|You are here:||Home | About Us | Opportunities | Events | Past Events | Past Events Public | From People to People: Indonesia's Ethnic and Religious Conflicts and its Resolution|
"FROM PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: INDONESIA'S ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS CONFLICT AND ITS RESOLUTION"
Researcher at the Center for Security and Peace Studies, University of Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta - Indonesia
MELBOURNE - 18 October 2001
Conflict is a normal phenomenon in democratic life. Conflict to some extent- could precipitate change and encourage maturity process in the society: become more tolerant and more respective to human rights and diversity. Unfortunately, recent assessment in Indonesian society shows that people tend to think and behave using parameters of ethnicity, religion, group and/or other kind of interests. Any violent conflicts in society tend to blur with religious or ethnic conflicts.
The understanding of so called ethnic and religious conflict is badly needed, especially since pluralistic society has been an historical and empirical fact in Indonesia. There is pluralism of social groups, organizations, and political parties that represent different and sometime incompatible interests. There is also pluralism of culture. Indeed, the notion such as "Indonesian nation" is misleading if it is understood as a whole and monolithic culture. Religion and ethnicity play important role in shaping and maintaining the culture, and religious and ethnic pluralism constitutes a significant part of the plurality of culture.
In some cases people believe that such issues are misused for political and economic interests. In others, ethnic and religious sentiment is believed to be the main reason of violence. All the debates around raise the need and greater awareness amongst the people, especially Australian and Indonesian, the nearest neighbor. In longer term, such cooperation will strengthen the civil society and the democratization process in the region. To get together as a community, people need forum and mechanism. It is perhaps more important now than ever for academicians and practitioners to work together to ensure cooperation and good understanding of the conflict situations.
The Power of Ethnic and Religious
Ethnicity (and also religion) is concerned with our sense of ourselves- who we are, where we belong and what is valuable in that community which gives us a sense of place in the world, our sense of self worth and belonging. But these are much less tangible than our skin color or gender. So we can feel that they help to create us but they are vulnerable. In relations with other groups we may have fear of extinction either through assimilation, destruction or expulsion. In fact the threat of destruction or expulsion are in some ways less unsettling because of the threat is apparent and the community can defend itself.
Ethnic concerns are related not only to the present but to the future of our group and that it continues to exist after our own death. Religion can go even farther and deal not only with the future but also with afterlife. If we believe that our religious belief are correct and our commitment to them will determine what happens to us after we die, then we want to pass them on to our descent and will worry that their faith may be diluted with what we believe to be blasphemy and wrong practices. In those circumstances we will take extreme measures to protect and maintain religious belief even we do not practice them ourselves.
These explain why ethnic and religion are powerful motivators and stimulus as I touched in the beginning. Roger Williamson has said that we can get people to do the most horrible and savage acts if we can convince them that it is done in the name of religion. Our standards of what is acceptable in the present can be suspended and superceded if we feel that we are acting in relation to the afterlife.
The Moluccas: a continuum conflict between Acang (Hasan, Islam followers) and Obet (Robert, Christanity followers)
Moluccas conflict has occurred for more than 2 years and has erupted as massive violence for (at least) 4 times. The first period is on January 1999, followed by the second, third and fourth respectively on May-July 1999, November 1999-January 2000, and June-August 2000 (I could not yet say for sure whether there will not be another massive violence). Those violent conflicts shocking a lot of people (nationally, regionally, and internationally) and resulted a longer list of problems of Indonesia at that time: social unrest caused by economic crisis, ecological problems, political struggle, and separatism issues in Aceh and Papua. The first reaction from Indonesia's government was military approach and gave civil emergency status (June 2000-present) to the Moluccas.
In the early 1999, I was confused by mass media's reports about fights between Moslems and Christians in Moluccas, a province located in the eastern part of Indonesia, known as the 'thousand island province', since it consists more than 1.700 islands. Those reports stressed that the cause of violence was the conflicts between Moslems and Christians (Protestant).
