Just what do the poor Balinese do now?

Grief is being expropriated and commandeered to remember only the 'lost innocence' of Australia
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A week on and the blood on the streets of tourist Bali will now be looking almost brown, baked in, while the blown-apart bodies – those that have been recovered – lie prematurely in repose in mortuaries which never expected to be so full. Carnage in Paradise is a cliché which perfectly captures the shock and outrage felt by us all. Once more, blasts and destruction are used by invisible manipulators to send messages to the world, messages which are as intolerable and bewildering to most Muslims as they are to others who today walk in fear of Islam itself.

A week on and the blood on the streets of tourist Bali will now be looking almost brown, baked in, while the blown-apart bodies – those that have been recovered – lie prematurely in repose in mortuaries which never expected to be so full. Carnage in Paradise is a cliché which perfectly captures the shock and outrage felt by us all. Once more, blasts and destruction are used by invisible manipulators to send messages to the world, messages which are as intolerable and bewildering to most Muslims as they are to others who today walk in fear of Islam itself.

I don't yet know whether this was the work of Islamic Stalinists. I don't trust the Indonesian army – trained by Americans and Australians – the Indonesian government or the Western powers to tell me anything resembling the truth in this post-11 September world. But since that fateful day, I do know that there are Muslim killers who, like paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, feel they have the right to do what they will for a motive which is submerged under the bodies their actions pile up.

Yet having said all this, for many of us Britons of colour, the ensuing days and world reactions to the Bali bomb feel like a violation of the reality most of us inhabit. Several of the dead were young and Australian; dozens of them were British. But Balinese died too, and many of them are still injured and receiving none of the care available to white victims. While foreign victims were allocated beds, local wounded had to lie on floors and are still begging for treatment.

It is their island, although from the way this has been covered you would think Bali was Australia, only cheaper and with more obliging servants. It has been blighted and left to fend for itself as the West departs in an unseemly hurry. They take with them their money and the power that this money gives them in tourist traps – I refer to the increasing number of places around the world which have been turned into theme parks for the fat-cat children of the West, including myself, and which end up entrapped and enslaved by the industry. They also take with them that stamp of approval which all countries now need to have in order not to be seen as part of "the axis of evil".

Please note the naked prejudice in the responses of our Government. With the United States, we were encouraged to carry on flying over as tourists to show solidarity and to prove that such acts did not and could not deter us. After Bali, Baroness Amos immediately instructed Britons to get out of and stay away from a place which needs our support.

The tragedy is that these holiday-makers, just like the Americans who died on 11 September, may have been caught between the truly evil killers and their own politicians who do nothing to create a fairer and more just world for the billions who are getting less and less in the bonanza of globalisation. Is it not important to understand the environment and politics which lie underneath the most conspicuously delightful destinations? The Sari club was a whites-only enclave; some tourists behaved as if they owned the place. British tourists in Ibiza, Cyprus and elsewhere are similarly indifferent to the feelings of local populations. I am not saying people deserved this appalling fate just because they loved sex, surf and sand, but we must become more aware what risks come into play when so little real connection exists between us and the people of the places we love to visit.

What will the Balinese do now? Who will mourn with and for them? Why is grief being expropriated and commandeered to remember only "the lost innocence of Australia"? Do the powerful in the West never learn? After 11 September all other tragedies and all other victims around the world, including the Muslims victims of Christian murderers in our Europe – the 5,000-plus who were massacred by Serbs in the "safe haven" of Srebrenica, were relegated to the end of the queue and anyone who objected was branded as anti-American. The more thoughtful Americans are starting to condemn the injustice of this new form of arrogance which presumes that American lives are self-evidently worth more than those of others. The actor Woody Harrelson spoke out last week against the lies, racism and imperialism of his country and Philip Roth attacked the repellent "orgy of national narcissism and gratuitous sense of victimisation" which has overtaken the US.

Just as this self-awareness is thankfully growing in the US, what do we find Australian commentators doing? Sorrowfully lamenting that their nation, so unlike the US, should have been targeted for such butchery. We have no confirmation that the merciless killers were focused only on Australians or even "Western civilisation" – surely one of the most foolish and dangerous ways to see what happened; yet Clive James, in a pathetic outpouring, said that Australians were picked because Australia has created such a fab multicultural society.

Well I never! I am sure all those dying, imprisoned and substance-addicted Aborigines will rise to shout 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' at that. As for the newly anointed John Howard, the right-wing Prime Minister of Australia who, like George Bush, has suddenly found public worship following terror attacks, let us not forget that he let 350 Afghans on the run from the Taliban sink to the bottom of the sea without an iota of compassion. Or that Australians voted him in for exactly that kind of toughness.

As a black Briton I have other questions too about our relationship with Australia and the lack of criticism of that country, its history and the thousands of Australians who flood into small, over-crowded Britain, which we are told, will sink if one more Iraqi or Kenyan enters it. Look around you; white Australians are ministers, pop stars, editors, pundits, authors, even human-rights lawyers. They have been able to get to places blacks cannot dream of.

Obviously it is nothing to do with colour. White Australians just have bigger brains than we do. So, where are these people of massive influence when it comes to the inhumane asylum policies of their government? I never thought I would say this, but Britain comes out shining, even with its abysmal asylum policies, next to an Australia which incarcerates refuge-seekers in prisons in the desert behind barbed wire which children try to climb in desperate efforts to escape. Only the ever-conscientious John Pilger speaks out.

Geoffrey Robertson, Patricia Hewitt, Kylie Minogue, Clive James, Pamela Anderson, where are you? In fact, I did once suggest to Mr Robertson, who doesn't hold back about human-rights abuses in this country, that prominent Australians should publicly condemn the treatment of asylum-seekers in his homeland. He thought it would be unwise given that they were "outsider" insiders.

At an Aussie bar near where I live, young backpackers I spoke to, although in turmoil over Bali, were more willing to take up the new challenges which have erupted into their lives. As Katy, from Melbourne University, said: "I feel like somebody has shaken me awake from a dream. I see the world differently. I can see my own country now as a sufferer but also as a cause of pain and resentment. We need to grow up and take responsibility. We must look at ourselves." How can you fail to respect such honesty at such a time?

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

Comments