Monday, October 21, 2002
Bali outrage response must be intense, but focused


This column is dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Bali bombing, particularly those from Hong Kong. It is especially dedicated to Edward Waller, a fine young man of 26 whom I had the privilege to know well.

I never personally knew any victims of the World Trade Centre, Canary Wharf or other politically motivated bombings of innocent civilians from Colombo to Jerusalem and Gaza to Bogota. Whether being personally Ltouched can help one think more clearly, or simply more emotionally, about such things I have yet to learn. But I think I can learn from Ed.

He was someone who, had he lived another two decades, probably would have earned a long obituary in one newspaper or another. He also was a fine example of an internationally minded young expatriate, a group sometimes criticised for boisterous behaviour, who contributed to Hong Kong's economy as well as to its social and sporting life.

Part English, part Irish and half Thai, Ed came to Hong Kong immediately after completing his schooling in England, doing a pre-university ''gap year'' working for a Malaysian Chinese metals trader friend of his father, an entrepreneurial mining executive who had lived in Thailand and started a successful venture in Malaysia.

After studying history at Trinity College, Dublin, Ed returned to Hong Kong and quickly found his feet. He became a regional marketing executive for Lexis-Nexis, the database company familiar to lawyers and journalists. He was elected captain of his rugby team and was much in demand by boat owners - myself included - for his skills on the foredeck as well as his relaxed and optimistic view of life.

Ed worked hard and played hard. Fluent in Thai and entirely comfortable with his own mixed ancestry, he was always at the centre of events, always with a ready smile and helping hand. He was one who led by an unusual combination of enthusiasm and being nice to everyone. He was one of the most agreeable people I ever met, and one who, to borrow a tribute from another friend, made people twice his age ''feel part of his gang''.

So, how does one respond to such a benign and promising person being swept away by such a brutal act? In one sense, the Bali attack was even worse than the World Trade Centre, a symbol of US power and international capital. Bali was just somewhere people, most young and unpowerful, went for fun.

The first lesson Ed would surely have advised: we should keep going to Bali, keep going to bars, keep going on rugby tours. Surrender to fear is the first objective of terror. The danger of terrorist attacks has greatly increased in recent times, but travellers are still more likely to die in plane crashes than at the hands of terror bombers.

He would surely have rejected the cries of the Australian and US governments which say their citizens should leave Indonesia, or the growing list of other countries where Americans are advised not to tread.

Secondly, the nature of the terror threat is that it is unpredictable. After all, Bali - with its Hindu majority and large Chinese population - had been regarded as the safest place in Indonesia. Furthermore, violence in Indonesia previously had been aimed at other Indonesians rather than foreigners.

Certainly, Indonesian security was lax. Quite possibly locals were bribed into complicity. But vague warnings of terror threats, such as those the US claims to have made to Jakarta, do no more than cause worry, and disrupt travel and business. Only specific information can prevent such bombings.

President George W. Bush has been berating Indonesia for its lack of attention to threats. But did foreign governments berate Mr Bush when hundreds of foreigners died in lower Manhattan? No, there was an outpouring of sympathy. Let us not in our grief for those we knew forget that many - perhaps 40 per cent - of the Bali victims were Indonesians, mostly Balinese.

The next such incident could as well be in the Louvre, Lan Kwai Fong or Phuket, as in Muslim Asia. And, as the CIA has the sense to admit, the dangers of an attack on US soil are as great now as before September 11.

Ed would have understood, too, that in the search for culprits and in the measures to be taken to reduce the likelihood of repetition, precision not blanket measures which created more communal or religious rifts are needed. He not only lived part of his life in Ireland, scene of so many terror attacks and communal tensions. His own family crossed the Irish divides. He was a Catholic via a Polish grandmother while on his father's side were Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry from Tipperary, still viewed as interlopers by a few Gaelic Catholic extremists even though they have been there for centuries.

So Ed was well aware that there were plenty of Irish nationalists around with whom he sailed and played rugby, but only a tiny minority of Irish people supported IRA terror. In the same way, he would understand only a tiny number of Indonesian Muslims, even fundamentalists, support terror.

I have argued in these pages on several occasions that aspects of the US response to the World Trade Centre bombing played into the hands of the terrorists. The same applies now. The response to Bali must be intense, but must also be kept focused. Iraq is particularly irrelevant to fighting al-Qaeda. In this context let me quote another columnist, the economist Paul LKrugman, from the International Herald Tribune: ''Saturday's bombing was monstrously evil. It was also, I am sorry to say, very clever. And it reinforces the sinking feeling that America's leaders, who seem determined to have a conventional war, are playing right into the terrorists' hands. It's like the man who looks for his keys on the sidewalk, although he dropped them in a nearby alley, because he can see better under the street light. These guys want to fight a conventional war. Since al-Qaeda won't oblige, they'll attack someone else who will. Watching from the alley, the terrorists are pleased.''

Whether on the rugby pitch or the foredeck, Ed was never one for excuses or scapegoats when things went wrong. He also had an innate faith in other humans. Let the punishment fit the crime, but do not lash out blindly and in anger. Be true to Ed Waller's optimistic, generous and fearless spirit.

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator. is the premier information resource on Greater China. With a click, you will be able to access information on Business, Markets, Technology and Property in the territory. Bookmark for more insightful and timely updates on Hong Kong, China, Asia and the World. Voted the Best Online newspaper outside the US and brought to you by the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's premier English language news source.


Published in the South China Morning Post. Copyright (C) 2002. All rights reserved.