 20th Century. A quarter of a century of Indonesian martial rule from Jakarta had visited a harsh and brutal life on this tiny island paradise, including its people, to a point of subjugation. During the reign of Indonesia's militaristic and Police-state rule from 1975, some 200,000 Timorese citizens 'disappeared' never to be seen again, otherwise referred to as 'subversives' or opposing party members and 'sympathizers'. Strangely enough, and quite contrary to popular belief, East Timor remained a Roman Catholic dominated society, but one I would refer to is as 'fundamentalist Catholicism" with only a small, almost token Muslim minority population. This might be one of the great contradictions of the 20th Century. One which Osama Bin Laden himself cited sometime in 2001 that (East) Timor had been "denied and stolen from the people of Islam"…..
Implosion – Indonesia, 1998/9….
President Suharto's 32 year dictatorship over Indonesia collapsed in 1998, but 32 years of authoritarian rule began rupturing and fragmenting the Indonesian archipelago's ethnic races kept thus so far in check. The Jakarta Government's "Unity & Diversity" of the archipelago was unraveling as the Government slowly collapsed inwards…. Indonesia was in danger of descending into political and civil chaos…. In 1999 President Habibe surprisingly announced he was willing to allow a referendum in East Timor for a vote of Independence from Jakarta, but were either unable or unwilling to prevent the ensuing bloodbath. Which the UN, having actively encouraged the nation's right to vote for Independence, did little or nothing, or was simply unable to protect the populace in the ensuing carnage and chaos brought on by the Referendum for independence….
The bitter conflict that resulted in the final 1998/1999 "cry for Independence" practically destroyed the Island when the Indonesian Army watched in tacit approval as the
pro-Jakarta violent Militia's swept through the island, burning and leveling everything under the watchful implicit eye of Suharto's golden army boy, TNI General "Johnny" Wiranto…. Who walks free unfettered man to this day….
R&R in Bali….
Bali's night life lacks the zonal control it had in Thailand whereby there were certain designated night spots and "red light areas" as such, there was no dividing line between a girl on the game, and innocent girls out for a good time with friends. Generally speaking, the girls merged together and was as much a case of waiting to be approached than approaching as in the LOS where women were never backward in coming forward, it was harder work here in Bali it seemed. Clubs were inundated with beautiful girls similarly to Thailand, perhaps even more so and better dressed too was my first impression. I'd be challenged to describe physically the attributes of Indonesian girls to Thai's, but there Indonesians seemingly had better dress-sense and compensated by dressing perhaps more provocatively to attract the right guy. Much the same as in Thailand, long black swaying hair was everywhere to be seen, coffee & cream skin, short skirts, tight hot-pants, long boots, strappy sandals with heels and laughter…. you could be forgiven you were (still) in Thailand form a visual perspective…. Looking closer, the girl's aren't quite the same though and have slightly gentler features but some have more protruding or jutting jaw-lines from their ancestry than their Thai counterparts, but only pronounced in a few, subtle in others, but seldom detracting from their sheer beauty and beguiling physical presence.
Taking "Bali by the horns" I decided to try some of the more well known spots such as the Beach situated "Deja Vu" and its somewhat notorious neighbor "Double Six" night club where pretty much anything goes when everyone 'migrates' from Deja Vu…. Double Six club only 'winds up' at about between midnight to 1am and isn't worth going before, and keeps on going to about 6am when but all the die-hards have succumbed to alcohol, women or drugs, or a combination of the three…. Double Six's Club and house style music pounds out relentlessly amid a mass of humanity, dancers and trancers rub shoulders, shadowy touts mingle & peddle their murky trade almost invisibly between the revelers, seemingly unnoticed or uncared for by the authorities, in what seems an almost lawless venue which has somehow slipped between the cracks of the law and order. Scantily clad females dance the night away amid hookers and good Muslim office girls wearing the tightest pants that require spraying on and a drying period before venturing out it seems. Little Tank-Tops that do little to hide a spectacular cleavage or intent….in a society of contradictions and suspension of religious values. Amid a society ruled mainly by religion, this one venue seems to be the a main 'release valve' of this predominantly Muslim, yet 'cosmopolitan' human pressure cooker, a place where all inhibitions are lost amid the relentless heat of the night, where the girls channel their energy and devout sexuality for the amusement of male onlookers, hungry for lust on this tropical paradise where women outnumber men about 5-1. The restrictions of religion are seemingly left at the door in what is a much more liberal form of Islamic values, and Indonesians live on a tightrope of their religious values and 'letting go'…. Similarly to Thailand, their mothers don't know what their absent lost daughters are doing amid the faraway glitz of Bali's night life and the girls similarly lead 'double-lives' to disguise their true 'employment' which again puts food on the table in this strange Asian 'denial' philosophy. Bali abounds with product promotions and tourism, and Double Six is often full of beautifully 'uniformed' girls having done some Beer Promo coming to let their ample hair down in a frenzy of drink and gratuitous dancing followed by torrid and wild sex. you often see some in glitzy Cow-Girl style uniforms and Stetson's with bodies to die for….and everything, everything to live for….
