Saturday, February 17, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 13, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Ambon, Maluku

Five years after the signing of the Malino II agreement, peace seems to have prevailed in Ambon and its surrounds. But for Muslim scholar Hasbollah Toisuta, the seeds of conflict remain intact.

"We still use terminology like senior high school SMU I for Muslims and SMUK for Christians, depending on the location of the school. Thus, instead of helping produce a blue print for peace, our education further segregates students," Hasbollah said.

"From a cultural perspective, we should be able to take off our `jackets', and think together within the frame of Maluku," he said.

Hasbollah, a lecturer at the State Islamic University (STAIN) Ambon, was one of the signatories to the 2002 Malino II Agreement that put an end to the bloody religious conflicts that killed over 2,000 people since 1999

"Maluku doesn't belong to any particular group, it belongs to all of us," he stressed..

At the peak of the conflicts in 1999 and 2000, when the word 'peace' was often taboo in the province, Hasbollah stood up against his own people and protected many who his fellow Muslims saw as enemies.

Hasbollah regularly preached messages of peace at Friday prayers at Ambon's grand mosque al-Fatah, particularly on the importance of Ambon maintaining its pluralistic society and the need to forge reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.

Predictably, members of the notorious ultra-radical Laskar Jihad were not happy. His peace messages were immediately countered by Laskar's preachers, who also used the mosque's stage to call for an all-out war against their perceived enemies.

Laskar Jihad members at one point barred Hasbollah from coming up to the stage, replacing him with their own preacher, to the dismay of mosque authorities. Laskar's members also pressed the mosque's imam, KH Ahmad Bantam, to take Hasbollah off the preacher's list.

"Later, they came to my house to intimidate me, but with the support of the imam I vehemently said 'no' to them," Hasbollah told The Jakarta Post at his house in Kebon Cengkeh, Ambon.

Born on Jan . 29, 1966 in Siri-Sori, Saparua, Hasbollah graduated from the Syari'ah Faculty at the State Islamic Institute IAIN Alaudin Ambon in 1991. He received his masters' degree from the IAIN Alaudin Makassar, South Sulawesi in 2000.

Hasbollah said the spirit of brotherhood amongst Maluku people is traditionally very strong, but "incompatible policies from Jakarta and provocation from outside such as from radical groups and members of the security forces fueled the 1999 conflict."

He cited as an example the New Order regimes's land-oriented development policy, which was not suitable for Maluku's maritime economy.

"As a result, Maluku's fishermen remain in a backwater, with no appropriate skills to enhance the quality of their lives," Hasbollah said.

Hasbollah believes Maluku is rich with local wisdom that can be utilized to help nurture peace, such as the pela and gandong traditions. Pela is based on friendship between two villages, while gandong indicates brotherhood between two or more villages based on genealogical links.

"For example, the pela of my village, Siri-Sori, is Haria, which is a Christian village. When one of the villages conducted a social event, people from the other village were obliged to come and help," Hasbollah recalled.

"So when our brothers and sisters from Haria came, they were allowed to take any fruit from our yard. We shared joy together."

Asked if such local wisdom is still relevant today, after changes in the composition of Maluku society, Hasbollah said that concept of pela can also be applied to forge relations with migrants, such as Buton people.

"In the past, it (pela) was for Maluku people, however, now we can rejuvenate the concept to be applied to people who have migrated from outside Maluku," he explained.

Active in several students' and social organizations, broad-minded and tolerant Hasbollah is not alien to the idea of pluralism as he maintains fine relations with many of Christian figures in the province such as Protestant minister Jacky Manuputty, Catholic nun Sister Brigita and many others.

Refusing to join the fighting, Hasbollah and his colleagues actively promoted peace in the battered province. They established the LKSP (Institute for Strategic Study and Empowerment) in 2002. Its mission has been to study the economy, politics, and education and to conduct reconciliation between Maluku's segregated societies.

"It was an unpopular move, but we didn't want people to be dragged further into the conflict," said Hasbollah, adding that the LKSP has also worked to help internally displaced people.

Hasbollah also played a role in peace-building prior to the Malino II peace agreement, which was initiated by then Coordinating Minister for the People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla and the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The agreement followed Malino I, a peace agreement for Poso.

Hasbollah later joined the delegation to Malino, and signing the agreement on Feb. 12, 2002. The fifth anniversary of the signing passed on Monday.

"We departed and boarded two different airplanes," recalled Hasbollah of the still heightened hatred between the two religious communities.

After signing the peace agreement, which didn't contain the word "peace" due to the sensitivities over the word, but contained "ending the conflict" instead, Hasbollah and the team had to disseminate the content of the peace agreement to the people of Maluku.

And that was still a very risky job.

During a dissemination meeting at one school in the Christian village of Passo, a bomb exploded in front of Amboina Hotel, lighting a fire that burned down the Maluku governor's office.

Hasbollah and others were trapped at the school.

At the school, one member of the dissemination team already appeared to be dead.

"The school's teachers vowed to help us," Hasbollah said.

The group eventually managed to escape the village, as the provoked residents began slaying perceived enemies.

"When we passed a Muslim village, Muslim figure Mahmud Rengifurwarin sat at the front seat with the window rolled down, but when we passed a Christian village, Suster Brigita took her turn sitting in the front seat," recalled Hasbollah.

He said now is high time for the people of Maluku to unite so that they can have bargaining power with Jakarta.

"Otherwise, Maluku will remain a battleground for people from outside the province," he said.

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