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Anglosphere: Crunch time for Australia

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   Oct. 19, 2002 at 11:53 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Because our media has predominantly featured the Australian, British and other Western victims of the radical Islamist attacks on Bali, it is easy to forget that the primary intended victims of the assault were the Balinese themselves. To the extent that Australians and other non-Balinese were intended victims, it was primarily for the purpose of destroying the Balinese tourist industry. Killing Westerners was a tertiary, albeit welcome benefit in the eyes of the jihadists.

For them, the root cause they seek to fight against is not Israel, or Afghanistan. It is Christian "infidels" and Balinese "idolaters" polluting the Land of Islam, of which, in their view, Bali is part.

Based on the Taliban experience in Afghanistan, we have a pretty good idea what the Balinese can expect should the radical Islamists fulfill their plans to take power in Indonesia. Bali's temples and religious monuments representing its unique blend of Hinduism and Buddhism would be destroyed -- remember the Bamiyan Buddhas -- and replaced with plain whitewashed mosques. Balinese music would be outlawed and their instruments destroyed. Those who resisted conversion to Islam would have to wear an identifying symbol such as a saffron patch on their clothes at all times. The Balinese tourism industry would be destroyed and the island, now poor but developing, would be plunged into primitive semi-starvation.

The Balinese understand this, and for the time being fervently support the national government, which preserves the traditional accommodations between Balinese and Muslim Indonesians. Should the government lose coherence, their only hope would be independence with foreign support which, as East Timor demonstrated, would be a very problematic option.

In Australia, there are two competing interpretations of the Bali attacks. Which one prevails will be critical to the security of Australia and Australians, and important to the United States. One interpretation sees the attacks as a consequence of Australian support for the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and on the issue of Iraq. Its conclusion is that Australia should cut and run, and hope not to be attacked again.

The other sees the attacks as evidence that Australia has no options in this war; that Australians were attacked not for what Australia had done, but for what Australians were. They see, quite correctly, that if radical Islamists conclude that the easiest way to change Australian behavior is to kill a substantial number of Australians, then Australians will be murdered in large numbers again and again.

This is not speculation. Captured al Qaida documents show again and again that Osama bin Laden and his associates were deeply impressed by the lesson that inflicting a few casualties on America in Lebanon, Somalia, and elsewhere was the easiest way to get Americans to abandon their undertakings.

No matter what Australia had done after Sept. 11, 2001, it is likely that the Australians in Bali would still have died. Certainly the Germans and other Europeans who died alongside them received no consideration for their governments' temerity.

Australia's options are permanently connected to the fate of Indonesia. For the foreseeable future, Australia will have as its closest major neighbor a state that is vastly more populous, vastly poorer, riven by religious factionalism and ethnic separatism, and burdened in its quest for development by a weak civil society.

An Indonesia fragmented by religious and ethnic struggle would be a source of masses of desperate refugees. An Indonesia dominated by radical Islamists would be a nightmare. Consider the words of one of Indonesia's radical Islamist leaders, Abu Bakar Baasyir. Asked if there was anything he wanted to say to families who lost relatives in the Bali bomb attack, he said: "My message to the families is please convert to Islam as soon as possible."

In its current situation, Australia has fewer choices than its intellectuals believe. Their preferred choice, appeasement of the radical Islamists, will be not only ineffective but counterproductive: it will teach the lesson that killing Australians is the way to control Australia.

There is in fact little Australia can do to please or accommodate the radical Islamists of Indonesia, since their goals are primarily aimed at turning Indonesia into a Taliban-like Islamist state. Terror against non-Muslim Indonesians and foreign travelers in Indonesia is part of their campaign, and there is nothing that will stop them short of rendering them ineffective.

There are two real options. The first, turning Australia into a military power sufficient in itself to deter any attack from Asia (which we might think of as the Israeli model), is likely to be too costly and too distasteful for the Australian people to accept. Military expenditures of over 5 percent of gross domestic product, return to conscription and mandatory reserve service, and acquisition of nuclear weapons (probably the minimum useful package of policies) are just not in the cards.

The other option for Australia is an expansion of the policies that have been successful to date. The United States is the only ally, existing or potential, that has both the capability to effectively aid Australia and the long-term commonalty of outlook and interests to be willing to do so on a permanent basis. Britain is perhaps closer in common ties, but farther in terms of available capabilities. Australia could try to triangulate various Asian powers, but this would never be more than a shifting set of opportunistic alliances. It would be like playing the slot machine time after time, and always needing at least two cherries to come up. Sooner or later, Australia would be the loser in this triangulation.

Australia has unusually close security ties with both America and Britain, but these are scattered among a number of agreements and arrangements, none of them high profile in the manner of the NATO treaty. The Howard government, one of the more clear-eyed and realistic Australian governments in decades, should pursue the creation of a higher-profile, overarching security organization anchored firmly in U.S.-U.K.-Australian security cooperation, giving firmer organizational flesh to the patterns of alliance established on the ground in Timor and Afghanistan.

For its part, the United States needs to demonstrate some long-term vision and reach out with strong gestures. A wider U.S.-Australian free-trade agreement is now under discussion. The United States should look at inviting Australia (and New Zealand) into the North American Free Trade Agreement without further delay or qualification. This is already being advocated by Canadians such as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Australians would be fools to think of the Bali bombings as retaliation for Australian cooperation with the United States. It is only understandable part of a larger campaign that seeks to drive Australians and all foreign infidels from Indonesia, and subjugate the non-Muslim Indonesians to their ideology. Australia has no option but to fully commit itself to the struggle. Americans, Britons, and others in the struggle must show solidarity with Australia's victims of radical Islamism, appreciate their contributions to the fight, and strengthen our mutual institutions.

For the Balinese victims, direct and indirect, we should not forget that they are the ones who would suffer most from a radical Islamist victory in Indonesia.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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