Sister act….the same all over?
Much as in Thailand, the girls are all quasi 'sisters', – "sisters in fun and debauchery" similarly as their Thai counterparts, and again, 'supremely confident' with dealing with the opposite sex, namely men, yet ironically aren't likely to make the first approach as in Thailand. In many cases, the girl will simply let you know she likes you, and then it's up to you to make the move…. In many cases I found myself doing the chasing and more footwork. Perhaps that was just it, – I'd been spoiled by Thai women for so long making the approaches, and here in Indonesia, it was you who had to do the approaching and some chasing, perhaps more of a challenge?! In the clubs and bars of Indonesia's tourist haven you needed to enhance your conversational and cultural skills to get a bite, it was harder work but enjoyable whereby some of the fun was assessing your quarry and what exactly she was up to. Of course, a myriad of girls go with 'customers' as they say or "Boulay" tourist's to their Hotel's for a predisposed fee, but many of the Hard Rock girls were asking for U.S. $100 – $70 as their minimum after some negotiation and discussion, but in an environment whereby tourist's have good money, they had a bit of a monopoly on their 'fees'. This is expensive when you consider that similar girls from Bars will cost you about $60-70 with Bar Fines, drinks etc included for the period you want, and where only the top-bench girls in Thailand will charge $100-$70….
You get what you pay for in a sense, and going to Denpasar's seedier Sanur girlie area was never an option for me whereby girls go for about $20 and there's little else I can tell you about this area as I never went there. As I understand it, punters go to the bars there which all have knocking shops above them and its very much a 'go and shag' quick-fire establishment and where the 'quality' of women or young girls is purely for that, and nothing more. Any self respecting guy should go initially to Hard Rock Cafe and places like Hard Rock Center Stage live band venue and Hotel area, or beach (Pantai) clubs like "Deja Vu" and "Double Six" for some more solid and interesting dusk-till-dawn action.
The island of Bali, like Bangkok, which can be compared just as Bangkok is almost as huge, and, similarly have their respective migratory sex industries. However, the seemingly higher ratio of women to men (5-1?!) can be 'distorted' by this very fact, similarly as to such entertainment areas throughout Thailand. Many women come to Bali from the many Indonesian Islands & provinces from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of beautiful West & East Javanese, Sulawesi, Lombok etc, in search of fun and excitement on what is perhaps Indonesia's proverbial "tourist Jewell in the crown" (Bali) – especially when compared to other more conservative areas in this most populace Islamic nation. In the more pro-tourist areas where religion meets tourism, religious values have been tempered and give way to more liberalisation, and many women shed their religiously inhibiting chains when in Bali, at all costs out of sight of their parents or guardians, and more mainstream staunch Muslim families in rural Java for instance.
Men behaving badly here too?…..
