Tuesday’s bombing of the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, was significant not for the number of casualties it inflicted—14 dead and as many as 150 injured—but because terrorists were able to hit one of the most secure spots in the city, an American-owned hotel full of foreign executives that hosts the U.S. Embassy’s annual July 4 party, declared Spain’s El Mundo. Media Indonesia worried that the attack “will certainly have a strong effect on tourism, foreign investments, and economic activity as a whole. The Marriott Hotel bombing is a serious test for the Indonesian nation.” (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) The Jakarta Post agreed: “Experience with the Bali bombings tells us that, with the reputation of the country and government in tatters, investors and potential investors will stay away from Indonesia, as will tourists and regular visitors.”
London’s Daily Telegraph said Tuesday’s attack reminded “America and Europe that Islamist terrorism is nearly as grave a threat to stability in South-East Asia as it is in the Middle East.” Spain’s El País concurred, declaring, “The bomb in Jakarta confirms beyond reasonable doubt the presence … in Southeast Asia of terrorist groups that, whatever their denomination or level of fame thus far achieved, share the aims, methods, and objectives articulated in the macabre catechism of Osama Bin Laden.” The Financial Times called on Indonesia’s Islamic leaders “to voice in public the disgust that many of their followers feel in private. There is no point complaining that Islam is misrepresented in the west as a violent religion if they do not themselves condemn violence.”
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post noted concerns that Indonesian democracy is threatened by President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s increasing reliance on the military in the struggle against terrorism. With an understaffed police force, Megawati, who faces an election in 2004, has turned to the military to counter Islamic extremists. “Indonesians are worried about such developments,” the paper said, “because of the intrusive role the military played in society under dictator Suharto, who was toppled by a popular revolt in 1998.” The Jakarta Post also attacked Megawati’s administration, which, it said, had “been caught napping” by Tuesday’s bombing. Police “have shown no urgency,” and the government “is also at fault for its laid-back attitude toward the threat of terrorism.” The Times of London piled on Megawati, claiming her government “has been reluctant to admit to the deep penetration of the country by extremist Islamist groups, let alone to crack down on them with sufficient severity.”
The Age of Melbourne defended the Indonesian police, who, it said, “have performed beyond all expectations in their determination to round up the suspects in the Bali bombings. The rapid and resolute effort to track down the killers who caused so much damage to Indonesia’s international profile appears to have worked wonders for the image of law-enforcement authorities among the Indonesian people. Given the sorry history of official corruption, this marks a significant step forward.”
An op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald fretted that mass unemployment and the diminished expectations of even educated Indonesian youth fuel anti-Westernism: “For Muslims of the world, there is only one lesson to be learnt from the Iraq war: no state can confront the US. The only way the West can be made to pay and ‘taste’ the humiliation Muslims feel every day is through terrorism.” Elsewhere, an SMH editorial counseled the Indonesian government to persevere in its fight against terrorism, not only by continuing to gather intelligence against extremists and cooperating with other regional agencies, but also by offering an attractive alternative to terror:
[Islamist extremists’] ability to recruit is … closely linked to powerlessness, poverty and injustice. For too many poor Indonesian children, for example, the only opportunity to learn to read and write is found within the network of Muslim schools funded by Saudi Arabian organisations preaching an intolerant form of Islam. When an anti-Western message of hate is channelled in this way it becomes a serious problem for Jakarta, since it feeds into wider public disenchantment with the weak central government.