Sunday, October 12, 2014

12-Oct-14: Anniversary reflections on the Bali Islamist massacre

October 12, 2002
Today marks twelve years since jihadist terrorists carried out a ghastly bombing attack on night club spots on the Indonesian island of Bali. There's some background in today's Sydney Morning Herald: "Quiet ceremonies to mark Bali bombing".

The Kuta Beach massacre was the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of Indonesia: 202 people were killed that night. 164 were foreign nationals, 38 were Indonesian citizens. 209 people were injured.

Almost immediately after it happened on October 12, 2002, the editorial team at the Herald-Sun newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, contacted Arnold Roth. This was only a year after the death of the Roths' daughter Malki. Both 
Arnold and Malki were born in Melbourne. The Herald-Sun requested a first-person response, an open letter to the families of the Indonesian attack victims. 

Malki's death, like those of the Bali massacre victims, came at the hands of terrorists acting in the name of Islam. Arnold felt he had something to say and set everything else aside to quickly write an op-ed [background here]. He sent it off to the Herald-Sun. Then... silence. 

For reasons that have never been explained, his article never appeared in the pages of the Melbourne newspaper. The paper's editor at the time never troubled himself to respond to several emails from Roth asking for an explanation. Eventually, the Jerusalem Post picked it up and published it in the paper's December 9, 2002 edition. Here's the text.

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 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.
About two and a half years ago, we commented on the trial of one of the Bali bombing perpetrators, Umar Patek, and the lessons that might be learned from it: see "31-May-12: Highly effective terrorist, now on trial, is really sorry. Not." And then on his sentencing: "22-Jun-12: Only twenty years prison because he expressed remorse... but not really".

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