[TODAY]Terror has appeared at our door

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[TODAY]Terror has appeared at our door

The bomb blast at a nightclub in Bali sends at least two serious warnings to us. The first message is that a violent storm of terror that could shake the whole world has landed in East Asia. The second is that the targets of terrorism have now expanded to include commercial districts of ordinary countries, not just the military and economic power centers of the world's superpower. In the international coalition against terrorism, Indonesia has been cited frequently as a weak link. Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population. Almost 90 percent of the country's 210-million population is Muslim.

The Indonesian government is a coalition between President Megawati Sukarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle and Vice President Hamzah Haz's Islamic fundamentalist-leaning United Development Party. The president's position is precarious, caught between nationalists and Islamic forces.

The Indonesian government was not strong enough to act on the request from the United States and from its neighbors, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, that it crack down on the Islamic fundamentalist group Jemaah Islamiyah, allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, and arrest its leader, Abu Bakar Bashir. Jakarta was concerned about the violent reaction of nationalists and Islamic forces had it done so. Singapore and Malaysia, however, have arrested 90 Jemaah Islamiyah members since the end of last year. They face charges of preparing for terrorism against U.S. military and economic facilities in Southeast Asia. The Philippines is sweeping Mindanao island with the support of U.S. forces in its search for violent Islamic fundamentalists.

The Indonesian government cited insufficient evidence linking the Jemaah Islamiyah with Al Qaeda for its decision to leave the group alone, and has to date arrested only foreigners who had fled to Indonesia from Afghanistan. Disorder rules the ranks of the government, with the military and the police engaged in a turf battle with each other. It is fortunate for the terrorists that there is a reform program going on, including steps to rein in the military's influence.

Tourism revenue from Bali is very important to Indonesia's economy. Over 1.5 million foreign tourists visit the island annually, spending about $1 billion. The country's tourism industry can be expected to suffer greatly because of the terrorist bombing there. The Indonesian government's lackluster effort to suppress faceless terrorists could also drive away foreign investors from there and even from its neighbors.

Should the United States attack Iraq, Islamic terrorist groups would probably continue their acts of terrorism against civilian and military targets all over the world. It is the reality of today that the more the Bush administration rushes into its attack against Iraq, the more the terrorists will sharpen their knives. To cite President Bush's words, international terrorism in this global era cannot be solved by the efforts of one single country. Just like New York and Washington, the two cities hit by the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, Southeast Asia is an area important to Korean economic interests. The Bali attack is relevant to us. It is essential that we share information with the United States and the countries of the region.

But the Bush administration is in reality playing a game of solitaire under the pretext of an international coalition. As it did in Afghanistan, so it is doing in Iraq. The Bush administration has now won the consent of the U.S. Congress to strike Iraq. The United Nations Security Council is also expected to give in to the demands of the United States and pass a stiff resolution, a final warning, which would be hard for President Saddam Hussein to accept. A U.S. attack on Iraq seems to be only a matter of time.

This is a war against terrorism, but there seems to be little discussion about whether attacking Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein is really the best way to fight terror. Would foreign tourists feel safe and dance in the nightclubs of Bali if the Iraqi president were ousted? Will the safety of residents of Mindanao be guaranteed?

We need two plans to cope with terrorism. One is to solve immediate problems such as Iraq and Indonesia. Another is a long-term strategy to get rid of the causes of international terrorism such as poverty in the third world, the gap between rich and poor countries and totalitarian Islamic governments. Asian efforts should be focused on both issues -- the storm has hit our front yard.


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The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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