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An unpublished investigation report obtained by Al Jazeera says the Indonesian military played an important role in stirring up the violence.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


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