Indonesia’s fragile diversity

Indonesia’s fragile diversity



The bloody sectarian conflict in Maluku first erupted in 1999 [EPA]

Parts of Indonesia descended into religious violence right after Suharto’s fall.


Ten years on, the country is now enjoying a relative religious harmony but frictions remain in some pockets.


In fact, the International Crisis Group says communal tensions represent the biggest danger to peace in Indonesia in its recent report.


Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen travels to Maluku province for a closer look.



Wounds barely healed, there is grief again in the remote Indonesian province of Maluku .



The wife and 6-year-old granddaughter of Jance Patiasina could not escape when they came under attack by a gang from a nearby village.


“My wife ran out of the house holding our granddaughter in her arms,” he recalls. “They we both butchered to death with knives cutting off parts of their heads.”


Three churches and more than 60 houses were burned down – the attack triggered by a dispute over land ownership between neighbouring Christian and Muslim villagers.


The brutality of the attack has brought back painful memories of the bloody sectarian conflict that first rocked Maluku in 1999.


For centuries Muslim and Christian communities had lived peacefully side-by-side in what were once known as the Spice Islands .


Traffic trigger


But in 1999 a minor traffic accident in the provincial capital, Ambon , triggered bloody clashes that quickly escalated and spread across the province.


Over the following four years more than 10,000 people were killed.


Jance Patiasina lost his wife and
granddaughter to attackers

An unpublished investigation report obtained by Al Jazeera says the Indonesian military played an important role in stirring up the violence.


The clashes were a stark illustration of the fragility of the Indonesian nation.


Stretching across 13,000 islands, Indonesia is one of the most diverse countries in the world, encompassing more 300 ethnic groups who speak 365 different languages.


While the national motto is “unity in diversity”, when clashes do break out that unity can be tested to its limits.


In 2003 a peace deal finally brought an uneasy end to the bloodshed in Maluku.


Now Muslims and Christians mix once again on the streets of Maluku and in busy markets across the province.


The city of Ambon – at one time a battleground for Muslim and Christian gangs – has been rebuilt. Bullet holes in the walls bear silent witnesses to a traumatic past.


Fragile peace


Peace may have returned, but the scars of the conflict are still fresh.


In an effort to prevent the conflict from starting again, humanitarian organisations have introduced what they call an early warning system.


Christians and Muslims play football
together to help promote peace

“Peace is still fragile, our wounds are not cured yet,” says Ikhsan Tualeka, a local social worker.


“We have to watch out for early signs of fresh resentment to prevent violence from happening again.”


To help break down boundaries a special team of football players has been formed.


Nine Muslims and nine Christians play together in what team member Jeffrey Nashir says is an example to the rest of the country that religious harmony is possible.


“We want to become an example for the rest of Indonesia that we can live in peace together, Muslims and Christians, like we always have,” he says.


But Jance Patiasina will need more time before he can face his Muslim neighbours again.


“I thought those attackers were my friends,” he says. “I don’t understand why they did this to my wife and granddaughter. “


So far the attack on Jance’s village has proved to be an isolated incident and the peace process, while strained, remains intact.


But nobody in the village understands why more was not done to prevent Muslims and Christians from attacking each other again.


With religious harmony threatened once again, the government will have to do everything it can to make sure that this conflict between a Christian and Muslim village is contained soon.


Source: Al Jazeera http://english. aljazeera. net/NR/exeres/ 1D2A3373- 1E3C-4D40- 87A2-7D3EFCDC849 0.htm

Americans worry about sagging home prices, red hot oil prices

28/05/2008 03h37

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Americans are becoming increasingly worried about the struggling US economy as home sales remain stuck in a rut and as red hot oil prices stoke inflation fears, a flurry of reports showed on Tuesday.

The world’s largest economy has grown at a sluggish 0.6 percent pace, on an annualized basis, during the past two quarters and some economists believe a recession is on the cards.

Several new surveys on home sales and consumer confidence suggest economic concerns are becoming more pressing to Americans, who are concerned about their home values, job security and rising fuel bills.

A government report showed that new home sales rose an unexpected 3.3 percent in April from the prior month to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 526,000 homes.

While on the surface that sounded like good news, sales have slumped a hefty 42 percent in the 12 months to April and economists say the larger market for existing homes sales remains stuck in a rut amid one of the worst US housing slumps in decades.

“New homes are still a tough sell. Despite aggressive pricing, half of completed new homes are still sitting on the market after eight months,” said Patrick Newport, an economist at Global Insight.

The two-year old housing meltdown has been exacerbated in the past nine months by a broad credit crunch which has swept through the banking sector, making it harder for Americans to obtain mortgages and credit.

Another closely monitored survey released on Tuesday, the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index of national home prices, fell a record 14.1 percent in the first quarter compared with a year ago.

