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Travel Advisories - Variations on a Familiar Theme

Editorial: New U.S. and Australian Travel Warnings Offer Nothing Dramatically Different.

(5/31/2004) Heightened travel warnings for Indonesia issued in the past weeks by the Governments of the United States and Australia are more reflective of growing unpopularity of the U.S. war on terror than they are of any specific threat of a terrorist attack in Indonesia.

Worldwide criticism of the mistreatment of those detained by U.S. forces in Iraq and Guantanamo; mounting casualties in Iraq - suffered by both the occupying forces and civilians in that Country; and a scathing report issued last week by Amnesty International critical of the U.S. war on terror - are all converging to make the U.S. and its allies fearful of the consequences of continuing bad press and diminishing international support.

These fears not entirely ungrounded are further fueled by the recent kidnapping and gruesome beheading of an American citizen in Iraq and suspicions that other elements exists in other locales eager to pay back wrongs real and imagined visited by the West on the Middle East.

No New Problem

The United State's Ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, was quoted in the English-language Jakarta Post last week saying that the new advisories, "are mainly updated simply to reflect the changing situation. It's not because there is a new warning or some kind of a new problem." In the same report, the Ambassador was quoted as adding, "Much of this discussion about new warnings or issuing a new announcement is actually overstated."

Are Americans and Australians traveling to Bali at greater risk to terrorist attack than, say, if they stayed at home? Our view is that in the "new normal" of today no place can claim to be completely safe from a terror attack. In fact, projections carried out by terrorism experts have ranked both the U.S.A., U.K. and Australia as countries more likely to suffer a major terrorist strike than Indonesia.

Having tasted the bitter tragedy of terror, Bali wishes such pain on no people but knows from direct experience that terror is a fact of modern life. If you choose to live your life in fear you have two options: feel at risk at home or feel at risk on holiday in another locale. In either case, the terrorist have won. If, on the other hand, you chose to continue to lead life on your own terms, you will continue to travel, practicing the modicum of caution and good sense that should accompanying anyone be he or she back home an armchair or soaking up the sun on a distant tropical beach.

Media-Fed Frenzy

It is our view that much of the recent heightened concern among potential travelers from Australia was fed less by any official government travel warnings and more by just broadcast television reports containing filmed interviews with the Bali bombers now sitting on death row in the Island's main prison.

As proven during their televised trials, the Bali bombing brothers were never camera-shy - always ready to provide sound bites of shouted bravado to an ever-eager press corps.

Thus, the terminally-fated Amrozi found himself in his element last week when the Australian media allowed him and his ill-fated brothers to stare into the camera lense, snarl and vow revenge on Prime Minister Howard, President Bush, Colin Powel, and Tony Blair. Little has changed: such was the quality of the tormented minds that drove them to murder in October 2002 and resulted in their permanent alienation, both emotionally and spiritually, from the overwhelming majority of their fellow Indonesians.

Now, pitiful and caged, Amrozi, Muklas and Samudra sustain themselves on such mindless hate while awaiting their fate at the business-end of an Indonesian firing squad.

The world should not forget that the Bali bombers have been roundly condemned for their acts, not only by Judges of our Courts, but by the leading Islamic organization of Indonesia and the Indonesian general public as well. There are no demonstrators to be found outside the prison wall at Kerobokan demanding their release.

Let us also remember that Bali's proven effectiveness in investigating the terrorist attack on October 2002, the rapid arrest of more than 30 perpetrators, their subsequent trials and convictions are the envy of police agencies and jurists around the world.

In the new normal of the post 9-11 world, there are few guarantees and perhaps even fewer things of which anyone can be certain. The next terror attack, if it comes, can happen anywhere. Those who contemplate such butchery, however, have the certain knowledge of what awaits them at the hands of Indonesia's criminal justice system should they plan such an attack here.

Perhaps that fact alone should earn Bali the respect and trust of potential visitors.