Thursday, October 11, 2007

11-Oct-07: Kuta beach, five years on

It's been five years since jihadist terrorists carried out a ghastly bombing attack on entertainment spots on the Indonesian island of Bali. The attack was the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia, killing 202 people. 164 were foreign nationals, 38 were Indonesian citizens. 209 people were injured.

The Melbourne Age has published an especially evocative slide show (here) today to honor the anniversary. Back in 2003, the same paper published an excellent overview ("The night terror touched our lives") of those terrible events.

When the Kuta Beach massacre happened on 12th October 2002, the Melbourne Herald-Sun newspaper contacted Arnold Roth, one of this blog's authors. They asked for a first-person response, an open letter to the families of the victims. Like most of the victims of Bali massacre, our daughter Malki was also an Australian-born victim of vicious terrorists acting in the name of Islam. She had been murdered one year earlier. Arnold's article was duly submitted, but for some reason was never published in the pages of that Melbourne newspaper. The paper's editor at the time never responded to our several emails asking for an explanation. Nor did anyone else at the paper. A mystery.

Here it is.

A letter to the families of the Kuta Beach victims
Arnold Roth, Jerusalem

I never felt more like a father than when taking the hand of my little daughter Malki and crossing the street with her. There is something so right and solid about being your child's protector.

I never felt more wretched, frightened and alone than on the night the call came saying her body had been identified. My daughter was murdered by a deliberate act of explosive horror. I was not there to protect her.

Grieving for your murdered loved one will be the most intensely lonely and personal thing you ever do. No one else can feel the depth of pain inside you. Friends and family will want to share the burden, to wrap their love and support around you, to lighten the load by their sincere care and concern. But the ache remains, along with the feelings of guilt. The cold truth will never change: an innocent life was deliberately and violently erased - and the monsters that did it are delighted with their work of their hands.

I wish I could pass along some wisdom that might help you through this awful time. I can't. The best I can do is share some thoughts. The massacre at Kuta Beach is too raw, too huge, for anyone to fully comprehend. Time will help you to put it into a context, but you should not expect the answers to come easily... or ever.

Time plays a key role in Jewish mourning observances. Some practices are specific to the first seven days. Others are designated for the first thirty days. And in the specific case of the death of a parent, Judaism prescribes a full year of mourning. This seems strange. A parent's passing, no matter what the circumstances, is always hard. Isn't the death of a life-partner or a child harder? But that's the point: a year after a parent dies, you can expect that life starts getting back to normal. But there's no normal life after burying a child or a spouse.

It's a certainty you are thinking about the people who did this. You may be imagining them getting out of bed that day, praying to their god, storing their equipment and driving the lethal load to a site of pleasure and enjoyment - their minds focused on a lust for the destruction and death of others. Like me, you may feel this was barbarism: cold-blooded, primal, bestial - an act of pure hatred.

But get ready for the cold, clinical analysis of others. For them, the terrorists are "militants". The hatred is "desperation". The pointless destruction of life is "strategic". An Australian journalist [Tim Palmer] requested an interview with me in Jerusalem days after Malki was murdered last year. When I agreed, he told me it would make sense for his audience only if he could combine it with an interview of the suicide-murderer's father. He said there were two sides to the story and the opinions of the bomber's family were a "counterpoint". I was dumbfounded. His professional standards demanded, he said, that the interview could not take place under any other conditions. So it never took place.

Some people see life as if through a TV screen. For them, your private loss can only be understood as part of a political drama. Point and counterpoint. But no one should tell you how to mourn, how to grieve. There is no standard - no over-mourning, no under-mourning. No one can tell you how it feels or how it ought to feel.

If you're asking what can be done, I want to offer this. When a young life ends, a huge empty space is left behind. How do you fill it? With hatred, thoughts of revenge, evening up the score? After our daughter's death, we sat down as a family and asked ourselves how her life and actions should be remembered. We decided to raise money and give practical help to families raising a child with disabilities. Malki, a very practical teenager, did this herself and believed in it. It would have made her smile.

Perhaps it's not politically correct to say this, but I believe evil does exist in the world - a great deal of it.

How do you answer evil? For us, the right response has been to do things which we hope will increase the stock of good in the world. We know this will have no impact on the barbarians who killed our children and loved ones. But we're absolutely determined that they won't be impacting us any more than they already have.

They and their values are irrelevant to our lives.

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