As in Bangkok, Jakarta has its own strong ex-pat community whom speak as highly, or lowly of Jakarta as their Thailand counterparts, and Bali too has a strong ex-pat community of professionals, businessmen, loafers, perverts, pedophiles, bludgers, misogynist's and men behaving badly just as Thailand has, yet within an predominantly Islamic state its hard to figure exactly 'how' this works or is tolerated. Perhaps the answer lies in Indonesia's much needed Rupiah and currency as tourism, which entails an element of a burgeoning sex trade as a by-product, is mysteriously allowed. Yet another Asian economy which hasn't yet fully recovered from the Asian economic crash in 1997 too, Indonesia's succumbed to the lure of tourism's negative side and an ever curious & abundant female population, eager to please the resident male in their life….
Same old, same old…..
No prizes for guessing that interaction between foreigners and Indonesian women has all the same hallmarks as of "sponsorship", prostitution to love & betrayals as found anywhere throughout pretty much all of South East Asia, where dire economic needs outweigh normal religious creeds & values and common sense in 'forcing' cultures to collide. Apart from Thailand, nowhere is this more apparent than in Bali particularly, (probably Jakarta too?) where foreigners are attracted to what is basically a highly attractive race, and better educated than their Thai counterparts, although this latter point may be a subject of much discussion and conjecture. Indonesia has more than its fare share of poverty and remote regions after all, whereby education simply doesn't permeate, or that sheer poverty denies it. It's seemingly the more outgoing & educated ones who 'migrate' or gravitate towards the main cities and Bali, drawn by the bright lights and desire to meet foreigners perhaps, (?) or to simply otherwise fuel and perpetuate a struggling University Education.
Some time in 2002, with a failed Thai marriage behind me and much need of some R&R from my island recluse, I sought an impromptu trip to Bali to take the time and study the place for future reference, or perhaps a future holiday and needed to test the water. It was on my first day on that short scouting trip, I met a lovely, simply 'nice' girl then who became my girlfriend for now three and a half years. It wasn't apparently obvious at first least of all to me, but seemingly it was to her, and after returning to my work, I was bombarded by the loveliest of SMS phone messages and the odd phone call. I was very reticent about it, as after all this could've been another situation as had arisen in Thailand several before, but without so much concentrated effort it seemed. In spite of her limited vocabulary, the SMS messages were immaculate in their grammar and spelling, and polite to a fault, – I was quite impressed! Oddly, I was now learning more about this girl more and more through her messages than before, whereby she seemed able to express her self more eloquently so on SMS or email rather than actually speaking, possibly because of shyness or confidence about her English.
A Javanese Lotus blossom by any other name….
Sometime in May of 2002, I went again to Thailand to finalise the Divorce settlement and some child support payments to my former wife in Bangkok, but kept in touch with my then new Indonesian girlfriend who was in Bali, while I was in Thailand. I'd agreed I would leave Bangkok a little early so as to allow some time in Bali with my new found GF, but was surprised to hear her application for an Indonesian Passport had been successful earlier than thought. After some deliberation, I decided that I would in fact take her with me to the Island on which I was based and working, after passing through Bali to collect her. The idea was to spend some time with me, and to see how we got on against a backdrop that resembled a war zone and broken infrastructure. Strange, after all my trips to Thailand previously, it never occurred once to me to take a Thai girl back to my working station with me, not once…. I simply didn't find someone I wanted, or was prepared to spend that much time and energy on, but here I was agreeing to something a little bit more than a casual acquaintance and binding, in Bali.
The Bali bomb….
As our friendship and relationship strengthened that middle period of 2002, we couldn't have guessed the horror that would befall Bali in the ensuing August, plunging Bali into an abyss of terror and bewilderment in Asia's worst terrorist atrocity. On October 12th 2002, my Javanese girlfriend who had been staying in Bali, flew to stay with me at my "Island recluse", on a Saturday…. That Saturday night, (October 12th 2002) in Bali at about 23:00pm local time, a small explosive vest-bomb was initially detonated inside (?) nearby "Paddy's Bar" amid the usual teeming numbers of night revelers in Legian Street, and opposite or adjacent to Bali's "Sari Club", – packed with Australian, British and other tourists mainly young, blissfully unaware of what horror was befalling them….
