Wednesday, March 22, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, March 20, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,
Ambon, Maluku

Along the 30-kilometer road from Pattimura airport to the Maluku capital Ambon, the view of destroyed churches, mosques and houses no longer shocks most Ambonese.
In a taxi that charged three times as much as before the conflict, the driver explained which areas belonged to Muslims and Christians. He never uttered the words "Christians" or "Muslims". Instead he crossed his fingers when referring to Christians and bent his finger close to his thumb to form a crescent, the symbol of Islam.

He seemed to realize the sensitivity of the words, and that if he expressed them in the "wrong" tone he might re-trigger the conflict. Or that if security officers overheard, he might be misunderstood and thought to be planning to stir up the conflict between the religious communities.

Just recently a clash broke out between police and military that left two personnel killed and one student injured. Police officer Second Brig. Arnold R. Wakolo was stabbed to death by unidentified people on March 3, followed by an apparent retaliation murder of military soldier Second Brig. I Putu Haryanto the following day. Police then allegedly opened fire on a crowd in Batumerah village in Sirimau district, injuring Pattimura University student Saiful Wakano.

The incident did not escalate into large-scale violence. If the injured student had been killed, the situation could have spiraled out of control. Remember the protracted communal conflict of a few years ago was triggered by a small fight between a petty criminal and a public minivan driver on Jan. 19, 1999, yet it left thousands dead.

"Conflicts will only benefit security officials," said local activist Abubakar Kabakoran, who has been promoting peace in the city that has been religiously segregated since the communal violence. He recalled that Army soldiers received lots of money for guarding goods that arrived in the Muslim dominated port and for providing security during the delivery of the goods from Muslim to Christian areas during the two years of the conflict. When peace prevails, such material gains cease.

"Nonetheless, the marines might still be benefiting from backing illegal fishing and the police from issuing licenses for unregistered vehicles, things that could cause envy among the demoralized Army personnel," said Abubakar.

It is true that militant groups, some of them used to receive support from individuals in the military and police, such as Laskar Jihad, Satgas Amar Maruf Nahi Munkar, Mujahidin and Siluman from the Muslim camp, and Laskar Kristus, Coker and Pasukan Agas from the Christian side have been disbanded. However, the rivalry between military personnel, or between the military and police, still poses a serious threat to the peace building process. This may be part of the problems following the separation of the police from the Indonesian Military in 2000.

Besides the problem of a "militarized" society, by birth, Indonesia has a spirit of uniformity, not plurality. People learned and adopted the culture of violence from the imposition of the authoritarian New Order regime. After the fall of the regime, the spirit of forced tolerance was replaced by ethno-nationalism, particularly in conflict areas such as Maluku where the Republic of Southern Maluku independence movement remains strong.

So how to break this circle of violence? From a cultural perspective, it can only be broken by "not learning the violence". Local wisdom which promotes peace can actually be explored to help communities detach themselves from this culture of violence.

Religious tension can also be reduced by the spirit of brotherhood, which can suppress religious differences, because members of the united family often adhere to different religions.

There has also been a bakubae movement in place, exploring a set of local values that help prevent violence. In religious discourse, a statement like "The father of Muslims and Christians is Abraham" can be spread to increase the sense of commonality between the two religious communities.

Nonetheless, peace-building initiatives following the government-sponsored Malino peace agreement in 2002 have only slowly become fruitful. Hasbollah Toisuta from the Institute of the Strategic Study and Empowerment of Maluku said that often social activists are "selling" the Maluku conflict merely for the sake of enhancing their credentials.

"Like the bakubae movement, many of its initiatives are mere talks among elite groups held in Java, without concrete programs for the ordinary people here," lamented Hasbollah, adding that if local people had been more intensively involved, the results could have been more in-depth and widespread.

Therefore, besides improving the professionalism of the police and military, local wisdom-based peace initiatives such as peace education involving ordinary people are imperative to produce a genuine and lasting peace. Besides celebrating the harvest in Buru district during his visit to Maluku on March 17-19, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should also use this opportunity to touch on more fundamental issues that concern the future of peace among ordinary people in this conflict-torn province.

The writer is a researcher at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism and a lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten. He is currently doing research in Maluku, West Kalimantan and Central Sulawesi on the role of local wisdom in conflict prevention and resolution.

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