No threat can keep them away


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 12 Oct 2003

By JEFFREY FRANCIS

FOR the hundreds of Australians, the visit to Bali is the symbolic final healing process of their wounds, both physically and emotionally. 

As they stand at the newly built cultural park today for a moment of silence, each of them will recall the heinous tragedy that they experienced exactly one year ago – either fighting for their own survival or losing their loved ones. 

For some who have survived the carnage, it is understandable that the smell of burnt skin, the cries for help, the desperate search for members of their families and friends amid the debris, combined with the realisation of shock, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, are simply too much to bear or forget. 

For others, the massacre has embedded in their mind, heart and soul and changed their entire life. 

But they came with orange ribbons to symbolise peace, not anger or revenge, and bearing useful gifts for the Balinese who also have lost everything after the terrible event. 

Painful as it certainly is, nothing could have deterred the Australians from coming to this Island of the Gods for the commemoration of the 202 people killed, including 88 Australians, in the terrorist bomb blasts that destroyed the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar and caused shocking mayhem on Oct 12, 2002. 

Incredulously, not even the threats of further terrorist attacks in Bali could stop the Australians from coming to pay tribute to those who have died in the nation’s biggest peacetime horror. 

Nor the announcement that the Indonesian security forces are searching for two big bombs thought to have been in the hands of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah terrorists could frighten them away from the memorial service. 

And not even the warning from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade against going to Indonesia because of reports that further terrorist attacks are being planned to hit a variety of targets – including embassies, international hotels, shopping centres or identifiably western interests – would change their minds. 

Foolhardy or courage, it does not matter. They are determined to be in Bali, irrespective of the tremendous risk to themselves, so that they could put to rest the sorrows and sufferings they have endured in the past 12 months and to get on with their lives. 

Take, for example, roof contractor Peter Hughes, 43, who suffered burns to over 50% of his body.  

He was revived three times by doctors. That experience alone would have discouraged many a tourist from going back to the place which nearly took his life. 

Although he has not fully recovered, his return to Bali is the only thing he could do in memory of his friends who “had not made it.” 

Hughes' own ordeal as a result of the bomb blasts is documented in a new book Back From The Dead by journalist and author Patrick Lindsay. 

Then there is football coach Simon Quayle who has, philosophically, turned his suffering and experience from the tragedy into a business called “Speak from the Heart.” 

Speaking from the heart is very therapeutic, he explains. It helps to ease the pain and memories. 

He, too, is in Bali to remember the nine colleagues who went on a holiday with him and didn’t come home. 

June Corteen, whose grown-up twin daughters were killed in the blasts, leaving two grandchildren to her, is concerned about a Balinese family who have lost their breadwinner. 

She brings a sewing machine for the family and hope they could use it to earn some money for themselves. And she promises to come again with more help. 

There are many more men and women like them. 

Strangely, despite their own losses and sufferings, their spirit of comradeship and compassion for others is stronger and outpouring. 

And, judging from TV news footage on Thursday night, the Balinese are genuinely grateful for the gifts. 

It is not surprising that Prime Minister John Howard and his wife Janet are standing proudly with these people at the service today to give them moral support. 

“I know that so many of the relatives of people who died (in the bomb blasts) will be in Bali,” Howard said after deciding last week to make the visit. 

“To them it is a very important thing personally. That is why I will be there with them.” 

Howard has no doubt that Australians will face more terrorist attacks. This is because of the hate for the West, including Australians, that has been epitomised by the belief of the mastermind of the Bali bombings, Mukhlas alias Ali Ghufron, who was sentenced to death by the Indonesian Supreme Court last week. 

Mukhlas is a fanatic. He has no compassion for others, not even his fellow Muslims who died or are maimed by his evil act. 

He shows no remorse for what he has done. His attitude at his trial is indicative that he is not horrified by the magnitude of destruction and loss of innocent lives in the Bali bombings. 

But he is, indisputably, a hardcore terrorist who is not easily identifiable among ordinary folk on the street. 

This is the immediate danger that still lurks behind the scene in Bali today, like a big predatory cat ready to pounce on its prey. 

Indonesian police are aware of the danger and are ensuring that security at the memorial service is tight. More than 3,000 policemen have been assigned to keep a watchful eye on an estimated crowd of 1,000, in addition to 7,000 more security personnel spread throughout the island. 

Hypothetically though, what could an Australian tourist do if he saw a man with bombs strapped under his clothes? Would he be able to hold the suspect for the police before the terrorist pulls the trigger and blow himself up, killing many people around him? 

But that is how the al-Qaeda network of suicide bombers operates. And that is how the terrorists cause havoc and fear among peaceful people. 

Nonetheless, the Australians, paying respect to the Bali victims of a year ago, are not concerned with such a possibility. 

If they stayed away, fearing what may happen, they would have lost their spirit of adventure and freedom of movement to the terrorists, who would have won psychologically, whether or not it is a war of attrition. 

It is a spirit that is much to be admired and acknowledged. And, perhaps, out of today’s memorial service, will emerge the seeds of hope and friendship that will replace hate and acrimony for humanity. 

 

  • Jeffrey Francis is editorial consultant, Australasia-Pacific Media (e-mail: francis2@global.net.au) 

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