Then, an explosive laden Toyota "Kijang" ( Owned by 41yr old Javanese Mechanic, Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim & explosives buyer ) was detonated remotely by cellphone outside the packed "Sari Club" (Engineered by "Dulmatin" a 32yr old Malaysian electronics expert) as startled tourist revelers went outside to see what had happened with the first explosion, – cruelly designed to invoke such a 'curious reaction' of wonderment, as the 2nd device was detonated with cataclysmic force, utterly destroying Paddy's Bar in the blast and hurling bodies with obscene force back into the bars, detonating in turn, other Propane Gas Bottles used for cooking purposes, – a deadly inferno ensued and engulfed Legian's Bar area as screaming, panicking tourist's stampeded to try to find a way out of the inferno, trampling almost in blind panic over the poor decapitated souls who lay helpless on the floors…. Body parts and limbs lay strewn across the street and up on roofs.
My relatively new found girlfriend was with me at my duty station on that fateful October 12th, (Thank God) having just flown from Bali's Denpasar airport to join me, – we were blissfully unaware of the horror that befell Bali that same night when in Dili, until the following morning. Sunday October 13th, turning on the BBC World News, we saw to our amazement the full extent of the horror. My own organisation it transpired, lost 6 people in the blast, although I didn't know them personally, but the shock-waves were felt, all the same. a massive roll call and accountancy was called for and new security measures implemented for us. Suddenly the world was different again, as liberties & freedoms were once again the victims….
Asia, under the shadow of terrorism?….
Bali descended into and darkened abyss of depression and economic hardship thereafter, and tourism almost dried up overnight except for the die-hard Australian tourist 'regulars' and more politically aware. Some believed it could never happen again, and drew safety through that notion to go anyway to Bali. However, Hotels and Villa's lay empty, and Legian's White Rose Hotel opposite ground zero as others around Kuta, grimly reported several missing guest's that had simply never returned from the night. We alone, lost 4 civilian Police members and a couple of military observers in the blast but of whom I'd never met, nor knew. Company Security measures were stepped up and travel to Bali was restricted or put through phase II security measures to insure staff whereabouts in the event of further attacks…. Bali's heart had been ripped out of her, and the open wound festered amid controversy and fears of renewed attacks which threatened Bali's very future existence, with no exaggeration. The perpetrators of the attack had originated in eastern Java, (Ba'asyir/Hambali/Amrozi etc) and while there was a national outpouring of outrage and sympathy, there was also an underlying complacency over Bali's fate by the mainland while frail 66 yr old mastermind Abu Bakar Ba'sayir vehemently denied all associations with the named murky "Jamaah Islamiah" (JI) extremist's of Indonesia whom Ba'asyir was reputed to have headed as Spiritual Leader. Doctrines of hate intertwined in extremist & murky Islamic practices aren't anything new to Indonesia, and perhaps the government instead of publicly "denying" the very existence of terrorism within in own boundaries, should have been instead asking itself 'when' and not 'if' is existed.
Jamaah Islamiah, fact or myth, Indonesia decides….
Corruption, nepotism and collusion had lead the "repugnant little man" Ba'asyir off the hook earlier in the botched reputed attempt by JI on Megawati Sukarnoputri's life in 2004. He stood accused or at least 'implicated' in a series of Church bombings in 2000, to the JW Marriot Hotel bombing in 2003, including the October 12th 2002 Bali bombing….
For one reason or another, alarm bells didn't ring, or were more likely 'silenced' by politicians purporting peace, yet actively or tacitly (?) supporting Islamic extremist idealism. It was already known that Jamaah Islamiah had links to al-Qaeda, more of a shadowy idealism than a tangible organisation, an almost invisible cloud of smoke moving through western life and ideals than anything material, except in the bomb blasts.
A splintered ethnicity….
