The terrorists have targeted our youth

Any parent will know that their children's innocence is no protection against people who hate the West
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The Independent Online

There will be more. Sadly, achingly, appallingly, we have to assume that the blast in Bali is just one of a series of attacks on the West that will continue for the foreseeable future.

There will be more. Sadly, achingly, appallingly, we have to assume that the blast in Bali is just one of a series of attacks on the West that will continue for the foreseeable future.

The world changes – in political, military and economic terms – as a result. We have seen the political changes brought about by 11 September: an angry and determined United States that will do whatever it feels appropriate to protect itself and its citizens. We shall see more military consequences soon. But now turn to the economic consequences, for just as the 11 September effect has been fading, the world economy takes another hit.

It is a big hit. The destruction and the toll on human life is mercifully less severe than the attacks of 13 months ago but the damage is still extremely serious. This was an attack in a "new"" part of the world; on a hugely important industry, travel and tourism; and on youth, for the vast majority of the victims were young Westerners. This is extremely serious for the region, for the industry, and for youth. Proportionate to its population, it looks as though Australia may have lost almost as many people – young people – in Bali as did the US in the twin towers.

The regional impact matters because this part of the world has been the most vibrant during the past two decades. It is, of course, a vast and diverse region but if you take out the special case of Japan, it has seen the fastest growth rates and been home to most of the international investment during the 1990s. But now the going has become tougher. Indonesia, apart from China, the most populous nation in the entire timezone, was already in particular economic trouble and these attacks will be devastating not just to the tourist trade but to the whole economy.

The tourist trade matters enormously but the damage to the rest of the economy may – in the long-term – prove even more serious. The flow of foreign investment to Indonesia had already dried up; now it will not be restarted for a decade at least. And it is that investment flow that both helps to sustain growth and also to transfer knowledge from international companies to their local plants. The world's fourth most populous country will find itself shut out of future wealth creation, with all the social and economic misery that such exclusion will entail.

It would be naive to think that Indonesia alone will be affected. Tourism throughout the region will decline and the Philippines and Malaysia are both vulnerable. While this attack will not stop growth it will hobble it. What was and ought again to be the fastest-growing part of the globe, will be less successful in the future.

The impact on the global tourist industry is less predictable. Rationally, the effect should be slight, with people who might have chosen a holiday in East Asia choosing somewhere else instead. Overall spending may not fall much, for past experience shows us that human beings are pretty resilient even in the face of terrorist attacks. But holidays are not about reason and this blow comes at a time when the cooler economic climate was beginning to bite. The Americans last year, who decided not to travel abroad, spent their money instead on consumer items such as new cars. But confidence is now shattered again and this time would-be travellers might just save the money instead.

But I think, when we all look back on this period, what will differentiate this particular attack from all the others will be the way it has attacked youth. You could, in a warped way, believe that the attack on the twin towers was an attack on Western capitalism. But this is different. The victims were targeted because they were Western, young and having a good time.

One disgraceful response to the attacks on the US, heard even here in Britain, was the notion that somehow "America had it coming to it". I have not seen any such response in any Western country to this attack. These young people – Australians, Britons, and let's not forget, the local people helping them enjoy themselves – were not symbols of American capitalism. They were just, well, innocent youth.

That changes things, in ways that we cannot yet hope to see with any clarity. Obviously, the impact will be greatest in Australia. Young Australians will think differently about the vast and varied populations to the north.

But any young British backpacker who has done the circuit of Phuket, Bali, the Barrier Reef and all those other tourist spots on their round-the-world trip, will feel differently now about the entire region. Any parent who has a son or daughter doing a gap year – as so many of us have – will know that innocence, honesty and an open mind towards other cultures are no protection against people who hate the West.

The result will be a more divided world. In economic terms, it is easy to predict how divisions will widen. International trade will become more and more the rich countries trading with each other and not bothering to have so much to do with the rest of the world. That will make it harder for all developing countries to make progress towards the wealth and human development of the West – as the East Asian "tigers" to Indonesia's north have so successfully achieved over the past generation.

That is obvious. This part of the world will be poorer as a result. But it is both harder to see, and perhaps more troubling to try and think through, the division in terms of changing attitudes and ideas. Social attitudes towards other countries and cultures are determined by the experiences of the young. The bombs of Bali, targeted as they were against innocent youth, will affect western attitudes for a generation. If this part of the world is poorer, whose fault is that?

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