Indonesia: more horrific bombings

For workers’ unity across ethnic and religious divides

The Indonesian tourist resort of Bali was, yet again, the target of a horrific spate of terrorist bombings. The bombings took place almost exactly three years to the day, when 202 people were killed on the island, on October 2002.

The first bomb exploded on Saturday night, at Raja’s restaurant on Kuta Beach. Ten minutes later, a further two bombs hit open-air restaurants at the beach resort on Jimbaran Bay. Indonesian police have said that three suicide bombers detonated back packs filled with ball-bearings in the busy restaurants.

It is clear that resorts that are frequented by Western tourists were targeted at the height of the holiday season. But many Indonesian workers were also killed. Local police have put the latest death toll at 22, including the bombers, and close to 100 others were injured.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is widely suggested that the al-Qaeda-linked group, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), is responsible. JI is also accused of several other bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings, the 2003 bombing of the Marriot Hotel, and the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy.

Only last month, former Australian foreign minister, Gareth Evans, now President of the International Crisis Group, declared that JI was effectively smashed, and no longer constituted a serious threat. This was based on claims of recent splits in the organisation and because at least 200 leading members were recently jailed, including Abu Bakar Basyir, the group’s ‘spiritual leader’. Abu Bakar Basyir has condemned the recent bombings from his jail.

Jemaah Islamiah taps into anti-Western sentiment

It is true that since a layer of the Jemaah Islamiah leadership was put out of action, JI has taken on a much looser form. But this is not the sort of organisation that has ever had formal structures or a membership list. Jemaah Islamiah is able to tap into a rising mood of anti-Western sentiment. They have recruited thousands of young people to the ideas of Islamic Jihad and claim that the formation of an Islamic state will be a way out of the massive levels of poverty in Indonesia.

Socialists reject the idea that the creation of an Islamic state will bring an end to the problems facing Indonesian workers and poor. The experience of life under various Islamic states, such as Afghanistan under the Taleban and Iran under the rule of the Mullahs, is that poverty and oppression are endemic. We also reject the policies of US and Australian imperialism that keeps workers in chains, and which exploits and humiliates the mass of working people in the neo-colonial world, including Muslim countries.

Only by building socialism internationally will the social and political conditions that breed both poverty, and the basis for terrorist groups, be ended.

Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, disputed claims that the bombings were aimed at Western targets. He said that damaging the Indonesian economy and the Indonesian government’s political standing were among the Bali bombers’ aims.

Howard, along with other Western leaders, like Tony Blair, who supported the Iraq war and the ongoing bloody occupation of Iraq, consistently refuses to admit that his foreign policies are helping to make Australians a terrorist target. But groups such as Jemaah Islamiah make it quite clear that they see the war in Iraq as a war against their "Muslim brothers and sisters" and that the so-called Western "infidels" should pay the price for the imperialist bloodshed in Iraq. As well as Howard sending Australian troops to Iraq, the Australian government’s 1999 military intervention in East Timor, and the role of the Australian police force in investigating Jemaah Islamiah, are also reasons why Australians are constantly targeted by terrorist organisations.

There is no doubt that John Howard will use these bombings as further justification to rush through new ‘anti-terror’ laws. He will do this with the general support of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Howard will continue trying to play on feelings of insecurity and fear amongst Australians to bolster his rule. But so-called anti-terror laws will be used against anyone who dares to challenge the policies of the Howard government, including anti-war activists and trade unionists.

The economic impact of the bombings for Indonesia is difficult to quantify. It is unlikely that the bombings will drastically hit the Indonesian economy as a whole, although the tourism industry will be hit hard. Although Bali accounts for 40% of tourism in Indonesia, tourism, in total, only provides around 5% of Indonesia’s national income. The previous bombings, overall, did not have a great economic impact on Indonesia. However, if bombings and other terrorist attacks were to increase, along with repressive action by the Indonesian armed forces (TNI), adding more instability to the country, the economy could suffer substantially.

Although hundreds of Australian tourists have returned home from the resort on special flights, many more seem to be staying put. Howard and the capitalist media are attempting to create a mood of "national unity" with comments like, "We can’t let the terrorists win".

Australian and Indonesian workers must unite

But Australian workers and youth have much more in common with Indonesian workers and youth than they do with Howard and the Australian bosses. The working class of Indonesia faces many of the same problems that Australian workers face – attacks on workers rights, civil liberties and social services.

The working class is potentially the most powerful force in society. The ruling classes in both Australia and Indonesia fear this force more than any reactionary terrorist group. In recent days, workers and poor people in Indonesia have protested in the streets, prompted by massive increases in fuel prices.

Indonesia has a rich history of workers’ struggles. It was a mass movement of students, youth, urban poor and workers – not terrorist actions – that overthrew the former Indonesian dictator, General Suharto, in 1998. Suharto came to power in the mid-1960s, mobilising reactionary Muslim organisations against the powerful PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) militants. The PKI had a powerful position in society but its leaders followed a false and fatal policy of class collaboration, which included the idea that there was a "progressive section" of the Indonesian ruling class that the left should make concessions to and link up with. It is estimated that up to one million workers and youth were massacred in the counter-revolution.

Unfortunately, the magnificent radical mass movement that saw the end of the Suharto regime stopped mid-way. The weakness and mistakes of the Indonesian left meant that the mass struggles of the late 90s were not developed with independent class politics and for a struggle for a socialist society.

Since Suharto’s fall from power, a series of unstable, corrupt, pro-capitalist governments, including those of Wahid and Megawatti, have come and gone, while people’s living standards have fallen. Gross Natioal Income per head stands at only US $1,140. Inequalities are massive in Indonesia, ranging from rural hunter-gatherers in the most isolated regions to the modern urban ruling elite. Indonesia has seen turmoil in the last few years. It was badly hit by the Asian financial crisis (from which the economy has not recovered). After 25 years of bloody occupation, Indonesian rule in East Timor ended in 1999. There are separatist struggles in several ’provinces’, like Aceh, and recent years have seen bloody inter-ethnic and religious conflict. A few months ago, around 220,000 of Indonesia’s poor coastal working people died or went missing after the devastating tsunami.

Given these events, and in the absence of a mass socialist alternative, space has opened up for political Islam and terrorism to grow in the world’s largest Muslim population. Society has become more ‘Islamised’. Disillusioned youth, desperate for a way out, can be attracted to radical political Islam.

The task for the workers’ movement, in Indonesia, Australia, and throughout the region, is to reject the ideas of Jemaah Islamiah, and other reactionary groups, as well as rejecting the ideas of neo-liberalism put forward by the establishment parties.

The way to cut across ethnic and religious divisions in this vast archipelago of thousands of islands, of 225 million people and of over 300 regional languages, is to fight for workers’ unity, to create powerful class organisations, such as genuine independent unions, and to build new parties of working people that will fight for the socialist transformation of society. This is only way to see an end to poverty, terrorism, and imperialist wars.

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October 2005