Indonesia is an interesting and contrasting set of idealism's in Muslim religion, and variations of the extremity of the religion can be seen from region to region, and even has its own subdivisions in towns and cities, whereby radical Islamic practices are observed, or the more temperate and liberal views are demonstrated. Indonesia's a state in denial, (?) – a politically veiled denial that terrorism exists and indeed 'flourishes'… Often, collusion and corruption and Governmental level split-party loyalties actively hide the guilty and shield them from exposure in a government and society of so many ethnic groups, religious contradictions and political complacencies. Indonesia "glimpsed" into the darkened abyss of terror in 2002 and then with subsequent attacks in Jakarta, namely at the JW Marriot Hotel in 2003. Perpetrated by the every growing (then denied) J-I still 'potent' in 2003/4 even after Ba'asyir's subsequent 30 month imprisonment on somewhat disassociated, mundane charges in face of the overall lack of hard or simply 'too-hot-to-handle' evidence against him. The government still couldn't, or wouldn't (??) actually pin something on him in direct connections with the Bali bombing or his other attempt on Megawati's life. An astonishing and breathtaking travesty of justice given the gravity & sheer weight of charges drawn against him. Charges that wouldn't 'stick' or couldn't be applied for fear of angering the Radicals further, and whereby other charges 'lesser' more frivolous were brought against him instead. All except the main charge of direct involvement in terrorist activities involving high treason…. This have been avoided so not to anger his masses of already angered Jamaah Islamiah (JI) followers threatening riots and unrest…. (?) In one bazaaar incident, Ba'asyir was released and promptly re-arrested in the same instant on more serious charges….
A fundamentalist Islamic superstate within Asia?
In spite of Indonesia's relatively peaceful 'Islamic liberalism' existing in a country of co-existence and diversity, 1938 born Cleric Ba'asyir had been personally crusading to bring Indonesia forward as a devout and more fundamentalist Islamic nation. Spending decades teaching Islam and influencing any young disaffected Indonesians throughout S.E. Asia toward his shady doctrine of a S.E. Asian "Islamic superstate". Ba'asyir's influence on radical Muslims throughout Java has been well documented and universally known about by government and security forces alike, – Ba'asyir made no secret he wanted to form Indonesia into a devout Islamic state within S.E. Asia. He yearned too, for Indonesia to declare a strict "Sharia" Status. Later in 2001/2, 41 year old conspiracy 'foot soldier' Amrozi Bin Nurhasyim had set the deadly explosives on the night of October 12th 2002, – probably spiritually guided by Ba'asyir's teachings and indoctrination earlier on. Amrozi quickly succumbed to justice when on August 07th 2004 was sentenced to death after an 'agonising' and highly publicised media-circus show-trial. Bomber Amrozi's defiant almost 'euphoric' Court room appearances and smiling to crowds of well-wishers earned him the dubious term; "The smiling bomber". Amrozi seemed utterly unrepentant as he was lead carefully away to the cells to begin his life sentence and one is left to wonder if he will actually remain there for the term…. (?) Utterly beguiled by his religion and doctrine, smiling, jubilant Amrozi was probably the incarnation and latter-day emodiement of pure misguided evil as we know it today.
The show-trial went on relentlessly, forcing everyone to revist and relive the agony of the October 2002 horror, most of all, much to the indignation and outrage of Australia whom were confronted daily with images of defiant suspects like Amrozi, jubilantly and victoriously punching the air, shouting "God is great-God is great" – without any restraint from escorting Police officers (????) Perhaps the strangest, most surreal real-life Court room dramas of all time. In a country where civil liberties and human rights are so often abused or questionably dealt with by the military (TNI) or their Government, it was an interesting contrast to watch the spectacle of the Bali Supreme Court hearings. Sadly, it could be said the unfortunate Miss Schappelle Corby's crime was dealt with a lot less leniently than those who preceded her in 2003/4…. Indeed, the Death Penalty can be imposed on convicted Drug-Pushers we know, but dealing with known terrorist's produces 'grey' areas whereby the courts have to seemingly decide between justice, – and igniting the dominant masses in divided loyalties in a national supreme court system. A painfully buearacratic system, shot-through and riddled with so many inconsistencies like marble and much political posturing, rigging and interference….
Surreal evil….the smiling bomber….
It seemed to tear at the very fabric of all that we had come to believe, as the Indonesian Judges looked blankly at the 'victorious' seven (7) culprits before them, and one couldn't help but wonder that Indonesia was answering to world pressure more so than its own tortured conscience, and trying to placate world opinion more than its own security and trying not to further divide the radicals, but at a huge, huge cost.
