Leading article: We must not do the terrorists' job for them

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The attack appears, at this stage, to be the work of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Islamist extremist group responsible for the 2002 bombing. The immediate response from our political leaders has been somewhat disappointing. We had the usual rhetoric from Tony Blair and the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, linking the attacks to their own "war on terror" . The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, spoke of how the primary motivation of the terrorists is a visceral hatred of the West and everything it stands for.

But this line of reasoning is sounding ever more tired. What this attack on Bali shows is that Islamist terror groups often have specific objectives. In this instance, the goal is to destroy the Balinese tourist industry and thereby exert pressure on the Indonesian government. And, so far, they are proving effective. The first attack damaged the local tourist industry. This weekend's bombings look likely to plunge it into even deeper trouble. The terrorists are sending a clear message that the 2002 bombings were no " one off".

Many will ask how the same group of fanatics were able to strike again? There will be questions about whether the Indonesian government is doing enough to bring Jemaat Islamiyah to justice? But Western leaders should be wary about calling for a "crackdown" from Indonesia. We should not lose sight of the fact that 33 people have been convicted for the 2002 bombings. What is more, we should not encourage repression in foreign countries for the sake of our tourists. We have done this too many times in the past. In Egypt, we turned a blind eye to the creation of a virtual police state. As the bombing of the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh demonstrated, this has not made holidaymakers safer. The effect of " crackdowns" is more often than not to increase support for terrorists among the indigenous population.

Much has already been made of the so-called "British link" to the Bali bombings. It appears that an explosive expert linked to Jemaat Islamiyah studied at the University of Reading. This is a timely reminder of the global nature of modern terrorism. Yet we should not be distracted from the localised goals of this Islamist group. Conflating South Asian terrorists into a global struggle against fanaticism is a dangerous game.

Some have questioned whether our own Foreign Office did enough to inform British tourists of the dangers in the area. The issue of official warnings is tricky. If the Foreign Office issues an instruction to Britons not to travel to a specific country, their holiday insurance is invalidated. If governments are too free in issuing general warnings, they risk destroying local livelihoods.

Our political leaders must tread carefully. Groups such as Jemaat Islamiyah must be thwarted in intelligent and specific ways. We must not retreat from globalisation and travelling abroad, as this is what the terrorists want. And we must marginalise the bloodthirsty fanatics from the rest of the population, rather than see them bolstered by government repression. There is no simple way to reach this goal - but we must never be deceived into doing the work of the terrorists for them.

Comments