The 9/11 Decade
Residents of Indonesian island struggle to maintain spirit of togetherness years after attacks.
Exactly one year, one month and one day after the September 11, 2001 attacks, loud explosions brought a new fear to Indonesia and scarred the “Island of the Gods” forever.
A double bomb attack ended the lives of 203 mainly young people, who were dancing and drinking in Bali’s most popular clubs – and the lives of those who just happened to pass by. Nine years later, the physical and mental scars of survivors and relatives are still painfully present.
Hundreds of people were standing at the bomb site when I arrived hours after the explosions. Dazed, parts of their clothes burned and all silent. Eerie, surreal, like they were all absorbing a new reality. It took months before people were willing to accept that fellow Indonesians were responsible. Three of the bombers have been executed in recent years.
One girl showed me how she climbed out of the burning nightclub, shock written all over her face. She visited the morgue but no sign of her boyfriend. I could not find the right words to say to her.
After October 12, 2002, Indonesia was never really the same. Security was not an important issue in the country famous for its openness and laid back way of life. Religious harmony had been seriously tested over the years but was still one of Indonesia’s trade marks. This has all changed.
Silence after attacks
While many Indonesians immediately condemned the killings, many others kept silent or came out in support. US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq contributed to growing anti-western sentiments. It took years and three more bomb attacks in Jakarta to significantly change public sentiments.
Now most people in predominantly Muslim Indonesia support the government’s anti-terrorism policies. More than 400 people have been jailed for involvement in attacks or for trying to hide those who were. Many have been killed by police.
The movement is significantly weakened but new recruits are never far away. A suicide bomber responsible for the most recent attack in Jakarta in July 2009 was an 18-year-old student who had just finished high school. He radicalised in just three months after his last visit to his father, who was in prison for a small crime.
Religious intolerance is on the rise, according to the most recent surveys, and Indonesia’s leadership seems unable to turn the tide.
Experts fear that efforts to deradicalise people are bound to fail if religious tolerance is not loudly and openly preached by those in power.
Healing and recovery
In Bali, the bomb site remains a hole in its bustling tourism centre, like a broken tooth never replaced.
That empty field in the heart of Kuta’s shopping district reminds visitors of a nightmare that the Balinese long have been trying to forget. It took themÂ years to convince tourists from Australia, United States and Europe to return.
Beaches were empty, souvenir sellers desperate and hotel staff eager to go back to work. Tourists came back just before the second attack took place, not very far from the first ones in 2005.
The whole process of healing and recovering had to start all over again.
Now Bali is booming like never before, thoughÂ initial ideas to build a multi-religious peace park on that empty field have yet to materialise.
As in New York, Bali finds it hard to maintain the spirit of togetherness that was so present just after those bombs changed everything.