The steady drumbeat of downbeat economic news appears to be taking a toll on consumer confidence which economists track closely because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of all US economic growth.

The Conference Board — a private research firm — reported that consumer confidence plunged to a 16-year low in May amid rising economic jitters and as rocketing oil prices stoked inflation expectations to an all-time high.

The research firm’s consumer confidence index tumbled to 57.2 from 62.8 in April, marking its lowest reading since October 1992.

“The numbers suggest that consumers are on the brink of one of the largest downturns in the post-World War II era. Not surprising considering the US economy is facing the largest energy shock on the record books,” Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg said in a research note.

Lynn Franco, the director of The Conference Board’s consumer research center, said surging gasoline prices had made consumers more nervous about the economy’s direction.

Average gasoline prices in some parts of the country are threatening to burst the four dollar-a-gallon mark for the first time on the back of soaring oil prices and news reports suggest Americans are cutting back on road trips.

World oil prices tumbled further from recent record peaks of over 135 dollars a barrel Tuesday to 128 dollars, but remain high.

Rocketing gasoline costs are hurting big US auto manufacturers as well as consumers’ pockets.

The Ford Motor Company said last week that it was cutting production of gasoline-guzzling large trucks and sport utility vehicles as it struggles to return to profitability.

Economists are divided on whether the economy will fall into a recession or not this year. Some believe the economic woes make a recession inevitable, while others argue that the economy is proving more resilient than thought a few months ago.

The Federal Reserve has vied to offset slowing economic growth by slashing short term interest rates, its key base rate is presently pegged at 2.0 percent, but economists say the central bank has signaled that further rate relief will not be forthcoming anytime soon.

“The average household is being pressured on all sides. And there is little reason to think conditions will change anytime soon,” said Joel Naroff, the president of Naroff Economic Advisors.


Caliphate and sharia law

Mohamad Abdun Nasir ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 05/10/2008 10:34 AM  |  Opinion

This newspaper ran an article by Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, a spokesperson of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), about sharia and the caliphate (April 23), as a reaction to an article written by Bramanto that appeared several days before. Such a discourse is very healthy. We can have different views and the readiness to appreciate other views — although probably we do not agree at all — and an exchange of views will be very helpful not just to promote Islam as a tolerant religion but also to enrich people’s horizons.

With this strong spirit to enrich our horizons, I am interested in joining the debate on the issues of sharia and the caliphate.

HTI offers two central discourses: the establishment of a caliphate and the application of sharia law. Both seem to be inseparable; without a caliphate, the sharia application will never be totally accomplished. Therefore, both are complementary to each other. These grand themes in fact constitute the global discourse applied by most Hizbut Tahrir movements in the world and have become the main idea that links their global ideological ground and commonality.

To the HTI, the caliphate constitutes a basic Islamic political institution that will unite all Muslims in the world regardless of their ethnicity, language or culture into a single community called the ummah, which is headed by a caliph. In this view, a caliph merely serves as a God’s representative on earth whose duties are to obey God’s commands and realize His rules.

Consequently, it denies modern secular political thoughts such as democracy and nationalism. Democracy is seen to be contrary to God’s sole sovereignty. Moreover, inconsistencies and double standards in the realization of democracy have strengthened Islamists’ criticism of it. Similarly, nationalism, as a logical consequence of the emergence of nation-states, is rejected because it is a Western invention contrary to the concept of ummah.

However, if we closely examine politics in Islam, it is obvious that there is no such strict concept of political Islam like a caliphate. It is a historical creation rather than a normative concept. The power transformation from the Prophet to the subsequent four caliphs took place in different ways.

Abu Bakar became the first caliph through a public pledge of allegiance by the majority of Muslims.

Umar, the second caliph, was elected by a team comprising seven members. While Usman and Ali, the third and the fourth caliphs, reigned after being preceded by political chaos. In this period, a caliph was strictly appointed through a familial lineage. Following this pattern, there is no fixed political system in Islam. It was during the Muslim empires that the concept of caliphate took its firmest definition, formulated through the writings and work of Muslim scholars and jurists who served for the caliph.

As for sharia, with the open era and democratization in Indonesia after reformasi, several Muslim political parties and organizations wish to retrieve the seven lost sharia words — the obligation to implement sharia for Muslims — once incorporated in the Constitution but later deleted.

Although this effort has never been successful in the national context due to lack of a national consensus and disagreement among Muslims themselves, it works on provincial and regional levels.

Some local governments have successfully imposed sharia law in regional ordinances and bylaws. Despite its blurry and weak conception, sharia does apply in certain provinces and regencies, like Cianjur, Tasikmalaya and Garut in West Java and in Bulukumba, South Sulawesi. Each sharia ordinance has addressed different legal issues in different regions, and thus reflects the disparity and partiality of the sharia legal conception.

