We should ignore these pathetic bullies - but we can't

They are treating the world as their dysfunctional kindergarten and turning us into victims
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The Independent Online

In the face of great carnage, unimaginable physical and emotional pain and awful loss of life and limb, it is difficult for us to remember that terrorism is not powerful, but pathetic. This important fact is considered dangerous because it is often distorted, and transmogrified into the sort of politics of victimhood that turns the terrorist into a martyr, not only within the cause that he or she is "fighting" for, but also outside, in the battle for international support.

In the face of great carnage, unimaginable physical and emotional pain and awful loss of life and limb, it is difficult for us to remember that terrorism is not powerful, but pathetic. This important fact is considered dangerous because it is often distorted, and transmogrified into the sort of politics of victimhood that turns the terrorist into a martyr, not only within the cause that he or she is "fighting" for, but also outside, in the battle for international support.

Because of this danger, the truth about the terrorist's impotency is automatically suppressed, or at least overlooked, and the terrorist himself gains power, as he is not just despised as he should be, but he is also feared as he wishes to be. That, in these days when no responsibility is claimed, is all that makes him a terrorist, and not simply a homicidal lunatic member of a nutty, nasty sect.

Yet, whatever else the bomb-planters of Bali were, they were clearly the latter, their reasons for targeting their particular victims so inadequate that the word "pathetic" rather flatters them. As we look at the growing list of "reasons" why hundreds of young people in a popular holiday resort were deemed to be ideological targets, rather than human beings, the weakness, cowardice and dumb hatred of the people who planned and committed the outrage becomes grotesquely apparent (the same can be said of course for the victims of 11 September).

These latest victims were largely, but not all, also Westerners, not working but playing – dancing, drinking and seeking pleasure, in a bar that had a door policy that discriminated against locals. They were normal young people, doing nothing that their age, background and culture does not condone. They were guilty of no outrages, architects of no repressive policy, authors of no wars, philosophers of no new world orders. They stood for nothing in particular, except the broadest of values that they inherited from the world into which they were born.

They were there, though, in that place and so they were maimed and killed by a car bomb. How pitiful these terrorists are, who believe themselves to be justified in inflicting such pain and havoc on the strength of such slender justification. They are bullies and idiots, treating the world as their cruel, dysfunctional kindergarten, and turning us all into victims.

Yet, at the same time, what a barrel they've got us over. A toddler's destructive tantrum, we know, is best ignored. But these destructive tantrums, monstrous as they are, demand the most solemn attention of the most powerful people on the planet. These bringers of destruction want lots of attention, and they certainly know how to get it.

On this level we have no choice but to give the terrorists what they want. They claim no responsibility, make no demands, unveil no objectives. Their only objective is terror, and they need only to supply the initial spark of destruction, the first link in a chain that leads, they surely hope, to many more deaths, much more blame, far more chaos.

The world that the terrorists hate spreads the terror, as it tells the stories of its dead and its injured, speculates on the identities, motives, and whereabouts of the perpetrators, and tries to decide how history should accommodate their acts.

We, not just the West but all those who don't agree with fundamentalism, are the unwilling allies of these people, as well as their victims. They are our parasites as well as our enemies, and it is hard for us to work out how to be rid of them without doing too much damage to ourselves, and to those we profess to be saving from them.

This difficulty can be seen not only directly, in the heated debates over whether the innocent of Afghanistan or, latterly, of Iraq should be sacrificed because of the evil excesses of their unwanted leaders, but indirectly, too, in the worries many have over the amount of civil liberties we must be expected to surrender to the battle against unreasoning militancy.

In Indonesia, this dichotomy is all too easily seen in action. For the reason why this new atrocity has taken place there is, paradoxically, because Islamic separatists have been able to proliferate, for all sorts of reasons. The secular government stands against them, and handed a suspected al-Qa'ida leader over in June. There may have been an element of revenge in the attack, for the attack on Bali will leave a huge hole in the country's economy. But whichever group chose Bali, it chose it ultimately for no other reason than that it was an easy, handy target.

There is little logic at all in this attack, for its ultimate victims will be the ordinary Indonesians who have come to rely on tourism for their livelihood. In fact, insomuch as we understand at all what Islamic terrorists want – war against the West and its dominant component, the US – it is probably to make the attack yet more obscene – something of an own goal. Many commentators have already suggested that this atrocity on Bali is some sort of proof of the foolhardiness of President Bush's recent, obsessive focus on Iraq.

But actually all it proves is a lack of proper strategic thinking, or political sophistication, from the loose network of Muslim fundamentalists that it is convenient to call al-Qa'ida.The focus will move away from Iraq now, and will refocus the West on its primary task of rooting out fundamentalists everywhere.

The Bali bomb is a terrible reminder that the War on terrorism cannot be won by picking out individual states and focusing the guns of war on them. Perhaps it was the experience of 11 September, when a known leader, Osama bin Laden, had an empire in a known state, Taliban-led Afghanistan, that invited President Bush to believe that conventional national warfare was the right response to unconventional, international terror.

The bomb is a cruel reminder that Muslim fundamentalism is not quite such a sitting duck. It is possible that the Indonesian leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, will co-operate in pinpointing the headquarters of terrorist groups in the vast archipelago that she nominally leads. It is unthinkable, though, that war against Indonesia, will be initiated in response to this outrage.

So in a way, the attack and its aftermath are a sort of vile fresh start for all those who wish to tackle fundamentalism, a reminder that this will not be ended by pinpointing an "axis of evil" but by accepting that resentment breeds terrorism, whether justified or not.

The West, and particularly the US, has, since 11 September, had plenty of intimations of the resentment felt by many against it. Citizens of Afghanistan, a country wracked for so long by conflict, welcomed a final war against the Taliban they believed would bring them the West's protection. Whether they feel that has been delivered is a moot point.

Now the West must help Indonesia to shore up its economy, after this assault on it. Those in power argue that such actions reward terrorist activity, but the trick is for us to get in first. The best of all ways of beating terrorism is to help failing countries, and nations divided by fundamentalist warfare, instead of waiting for the inevitable and expecting the innocent to lay down their lives as others were forced to lay down theirs. But we shouldn't be doing this because of the terrorists. It's simply the right thing to do.

d.orr@independent.co.uk

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