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Tolerance can overcome terrorism – Jim Veitch

Rev Dr Jim Veitch advocates a lot more tolerance if we want to avoid the violent terrorism we saw in Bali a year ago.

Terrorism such as the Bali bombings is a response to what some Muslims see as “aggressive Westernization”, Jim believes. The Kuta Beach area, where the bombing occurred, is known locally as Little Australia and for much of the year is inundated with Australian tourists.

Being away from home and on holiday, tourists feel free and unrestrained, and have easy access to drugs and alcohol.

“The whole tourist situation is about exploitation,” Jim says. It highlights friction at the interface between Muslim countries and the West, and that friction means Western countries become the targets for frustration, anger and bitterness.

The intention of the Bali bombers and similar extremist Islamic terrorists is to “frighten people or encourage them to think about issues of exploitation, globalization, and Westernization. You can translate September 11 to the bombing. It’s about striking at the heart of the Western world, particularly the English-speaking, wealthy part of the Western world.”

Jim says for many years Balinese churches have requested help to deal with the tourist situation. They have asked for Australian personnel who have the appropriate cultural connections.

“We take our drug and drink problems there. We take our understanding of how relationships work. But there’s no one there to minister or to consistently be there, even on the social work front.”

In July Jim sat in on some of the trials of the Bali bombers but his association with Indonesia goes back 30 years.

Now a Presbyterian minister and associate professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University, Jim served at the Theological College of East Indonesia in the 1970s.

At that time, Jim and his colleagues appreciated the need to accept religious difference and were keen to ensure students at the theological college gained an understanding of Islam, to “understand what it is to a Muslim to be Muslim”. They developed the Islamic side of the curriculum, including offering Arabic language.

Nearly 30 years later, Jim has an enduring interest in conflict between Christians and Muslims, and he sees Indonesia as a focal point for this conflict. In recent years Indonesian Muslims are becoming more conscious of their religious and cultural identity, which he says is a worldwide phenomenon.

With a population of 238 million (85 percent Muslim and about 7 percent Christian) Indonesia is not only the largest Muslim country in the world, it is also right on our doorstep. It takes eight hours to fly from Auckland to Bali.

“Islam as a religious tradition is on the move. Muslims now comprise 26 percent of the world’s population, but that percentage is increasing. Christianity’s percentage is now about 33 percent and declining.

“There’s not so much enthusiasm for Christianity in the modern, secular Western world. While Christianity’s aim has long been to evangelise the world, suddenly, in the early 21st century, there’s a big reversal.”

Jim suggests the Church’s response to this must be one of tolerance. “We need to be tolerant of other people and their faith to expect them to be tolerant of our faith. This is crucial to avoid violence.”

While this attitude may be seen as liberal and not sufficiently assertive about the Christian faith, he maintains that the religious mix appearing in the world absolutely necessitates such a philosophy.

Jim’s final warning is that the major danger with the Bali situation is that we forget about it. “The big danger is we’ve inflicted our pain, we have our convictions and some prison sentences and we just go back to business as normal. In which case the situation will fester and perhaps come again.”