Following the Bali bombing, Sunday 13th October 2002 saw my girlfriend making several frantic phone calls to friends and family in Java and Bali, in a sort of 'accounting' for everyone she knew of in Bali, but thankfully, (Praise be to Allah too!) none of her friends had been near the Legian blast epicenter, although one friend gave us a vivid account of her experiences in Hard Rock Cafe's downstairs Disco at the time of the blast, at about 23:03pm….
Friends, & eye witness account…Bali, 13th October 2002, 23:03pm….
"Hard Rock Cafe gets rocked for real"
"We were dancing, the music was loud, – but suddenly, the whole place shook and the floor trembled, – the large hanging lights swayed and the power went off and on again… We thought maybe an earthquake?… We didn't know, and everybody just then ignored the music looking at one another in dismay, everybody was confused, we looked towards the doors…. Waiters started looking outside, we knew something had happened, but we didn't know what….Not long afterwards when we left, we saw the huge orange glow in the sky coming from Legian area"
In hindsight, it's probably a bit late to be writing about the 2002 Bali Bombing and I have read so many heart-rending stories and articles related to it and my own experiences are quite mild in comparison even though so closely situated, and the affect on my girlfriend. The terrorist's who perpetrated the crime are behind bars now but JI still remains operationally active even without Ba'asyir's involvement, as his evil and distorted Islamic doctrine lives on. With the problems festering in Southern Thailand now, we know from experience terrorist's will always strike at soft and vulnerable areas such as tourism, and the extremists in southern Thailand have already vowed to bring their disputes to the capital Bangkok…. In spite of the Thai Government's heavy handedness in dealing with the Islamic separatist's in the south and bringing them to heel, discontent and disaffection are growing, and one has to ask again this question, of not 'if' but 'when', and perhaps as important, where?? Could an atrocity such as befell Bali in 2002 happen in Thailand's relative tourist haven? While Bali had perhaps one or two main tourist drags within its the main areas, Thailand has so many, fragmented over a vast city such as Bangkok, but each representing the tender underbelly that could send Thailand's economy plummeting into an abyss of economic dispair, similarly as it did in Bali, – it would be so easy….
The spectre of terrorism as an intangible enemy….
Whilst Thailand doesn't suffer form the same highly complex & bureaucratic complacency, even veiled tacit support of anything remotely Islamic or fundamentalist, its strong-arm policy tactics could be regarded equally as inflammatory as if like Indonesia was doing up to and before the bombings…. Violence often begets violence, and this is particularly the case when dealing with Islamic extremism such as is apparent in the troubled south and of which Thaksin's military has already, so violently demonstrated, – will not be tolerated. I'm not preaching a soft approach here, far from it, sometimes we have to fight fire with fire and we might also ask ourselves about the virtues of the Iraq War/Occupation or whatever you want to label it. At the end of the lived long day, terrorism has, and will always be there whether we act or not, and sometimes we have to do something painful, to reach a cure, and remembering those near immortal words "Evil triumphs only when good men stand by, and do nothing…." (BBC Rwanda, – 1994)
The invisible enemy within….
Words too that Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra should heed well, as the invisible tentacles of terrorism reach ever further into Thailand's realm, which weren't thwarted even after the seemingly 'pivotal' arrest of Jamaah Islamiah's # 1 leader Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin aka "Hambali" while in Ayutthaya in the August of 2003. Hambali had sought refuge in Thailand, but was somehow, perhaps inexplicably unable to secure himself amid even devout Muslims and extremists there. Hambali's 'divine mission' had been to bolster extremism in schools and cells within Thailand and Asia as a whole under Jamaah Islamiah. Targeting Thailand's more volatile and impressionable southern provinces and the majority Islamic populace, along with Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the North, which was revealed under interrogation by the Thai Police authorities following his capture. Big trouble in little (southern) Thailand isn't something wholly new whereby so called separatist's have been waging a war against Thai "oppression" since 1970. Southern Muslim extremists or separatist's had already been burning schools and blowing up railway lines even then, angry at the Thai ham-fisted jackboot counter-terrorism they employed, and have again demonstrated more recently against a culture of denial in Bangkok that 'terrorist's exist' within Thailand's borders by Thaksin Shinawatra who powerful as he is, 'conveniently' defers the issue as a 'southern bandits' or a more mundane criminal threat only.