I remember the story my late father who worked in Moluccas in the 1970s- used to tell me. He told me that Moluccas is a rich and beautiful place with sentimental-romantic people who has strong tradition of dancing and singing (as a matter of fact, many popular Indonesian singers come from Moluccas). He also told me that people there live in peace and harmony despite of the different religion and way of life. In Moluccas, people tend to live in groups, based on their religion so we can find two 'negeri' (villages): negeri Salam (Moslem) and negeri Sarani (Christians).
Since January 2000, I got the chance to visit, see, observe, and conduct peace-building activities in Ambon (the capital of Moluccas province). During the time, I must acknowledge the significant difference between the Moslems and Christians in Ambon, Moluccas. At least, we can see it from the way they dress. Moslems usually dress informally and casual, and Christians dress more formally, neat, and chic. Moslems like Melayu music and dangdut (traditional rhythm, influenced by Indian culture) dance. Meanwhile, Christians like popular songs and modern / western dance. These groups even use different terms. Elder sister is known as 'cha-cha' in Moslem term, and 'usi' in Christian term. Moslems use 'abang' to call their elder brother, while Christians use 'bu' or 'bung'.
There is an interesting story during the violent conflicts about two Christian lads who used their language in a Moslem village. One night, these two lads got an accident in a road inside the Moslem village. Spontaneously, the villagers came out from their houses to help them: cure their wound and repair their motorbike. At the end, the Christian lads said," Thank you, Bu". The next second, the villagers aware that they were helping Christians- hit these poor lads. Fortunately, some military officers pass the road and stop the incident and then escorted them to the Christian village.
Despite the diversity Moslems and Christians use to help each other to build mosques and churches, and to arrange religious rituals. Moslems would help the Christians to arrange Christmas celebrations, vice versa during the Idul Fitri celebrations. My university friends from Moluccas told me the same thing. A Moslem friend of mine even played as Jesus in a Christmas drama at his (public) school.
There are strong evidence that Moslems (both indigenous or migrants from South Sulawesi) and Christians in Ambon consciously stick to an unwritten division of labor. Moslems tend to work as small-scale entrepreneurs, also in informal sectors such as becak drivers, factory labors, and market labors. These choices usually influenced by the family and village character, also the low quality of formal education. Having dust, mud, and sweat all over their body, these Moslems are known as 'Islam badaki', which means 'dirty Moslems'. Meanwhile, Christians are much neat, clean, and chic since they work as civil servants, bank employees, lecturers, teachers, and doctors. Chinese people work in mid-scale business. Chinese Protestants' position is unique, since they are well accepted by both Moslem and Christian groups. It is very common to see Chinese families living in Moslem villages.
The economic crisis in 1998 lead to serious problems especially for youth and unemployed. Christian's youth who are not used to do rough works find it difficult to work in service sector since the growth of this sector is very slow, and therefore could not provide many employment vacancies. Meanwhile, most of small businesses and informal jobs are already occupied by their neighbor, Moslem. This situation explains why economy and employment became a critical issue and a significant factor toward violent conflicts in Ambon.
One 'positive' effect from the Moluccas conflict that could be directly seen is the growth of 'business sense' among Christians. They began to learn how to sell vegetables, fish, and cakes, open warung (small restaurant), and drive becaks or other means of public transportation. Therefore, the term 'Islam Badaki' is no longer used
Though, economic dependency between both entities is still high. The opening of new transaction areas between Moslem and Christian merchants is a strong proof to this argument. Moslem merchants view this as a benefit, since they can sell to Christians without entering Christian villages, which are forbidden for them. Meanwhile, Christians could get materials with better quality in cheaper price from the Moslems.
It is already stated that there is a gap on the quality education between the Moslems and Christians. There are several analysis on the low quality of education. One argues that it has a strong relation with the Portuguese and Dutch colonialism in Ambon, which provide bigger opportunity to the Christians. Why Christians? The reason is that Moslems took non-cooperative approach towards colonialists. This political attitude is based on the religious ideology that views colonialist as an entity to fight.
