Sunday, October 02, 2005

SECURITY: Some thoughts on the latest Bali bombing

TERRORISTS have struck again in Bali.

Tourists - Australians, Japanese, Germans - are among the dead and wounded. Even a 16-year-old Australian killed. Why?

This was peak tourist season in Indonesia. Tourists bring money. They spend it on the local economy. Indonesians benefit.

Indonesians are employed. Indonesians are fed and clothed. Food is placed on the sofra (traditional cloth spread on the ground and used as a dinner table) of many an Indonesian household. And Indonesians are the biggest losers from terrorism.

Next January, I hope to be travelling with a delegation visiting Indonesia. Each year, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sends select younger Australian community leaders (I say ``younger'' because I feel quite old) to visit Indonesia and have a two-week taste of our neighbour.

Naturally, one of the places we will visit is Bali. And for obvious reasons - Bali is a place where so many of our countrymen and women lost their lives to the scourge of terror.

Different reasons are given for the Bali terrorist attacks.

Prime Minister John Howard describes it as an attack on democratic Indonesia, an attempt to destabilise the country and punish it for adopting a more democratic model.

South Australian magistrate Brian Deegan, who lost his 22-year-old son Josh in the 2002 Bali bombing, says it was an attack on our foreign policy.

I have my own theory. And try not to be too surprised when you read it. And it does involve a short history lesson.

I believe the Bali bombing was an attack on Indonesian Islam.

Some 700 years ago, Yemeni traders brought Islam to this part of the world.

They settled in the region that roughly coincides with Malaysia, Singapore and northwestern Indonesia. These were the centres of South-East Asian trade.

The various indigenous tribes of merchants in the region had no system of accounting or serious writing. Small disputes over trade would flare into tribal battles.

The Yemenis saw this and introduced a system of numbers and accounting which we still use today. The Yemenis also introduced a system of resolving commercial disputes based on sharia law.

In Indonesia, when people think of sharia, they don't think of chopping hands and stoning adulterers.

They think of banking and finance and trade law. They think of what the Yemenis brought them.

Most Yemeni traders came from a tribe known as the ``Bani Alawi''.

They were direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. In the towns and villages around Penang and Aceh, you will find more direct descendants of the Prophet than even in Saudi Arabia.

And the People of the House (as Muslims refer to the Prophet's descendants) are known for certain qualities. They are scholarly. They are soft-hearted and compassionate. They are calm. They are spiritual. They inspire love, not hatred.

The Yemeni traders were sufis who brought a kind of Islam that focuses on spiritual purification and social reform.

Sufis work with people of all faiths in an effort to bring peace and prosperity to the world.
In New York, a sufi imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf regularly hosts dinners with Jewish and Christian New Yorkers.

In India, the poor and depressed of all faiths and no faith in particular find refuge at the tombs of sufi saints.

Sufism is grassroots popular religion in just about every Islamic country, including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yet it is in Indonesia and Malaysia that this peaceful sufic vision of Islam has found its home. And it is no wonder that the majority of the victims in the Bali bombing were Indonesians themselves - Hindus and Muslims.

The terrorists' version of Islam has no room for sufis. The terrorist religion is about war, not peace. It is about hatred, not love. Sufis teach that you bring people closer to you and your faith through love and service to others.

Terrorists teach that you convert people by killing them, by bringing tears to the eyes of their families and loved ones, by driving fear into their communities.

Terrorists bring out the worst in themselves and others. They are a scourge on humanity.
Those who take innocent lives must be brought to justice. Those who destroy communities and economies and nations must be stopped. Sufi Islam brought peace to this region of the world.

Today, the terrorist ideology masquerading as Islam is bringing war and violence and tears to the region. Those who care about Islam should be at the forefront of fighting terror.

This article was first published in the Courier-Mail on Tuesday 4 October 2005.