Early days and birth pangs of unrest in Thailand….
With the then 70's (1971) formation of "PULO" or Pattani United Liberation Organisation, formed by mainly ethnic Malaysians living in Southern Thailand and in Songkhla. Songkhla's major academic status as a major teaching capital in southern Thailand along with its teeming night life, has numerous Universities and Islamic "Madrasses" idealistic religious schools for the furtherment of Islamic extremism. Madrassas similarly to those under investigation in Pakistan linked to the recent August 07th bombings in London. Madrasses while innocently formed, are easily exploited for Islamic extremist abusage where doctrines of hatred can be seamlessly merged with their more innocuous activities.
Perhaps more perplexing about the recent problems in southern Thailand is that the Government doesn't actually know who instigated them, or, which (terrorist?) organisation, but we do know that a significant amount of arms and ammunition was stolen amid attacks that were otherwise designed as a diversion for that 'main' principal target… Armaments & Am munitions to further perpetuate further, future attacks. Thakin's theory is that the night of fires and mayhem as a clever diversion for the main assault on the Army encampment and the attackers were Arms runners in fact, whom see stealing a profit making venture…. The 60,000 Dollar questions remains as to "whom they would sell the arms to?" and for what purpose? Surely not a peaceful one and you can guarantee some will fall into the hands of young disaffected Muslim men with an Axe to grind.
More worryingly during the late 90's, some 700 young Thai youths have been taken abroad in the past to Pakistan for Islamic indoctrination and training and different times at Pakistan's notorious Madrassas schools, and then on to Afghanistan for military-style training during the Taliban's reign under their principal sponsor and mentor, Osama Bin Laden. Others have been more secretively taken to the Philippines, Yemeni, and Malaysia as well as Pakistan where al-Quaeda have sympathizers. (Thai nationals)
Even though Thailand still boasts to have no 'recognised' active terrorist cells within its borders, all the signs are that this is changing rapidly, (if it hasn't already done so at the time of writing this) and that grimly, is only a matter of time. Time, in a country with so so many prospective soft targets that could easily cripple Thailand's tourism economy overnight and threaten national stability and ignite age-old ethnic or religious intolerance's. It's unlikely the Thai's would stand by and let something transpire without swift and violent retribution and this too could be highly inflammatory in the powder keg of the south…..
As if through smoke and haze….
Given the background of the Afghanistan and Iraqi Wars, the intractable way extremists who become terrorists move and mingle within society's, it's like passing your forearm through and grabbing, clutching at clouds of thick Cigarette smoke, you know it's there, but can't feel nor grasp it in your fist. "Terrorist's" in the Dictionary's term, are commonly what you'd term normal people, whom fit quite well into society. Recent events shows them as Scholars, Computer & Electronic or even financial experts, (Oh and "Chemist's" too!) whom could otherwise be earning decent livings if they'd set aside their extremist views, people that could otherwise be working alongside you in your office, intelligent, secretive or going away periodically on long, inexplicable trips….
How to fight a ghost?….
Thaksin probably knows by now that a military solution alone isn't enough to deal with the problem of intrinsic extremism in Thailand's south, and that a solution lies probably somewhere in the grass-roots education and reigning-in of the Islamic schools and the more radically recognised Mosques. Greater assistance too, must be wrought from the Mulsim communities too, who otherwise turn a blind eye to their more fundamentalist brothers, fighting an otherwise holy war in their eyes…. Lessons must be learned, similarly as Egypt is now learning to its cost and the severe damage to its tourist industry which will takes years to heal, but it's hard to fight a faceless enemy that passes through our societies like smoke.
Similarly to Egypt's tourist resorts, Thailand has many soft targets although the 'choice' of target can be as much a matter of conjecture than anything else and may depend on the group perpetrating the attack, such as Jamahh Islamiah, the most likely S.E. Asian wing of al-Quaeda, still 'potent' even after the imprisonment of its spiritual leaders and Messiah's of evil, Abu Bakir Ba'asyir and Hambali…