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Another Terrorist Caught: In Memory of the Bali Dead

March 31, 2011

In 2003 I sat at the Premier’s desk working on a speech of tribute to 88 victims of the Bali bombing. It was a sad task for me. Among those 88 Australian dead were families from Malabar in my electorate as well as members of a Coogee football club close to where I lived. I had visited survivors in the burns ward of Concord Hospital including one man who lost his wife and daughter. Another family I knew lost their young son and received his suitcase which contained presents he had bought for them.

One suggestion for my speech came from Bob Ellis. It was a line that read, “Terrorism will never be defeated by force.’ I crossed it out. I knew that terrorism would have to be defeated by force. And I wanted it defeated by force. Other methods would work too. Force would be part of the equation.

This memory comes to the surface as I read today’s report that the last of the main conspirators has been arrested in Pakistan. The others are dead or imprisoned. Umar Patek has been arrested because of his role as assistant field co-ordinator in Jemaah Islamiah. He is also reported to being a senior member of the network.

I am struck again by the effectiveness of our Indonesian friends – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his administration – in pursuing those responsible for these murders. They do not get enough credit. The effectiveness of Indonesian security operations is all the more striking in an Islamic nation.

This battle will be won only with the support of Muslims who are opposed to Islamist or political Islam, who embrace modernity and reject the preachings of medievalists who control the Taliban, the government of Iran and, perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood. I prefer these descriptions as opposed to the vague ” moderate Muslim”.

The War on Terror proclaimed by the Bush administration in the wake of the September 11 attack has, of course, failed. If someone had told you a week after the twin towers that 10 years from now the US would be bogged down in unsuccessful trillion dollar wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that Al-Qaeda would be expanding its influence in Africa and Osama bin Laden would still bd alive, you would not have believed them. Read Peter Bergen’s 2011 book The Longest War for an account of how the War on Terror – 10 years after September 11 – has yielded mostly failure.

But there have been some successes. The people who planned bombings and are now in Australian, British and American prisoners are one measure of success. So is the stunning Indonesian performance in imprisoning or executing most of those involved in the attack on our people and others in Bali. Bergen seems to acknowledge this:

By the end of the second Bush term it was clear that Al Qaeda and allied groups were losing the ‘war of ideas’ in the Islamic world, not because America was winning that war — quite the contrary: most Muslims had a quite negative attitude toward the United States — but because Muslims themselves had largely turned against the ideology of bin Ladenism.

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