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Before and after Bali's searing flash

  • 12 October 2012

Over 200 people, many of them Australians, died horribly on or following the night of 12 October 2002 in Bali, wiped out instantly in a toxic flash of chemicals and hate or perishing later from ghastly burns and injuries. This mini-Hiroshima also injured many and left them and the relatives of victims, Indonesians and foreigners alike, bleeding deep inside.

The bombings in Kuta ten years ago were a defining moment. For all involved with Bali, though most particularly victims and their families, time in Bali is now divided into before and after that searing flash.

For most, 'before' is shorthand for an imagined golden age of non-violence and peace. Seductively packaged by the tourism industry, Bali was, and is, marketed in picture-perfect images as a paradise. Bali is 'the morning of the world', innocent and fresh, a window onto life as it should be before being exposed to the cruel light of day.

That powerful image brought both revellers and Indonesian hospitality workers to the Sari Club and Paddy's Pub that fateful night.

'After' is the rude realisation that Bali is vulnerable and not all it appears to be. Globalisation, deregulation of the Indonesian economy, and Bali's insatiable appetite, if not addiction, to tourism have exposed this delicate organism to powerful, sometimes destructive, forces.

The bombing did not target Balinese directly but the collateral damage to tourism, their bread and butter, was taken very personally by the Balinese. Drawing his finger across his throat in a slitting motion, a smiling Balinese told me he is happy the bombers have been executed. Tourism has since recovered and Bali's economy is growing faster than the national average.

Though perpetrated by non-Balinese in the name of Islam, the bombing is also an unpleasant reminder that Bali is much more complex than the smiles of its people and commercialised image suggest. The massacres by Balinese in 1965 of some 100,000 fellow Balinese demonstrate that, like other societies, Bali is capable of extreme violence when it feels threatened.

Then it was the spectre of communistic atheism. Today other forces threaten the balance and sense of control so highly prized by the Balinese. Islam, colonisation by Jakarta, and economic inequity are cited as examples.

The shock waves from the bombing rippled far and wide, not least to the 22 countries outside Indonesia whose nationals died. Working in Timor-Leste at the time, I recall fears that Dili could be next, given the presence of a