On the 12th October, 2002 a violent Islamic sect detonated two bombs in a crowded nightclub on Kuta, Bali, killing 202 people and injuring 240 more, many of whom suffered horrific burns.
88 of the people who died were Australians like me, targeted because of our country’s role in the liberation of East Timor (one of the few recent foreign policy decisions for which we can feel proud.)
The irony was that the Balinese are Hindus; it was Islamists from outside the island who perpetrated this obscenity.
But the effect on tourism, the island’s lifeblood, was devastating. And for a time Bali’s reputation seemed irretrievably marred by what had happened.
The first Ubud Readers and Writers Festival was organized the year following the bombings to try and heal the damage. The brainchild of Janet de Neefe, a Melbourne woman who had married a local Balinese and lived on the island for more than 30 years, the festival took as its theme After the Dark, Light is Born, a title ofa book authored by Indonesia’s national heroine, R.A. Kartini.
This year’s event was organized by the inimitable festival director Jeni Caffin who turns her passion for books and music into brilliant international events year after year.
I was honoured to be invited this year and found myself surrounded by Nobel peace prize winners (Jose Ramos Horta) Pulitzer Prize winners (Jeffrey Eugenides) rock stars (Nick Cave) as well as Oxford dons, leading international journalists and writers from around the world.
It was, at times, intimidating. One night I found myself at a dinner and discovered I was the only one among the six people at our table never to have been imprisoned for my writings or my political beliefs. I never mentioned my one night in the slammer for public drunkenness. It was a long time ago, and I didn’t think that it would really cut it with these guys.
But it made me appreciate, once more, those freedoms we sometimes take for granted; it is a reminder that in places like Egypt and Burma and Somalia and elsewhere in the world writers are often feared and persecuted. Freedom of speech should never be taken for granted. Extremists, regardless of their nationality, religion or political persuasion do not like writers.
Which is why this festival was such a joy to be part of. I do love writers and I love readers; they laugh a lot, and they love books and bars with often equal passion. I made great friends and came away inspired and invigorated.
After the Dark, the Light is Born.
It is the best way to answer murderous people with small minds: with laughter and with hope and with great, great books.
So now it’s back to work and back to my badly neglected blog …