Bali's horror and Australia's quandary
A friend of mine was planning to go to Bali for a holiday. She's been working in Arnhem Land (Northern Territory) for something like two years now, and was really looking forward to the break before coming back to Melbourne. With the bomb blasts in Bali, I started to worry.
Had she already gone to Bali? If so, was she okay? If she hadn't left for Bali yet, would she still go, or would she cancel her trip? After all, the local press reported some airlines were saying they wouldn't penalise passengers who'd changed their minds and didn't want to go to Bali after all. Shouldn't she take them up on their offer and not go?
I emailed her to check if she is okay. I hoped she hadn't gone yet, and wouldn't go after all.
She replied – she was meant to fly out Sunday night (the day after the bombing!) but was going to cancel her flight. She wasn't going, but was really angry with the crazies who had done this. I was relieved to hear she isn't going.
This very debate is now preoccupying the local media, on top of covering the bombing and the hunt for the bombing conspirators. The letters pages, talk-back radio, even today's editorial of The Age, have taken up the issue of whether Australians should stop holidaying in Bali, or should not 'abandon' Bali, and Indonesia generally, when the local people are so reliant on the tourist dollar to keep their economy – their very livelihoods – afloat.
Tough call. My response – as it was for my friend – would be DON'T GO!! It's too dangerous. Besides, there are many other places people can go for holidays that are just as interesting, and in need of tourist dollars – whatever they're worth.
I don't for a minute believe that tourism – especially the forms preferred by better-off Western and Japanese tourists – is the key to overcoming poverty and unemployment in developing countries. It can be incredibly destructive to local economies, cultures and social relations. Think of booze-fueled Aussies in Kuta's bars, sexual exploitation, drugs, the list goes on.
But at the same time, I don't accept that other old furphy – that cultures like that of the Balinese are delicate, rarified things that are in danger from Western decadence, or in need of protection through curtailing tourism or other contact with the rest of the world. Believe it or not, that one has come up in the recent debate.
What is real is that there are many people in places like Bali whose very livelihood is dependent on their jobs or other income from the tourist industry. And they will suffer the effect of Australians choosing not to travel to Bali in fear of the terrorists. And many people fear they could lose their lives if they travel to places like Bali.
It is such a difficult quandary. And I'm just asking the question – not proposing any answers. This is no Gordian knot. Somehow, I don't think simply 'cutting through' this is going to solve this one.