A Second Sept. 11
This weekend's massive blast that killed nearly 200 Western tourists on the Indonesian island of Bali adds a new dimension to the campaign against terrorism.
If the Indonesian government's charge stands up that this most devastating attack since Sept. 11 was linked to Al Qaeda, then many more nations will need to act as decisively as the United States to root out terrorist cells. Most of the victims in the blast were reportedly Australians and Europeans.
Indonesia itself has been lax in cracking down on radicals with ties to terrorist groups. That nation's fragile democracy, newly restored just four years ago, is saddled with a weak government that does not want to antagonize minority political parties espousing a strong Islamic, anti-Western line.
In hindsight it's easy to see that the terrorists were crafty in using Indonesia's loose controls to attack the largest, most unguarded gathering of foreigners in that country. Intelligence officials worldwide need to learn how to foresee the logic of such terrorist thinking and to counter its aim.
Pakistan, too, where President Pervez Musharraf strongly supports an anti-Al Qaeda campaign, suffered a setback last week when Islamist political parties won local elections in two provinces bordering Afghanistan. That may hinder efforts to find Al Qaeda cells in Pakistan.
Democracy itself may not be the best, or at least the most immediate defense against the type of violent fanaticism found in such Islamic nations as Pakistan and Indonesia. In Iran, the terrorist-sponsoring ruling clerics continue to hold power despite elections that show the Iranian people want a more moderate, progressive nation.
The compatibility of Islam and democracy is an ongoing struggle. In Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia, secular militaries retain a strong hand in preventing Islamic rule and, ironically, keeping some sort of democracy. Even such semidemocratic nation-states provide a better unity and means than more authoritarian governments in both stopping terrorists and winning over the population.
No doubt this latest attack will push Indonesia to readjust its political balance between democracy, radical Islam, and military power so as to better prevent another attack.