The irony of events following the tragic July 7 terrorist attack on London transport was not lost on those in Bali who have long contended that the way in which travel warnings are raised suffer in equal measures from political meddling and illogic.
Vicious, arbitrary attacks on London's public transport perpetrated by what were apparently home-grown terrorists, did not result in travel warnings by various countries urging their nationals to leave London and avoid unnecessary travel to the United Kingdom. One exception, a hurried order issued in the hours following the bombing directing European-based American servicemen avoid London, was quickly countermanded when the U.S. Chain of Command became aware of the political fallout the "travel warning" would generate.
The "why and wherefore" of international travel warnings remain both a worry and a source of confusion for those involved in international travel. Indonesia - praised from Washington to Canberra to Whitehall as a noble ally in the international war on terror, continues to suffer from the seemingly arbitrary way in which countries decide to direct their nationals on whether a holiday in Bali or Indonesia is safe.
Tom Chesshyre, writing in the U.K.'s The Times [Bali Safety Confusion] underlined this lack of consensus in how travel warnings are formulated, with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office declaring Bali "safe" while the U.S. Department of State and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs discourage "non-essential travel" to Indonesia.
With CNN reports quoting British security officials freely admitting that a London terror attack was inevitable,a matter of "when" and not "if" - such admissions immediately beg the question of why international travel warnings against London travel were never issued alerting people to the risks ahead?
Proof of such blatantly uneven-handedness in the issuance of travel warnings has many cynically wondering what role political connections and membership in the "coalition of the willing" now occupying Iraq plays in deciding whether or not a country suffer the economic burden of being on a negative travel advisory list.
Indeed, for those who closely monitor the development of travel advisories, there appears to be little rhyme and less reason in how travel warnings are issued and applied. Religiously motivated kidnappings and bombing attacks in Madrid, Istanbul, New York, London, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines evoke vastly varied responses from in terms of travel warnings from the foreign affairs departments of the U.K., U.S.A. and Australia.
In one instance, particularly illustrative of the arbitrary nature in which travel warnings are applied, a terrorist act several years ago in the Southern Philippines prompted the U.S. State Department to respond by issuing a travel warning for Northern Sulawesi in Indonesia, but not for the Philippines where the actual incident occurred.
We Agree with General James Jones
Doing a well-practiced about face honed during a long military career, General James Jones, Commander of U.S. forces for Europe, quickly rescinded the travel ban issued last week barring U.S. troop visits to London, saying: "While all personnel are encouraged to be vigilant, we cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the acts of terrorists. All US personnel are encouraged to continue with their normal routine."
Hear, Hear. Commander Jones!
Clearly, we now all live in a world in which no country can claim immunity from terrorist attacks. Therefore, warnings against international travel issued in the absence of specific and credible intelligence threats only serve to continue the work of terrorists by causing economic upheaval and displacement on people dependent on international tourism.
Countries like Indonesia, who have an unequalled record of success in the apprehension and conviction of terrorists, have an equal right to be treated as true allies on the international "war on terror" including having our national interests considered in each step in the multi-national effort to combat the effects of international acts of intimidation.
We applaud the U.K. Government's measured and more sensible approach of issuing travel warnings only when a specific and credible threat can be identified.
The "Chicken Little" approach, currently in vogue in Washington and Canberra when issuing travel advisories for Indonesia, fails on a variety of levels. Generalized and non-specific in nature, such warning are of little value to travelers and, over time, are largely ignored as evidenced by record numbers of Australian's currently holidaying in Bali despite official warnings to avoid all "non essential" travel to Indonesia. And, to the extent that such official warning manage to discourage travel, particularly conference and meeting business to Indonesia, they play into the hands of the terrorists whose original intent was to destroy the local economy by undermining the foundations of international tourism.
Who Goes There? Friend or Foe?
In the current state of affairs forgive us in Bali if we are unclear and confused as to where "our allies" really stand: Shoulder to shoulder with us in resisting the terrorists who have proven they can attack at any time and place, or in the other camp occupied by unwittingly dupes collaborating with those trying to intimidate and end a way of life through acts of terror?
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