This has become a major critique, that the sharia application lacks fundamental conception and articulation and thus is ineffective. This reflects more the vested interests and ambitions of politicians rather than idealism. Political parties and Islamic organizations that support this issue are a minority.

Islam in Indonesia is not monolithic, but pluralistic. It consists of diverse Islamic organizations, political affiliations, languages and ethnic-cultural identities. The majority of Muslims represented by the two largest Muslim organizations in the country, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which decline the idea of an Islamic state, remain moderate. This suggests that the majority of Muslims remain obedient to “Indonesia’s diversity in unity” and are attempting to develop Islam in this pluralistic manner. Both sharia and the caliphate thus appear to be less than popular to the Muslim majority.

The writer is a lecturer at Mataram State Institute for Islamic Studies and a Fulbright scholar who is pursuing his PhD in religion at Emory University, Atlanta. He can be reached at


The Aim of Studying?

Have we ever asked ourselves why we must go to school? We will probably say that go to school to learn languages, mathematics, geography, religion and many other subjects. That answer is quite correct. However, why do we have to learn those subjects? And do we only study those things at school?

When we study the Indonesian language, we wish to be able to tell others clearly about what we know and understand, and also to comprehend what others tell us. We learn foreign languages, for instance English, in rder to be able to understand what people in other countries have written and said. We also try to communicate with them. We study matematics in order to be able to compute or count better.

When we go to school, in fact, we learn something more than those subjects. We never realize that when we go to school, we also keep on learning ‘how to learn’ so that when we leave to school, we can keep on learning by ourselves. A person who knows how to learn will always be succesful.

To conclude, the most important aim of studying is to know how to learn and to be able to keep on learning. In other words, studying at school helps us to learn more in our lives. I think the motto LIVE AND LEARN should be applied. Do you agree?

By Pormadi Simbolon,

a student at Seminari Menengah Pematang Siantar, North Sumatera, Indonesia
On DIALOGUE, An English magazine for everybody to enjoy, vol. 03/ XXI-1995

Ahmadiyah from a Christian’s view

Matias Sinaga ,  Surabaya   |  Fri, 05/09/2008 9:38 AM  |  Opinion

Numerous articles promoting Islam as a tolerant, non-violent and peace-loving religion have decorated the pages of magazines, tabloids and newspapers, both locally and across the globe, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that has religion as its background.

This development didn’t stop right there. Locally, several organizations that have tolerance, non-violence, pluralism, love, and peace as a theme have been founded, many of which were established by Muslim intellectuals alone or together with other people of different faiths and religions.

A friend was gave me a sticker with the words “Republik Damai” (Peaceful Republic). The sticker was given to me as a token of appreciation for my support of the founder of the group’s candidacy for East Java governor. Its founder, whom I know and admire only from his articles in the media, is a Muslim intellectual and academic. I hate to categorize people based on their religion but this categorization came from the media and in this context it is inappropriate.

Following what has happened to Ahmadiyah and its followers, however, people may become doubtful. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We now ask, is peace-loving Islam still in existence? Is it just a cry in the desert? Or is it merely a howl in the jungle where mob law applies?

Ahmadiyah’s followers had been victims of attacks long before their sect was declared deviant. But their suffering and persecution escalated since the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)’s fatwa (religious edict) was issued. The suffering of this minority group then can be seen as an authorized crime; that is, a crime that is justified or even made legal after its subject (of uproar), having been examined, is declared wrong or deviant through an edict. The MUI is certainly ignorant of its edict’s implications.

Regarding religious edicts, this same institution was once used by the New Order regime to produce edicts based on which the government could take the “necessary” actions. If in the New Order under the late president Soeharto it was mainly for political reasons, for the endorsement of government regulations in particular, now in this era reformasi (reform era) known for its freedom of speech, it is for religious purposes.

If in the New Order, the substance of any religion was left to the authority of that religion, now it has become the government’s business. And this became worse as the MUI dropped this hot ball on the government, claiming that it is the latter’s responsibility, a path contrary to the New Order’s faith and practice.

The government then assigned a government panel, the Coordinating Board for Monitoring Mystical Beliefs, to asses the Ahmadiyah issue. Instead of assessing the offenses conducted by organizations that harassed Ahmadiyah, the board came up with a recommendation siding with the violent parties. It then turned the ball over to the President.

If there is anything to talk about, Islam organizations have to accommodate a dialogue between the conflicting parties. Dialogue is an antidote to tension and disruptive forces. Dialogue is the way of peace. The two largest Muslim organizations in this country, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), we believe, have the capacity and power to do so.

But is very unlikely that Ahmadiyah will get the protection it needs.

The writer is a teacher and a Christian.