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Jakarta bombings: bad things and evil people

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 20 July 2009

Western culture has long included a respectable print and screen tradition of clever cops solving complex crimes. It is totally absent in Indonesia.

SBY’s instant and unequivocal response does indicate a welcome rejection of past equivocation. That included tolerating outlandish theories to brush away the idea of homegrown Islamic terrorism.

The looniest explanation had a micro nuclear weapon being fired by a US warship into the Bali nightclubs in 2002 to provoke hatred against Muslims.


The world has moved on. A new man with links to Islam and Indonesia is in the White House. The US is pulling out of Iraq. There are still plenty of reasons for disliking Western imperialism, but the easiest excuses have gone.

The JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta has been marketing itself as a safe venue following the 2003 bombing and a major upgrade in security. It has just been tested and failed dreadfully.

Security in Indonesia has always been porous and reports that this year’s bombers got into the hotel despite triggering screening alarms sounds right.

Like most Westerners I can rattle off a list of examples at many venues where security guards (known as satpam) have gone off duty leaving doors open, guards being posted on one entrance but not another, and bored officials waving through people in a hurry without making baggage checks.

Security gets tightened after every bombing so expect to see heavily armed soldiers in the streets. These will vanish as time passes, creating the opportunities for anyone with evil intent. They just need to bide their time.

Satpam are badly paid - few get more than A$100 a month - and many are understandably open to bribes. Some embassies reportedly replace their guards after six months in the belief that by then they’re likely to have been corrupted.


Satpam are also employed in the suburbs, closing streets between 11pm and 5 am, but if your house gets burgled, they’re the first people under suspicion.

Travel warnings may help the Australian government avoid litigation should wounded travelers who don’t read, watch or listen to the news claim they should have been told of the risks. However, the alerts tend to do more harm than good. They certainly damage neighbourly relations.

Academics, students, businesspeople and others genuinely interested in Indonesia will be denied the opportunity to visit by nervous bosses and restrictive insurance polices.

Bad things and evil people exist everywhere; wise travelers will not go to the obvious targets like the up-market hotels (where you’ll never experience the real Indonesia) and will maintain a low profile.

Most Indonesians are tolerant pluralists, genuinely friendly, proud of their country, and keen to meet and help visitors. Proportionally there are probably no more fanatics in Indonesia than Australia but the chance of meeting one ready to do serious harm is rare - there and here.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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All articles by Duncan Graham

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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