Low quality of education and low interest among Moslems to study non-religious sciences lead to the low amount of Moslem students, teachers, and lecturers, both in state or private schools and universities. This imbalance was used to set violent actions such arson in Pattimura University, July 2000. The reason used to justify this action was the argument that the university gives special treatment to Christians. Statistic data shows the ratio between Moslem and Christian students are 40:60, while the ratio between Moslem and Christian lecturers are 20:80.
A Moslem senior lecturer didn't agree with the discrimination issue. In his view, the main problem is the Moslems' ignorance to non-religious education. Moslems are quite satisfied on being merchant and entrepreneurs, which could be achieved without high education. Only few Moslems are interested on being civil servants, teachers, and lecturers.
The Moluccas Violent Conflicts: criminals against criminals
Through this paper I would like to share my views of Moluccas violent conflict: who did what and why. Significant findings are brought up again as an effort to understand and encourage settlement initiatives.
The map of the first period shows that the main actor are thugs which stand in Moslem and Christian communities. They both have support from Ambonese thugs in Jakarta and have a long history compete each other. On the reformation movement, May 1998, one group of Ambonese thugs is used as civilian force to face against students in Jakarata. This make their competition is tighter and they threat each other to finalize their competition in Ambon. This issue has changed the issue of job competition between Christian Ambonese and Moslem immigrants from Sulawesi rapidly.
The fourth map shows more complex conflicts situation with different actors and different issues. The main actors are the hard liners both Moslem and Christian with support from local army for Moslem hardliner and local police for Christian hardliner. The issued that moved at that time are separatism (RMS), insecurity base on religious identity, injustice, unequality. Meanwhile, local police, marine, and army have their own conflicts that cost many civilian victims.
During this last year, there are no longer any violence between groups in the society. The violence was between police or military officers with a group of society, or violence among police, army and marine officers. In both cases, most of the victims are civilians.
Addressing The Moluccas Conflict Resolution
According to prevent others violent in Moluccas, Indonesia's government (national and local) should stand firm on law enforcement. Put the criminal actions (beating, shooting, bombing, threaten, killing, burning) as criminality, take to the court and announce to the people. The firm action on justice will restore people's trust on justice system and will support the activities.
The civil emergency status should be revoke/abolish. Under the civil emergency law military and police officers are allow on using their power against people. This could lead them on power abuses and will justify them on doing harm things to the people or other group of military or police.
In relations to aspects of injustice, inequality, and denial of human rights, there is little to distinguish these disputes from other disputes and at some level there may be a need to campaign for fair treatment and advocate on behalf of such groups. Recognize their concerns and worries are important. That does not mean that their outlook and attitudes have to be accepted if they lead to hurt and injustice to others. They can be challenged on the way they pursue their concerns and the consistency of such behavior with their value system, explore the vision that is held of relationship between ethnic and religious groups and comparison of system based on rivalry dominance or on mutual respect and understanding.
It is also important to promote the participation of people in decision-making. Participation is a widely accepted principle of development: people should be involved in decisions that affect them. One of the reasons why well-managed groups and organizations succeed over the long term is that all the individuals feel themselves to be part and parcel of the whole system: there is a sense of belonging and ownership. People feel a shared responsibility for their colleagues, and believe themselves to be working for a shared future.
Changes of orientation to other groups is a voluntary act which can not be achieved by coercion but groups may be coerced to limit actions which harm other groups and in this way the may be faced with the consequences of their attitudes and the need to engage with and understand their opponents. Therefore there is a need for arrangements that put a premium on conciliation. Segregation does not do this. The requirement to deal with opponents can create contact with opponents and more equality in those relationships, which provides both the opportunity and stimulus for engagement and understanding and also emphasizes the necessity of such engagement.
October 18, 2001
Created: 01 February 2007 3:23pm
Last Modified: 17 February 2011 12:46pm
Authorised by: CEO, Asialink
Maintained by: firstname.lastname@example.org