'Terrorists, Not Policies, Killed Your Son,' Grieving Father Told

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Australians were killed in the Bali bombing not because the country's foreign policy is pro-American but because "the fanatics" responsible for the attack hate free societies, according to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

In a letter published in a national daily Tuesday, Howard responded to criticism leveled by a man whose 22-year-old son was one of 82 Australians confirmed dead in the Oct. 12 Bali nightclub bombing. A total of 180 people were killed.

Brian Deegan, a magistrate in the city of Adelaide, suggested earlier in an open letter published in The Australian that his son's death was a result of Australia's close relationship with the United States.

"Why did our children die and why have many others been sickeningly maimed?" he asked. "Was it because we, as a nation, have pursued a role in the U.S.-led war on terror that we cannot possibly fulfill?"

Deegan wrote that Canberra's response to Bali and its participation in the war on terrorism missed an important point.

"If somebody struck me in the street my first question to that person would be why? Why did you do it? Why hit me? I wouldn't just simply turn around and launch into a fight - I'd at least ask the question, why?"

In his reply, Howard said he sympathized with Deegan's family and others who were dealing with an unbearable loss, but disagreed with his assessment about the government's policies.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Australia was right to back Washington in the campaign against terrorism, he said, the that fact terrorists targeted nationals of other Western countries - including some whose support for the U.S. had not been as firm - cast "serious doubts" on that argument.

"It is clear that 20 German citizens who died in an explosion in a synagogue in Tunisia earlier this year were the victims of an al Qaeda attack. Yet German Chancellor Gerhard Schrader has been publicly distant from U.S. policy concerning Iraq," he said.

Howard told Deegan he did not have "the perfect answer" as to why his son, Joshua, died in the attack on nightspots on the Indonesian resort island.

But, he added, "He died at the hands of a murderous group of Islamic fanatics who despise the liberal democratic, open life of Western nations, such as Australia.

"He died because there are people in the world who believe that indiscriminate violent murder is a justifiable political instrument."

Howard cautioned that ignoring terrorism would not make it disappear, and that while appeasement may avoid some trouble in the short term, in the long term in leads to a far more serious crisis.

"History is strewn with examples of countries not taking a stand on something in the hope that the problem would go away, only to find that, at an infinitely greater cost, that challenge must ultimately be confronted."

Earlier, in an interview with an Adelaide radio station, Howard said the Bali bombers "despise us because of who we are and what we represent ... they despise a society that gives equality of treatment and opportunity to women as well as men.

"In my opinion, it's a test for this country to understand the basis of the hostility that exists to us from these fanatics."
Deegan's criticism has generated considerable public response in the media.

In a letter to the editor of The Australian, University of Queensland professor Jack Pettigrew said Australia should consider adopting policies better serving its own interests, and taking into account factors like its proximity to Asia, rather than follow U.S. policies, "which may be provoking the very terrorism the U.S. sets out to fight."

A reader from New South Wales, Judith Rona, offered a different view.

"Terrorists killed your son, Mr. Deegan. They killed him because he belonged to a democratic country that believes in equal rights ... they killed him because he belonged to a free society that allows people to choose their own lifestyle ..."

"Only the naive would think that when you declared war on terrorism it would not fight back," wrote in Alan Smailes from Western Australia.

"Enemies do that sort of thing."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow