The Roots of Political Violence in Bali

“With its 100 million people and it’s 300-mile arc of islands containing the region’s richest hoard of natural resources, Indonesia is the greatest prize in South-East Asia.” US President Richard Nixon 1967

On Saturday, twenty-two people were killed by terrorist bombs in Bali in Indonesia. The mainstream media has predictably confined its response to the usual generic discourse about hate-filled, irrationally anti-Western Islamists who hate freedom. Full stop. A more extensive summary would consider that the perpetrators of the attack preach a disgusting theocratic fascism that has been nurtured by resentment against decades of a homicidal Western involvement in the region. This violence has not arisen in a vacuum – like all political violence, it has a history; and in the particular case of Indonesia, the history is all too often left out of the mainstream discourse.

In 1965-66, the United States, working closely with Britain, organised and supported a coup that resulted in the massacre of at least half a million innocent civilians in Indonesia, in order to install the dictator General Suharto, and open up Indonesia to foreign capital. The killings were designed to target organised labour and destroy the country’s social fabric in order to bring about the “paradise” sought by Western investors to bring about what would later be called an “economic miracle”, founded on low wages and an absence of workers’ rights. The workers’ party, the PKI, was completely destroyed. With the Australian business classes delighted at the massacres, Prime Minister Harold Holt commented in July 1966 that, “With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off, I think it’s safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.” Some of the worst violence was in Bali, where about 80,000 people were massacred. The Australian Embassy described the mass murder as “a cleansing operation.” Neighbouring East Timor’s Portuguese colonisers left in 1975, and a year later the Indonesians invaded, killing 200,000 people. Australia, aware that they could get a better oil deal with Indonesia than with an independent East Timor, was the first and only country to officially recognise the annexation. Some 60,000 Timorese had been killed in the Second World War, almost certainly saving Australia from invasion by Japan. An ungrateful Australian nation would later recognise the occupation, arm the murderers with advanced assault rifles, and take the oil, with Foreign Minister Gareth William identifying the overriding consideration – that there were “zillions” of dollars to be made from the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Against this backdrop of tyranny, illegality and mass murder, with all the considerable resentment this brings, the West has deigned fit to turn places like Bali into tourist resorts. Beneath many major hotel car parks lie mass graves from the massacres of 1965-66. In the discourse, the interests of “Bali” and those of the tourist industry are unquestioningly used interchangeably, and are implicitly synonymous. In 1998, the dictator Suharto was compelled to resign, receiving a severance payment estimated to be in the sum of £15billion. East Timor was “lost” to independence in 2002. The Indonesian army, feeling its privileges to be threatened by secular democracy, the loss of East Timor and the perceived humiliation of Australian UN peacekeepers entering East Timor, has in recent years forged a relationship of convenience with various Islamist terrorist groups – it openly supports one group, Lashkar Jihad – whose terrorist acts would justify internal repression. This has had the consequence of well-documented human rights violations by the army in Aceh, where the American company Exxon has holdings in oil drilling and liquefied natural gas. The world’s largest copper and gold mine, the multi-national Freeport mine, is also the beneficiary of “protection” – that is, the army terrorising the local population on the premise that they are dealing with the security threat posed by Islamist groups. Saturday’s atrocities are the latest episode in the complex history of a country that has suffered so much over four decades so that unscrupulous free market policy-makers could set up their “economic miracle” – a powerful state characterised by internal repression and a vacuum of workers’ rights, founded on mass murder and, of course, an arms trade client of Tony Blair’s Britain.

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