Let us prey
Simon Winchester argues that the explosion of Karakatau in 1883 led to Indonesian independence. For all the world knew, the end of life itself could
(have been) at hand.
The world thus turned to its old standby: religion. It ascribed the event's ultimate cause to God. It ascribed its proximate cause to some act of man that had made God angry. And it acted to expunge the cause of that anger - and did so very quickly indeed.
In the case of Krakatoa, the Muslim prelates of Java first made this connection. The eruption that had killed so many and had ruined so much was clearly, they said, the work of Allah - a divine who was, so the mullahs told their Javanese congregations of the day, supremely irritated that so many of their number were passively allowing themselves to be ruled by white infidel outsiders, the Dutch. To appease the sorely tried Allah, the mullahs said, the Dutch had to be killed and their influence expunged. Rise up, they advised.
And so they did - in a piecemeal fashion at first, in an organised rebellion five years later, and in a measured and defiant way in the decades that followed. The Dutch were eventually forced to leave; Indonesia, born out of the Hollanders' imperial fiefdom, remains today the world's most populous Islamic nation. Krakatoa was not the cause of the birth of Indonesia, far from it; but it was a sign, a trigger, and it remains a significant moment in Indonesian political history for that very reason.
So now we have to consider the aftermath of the biggest natural disaster
to hit Indonesia since then.
Indonesia is planning to impose a one-year state of emergency in its devastated Aceh province, followed by a four-year recovery plan
. The move will initially focus on people's immediate needs - food, clothing and temporary shelter - but then switch to rebuilding infrastructure.
Ed Cairns, Oxfam's senior policy adviser
, called on the affected governments and donors to commit themselves to "reconstruction plus", aimed at reducing poverty and protecting the environment.
"They should commit to support this for the long-term, no less than five years," he said. "Donor governments should provide grants, not loans, and aid should not be tied to benefit Japanese, American or European companies."
George Monbiot asks
, "Why, when extreme poverty could be made history with a minor redeployment of public finances, must the poor world still wait for homeless people in the rich world to empty their pockets?
The obvious answer is that governments have other priorities. And the one that leaps to mind is war. If the money they have promised to the victims of the tsunami still falls far short of the amounts required, it is partly because the contingency fund upon which they draw in times of crisis has been spent on blowing people to bits in Iraq.
This past week has seen the greatest demonstration of communal compassion
It is also seeing some of the most bestial crimes against humanity. How else can one describe traffickers in Acehnese orphans
? Similar language should also be deployed to describe those pirates reportedly plundering ships
carrying aid to the devastated province and ghouls
operating email spam scams
, raping and looting.