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History of prejudice ignites modern Indonesia conflict

ICC Note:

A closer, more personal look at Indonesians struggling with a long history of religious prejudice and persecution.

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2/20/08 Indonesia (EurekaStreet) Fatima has no idea why the conflict started. Living in a Muslim village surrounded by Christian villages, she cannot articulate what provoked a conflict where the estimation of deaths is up to 10,000 people over three years. In her village, there were two deaths and a number of injuries but they were lucky to escape the burnings and wide-scale killings that occurred in other villages.

For Fatima, knowing the ‘why’ of the conflict doesn’t matter. What matters is not having to flee the village again. ‘We don’t want the conflict to return, we just want to be safe. If there are issues, gossips that scare us, we will be afraid.’

In an agreement between four villages, three Christian and one a mix of Christian and Muslim, regular meetings between the village heads, the Imam and Christian leadership, maintained peace.

As the conflict in the region heightened, the local Muslims in Josa’s village inhabited the churches and the Christians inhabited the mosque to prevent the buildings from being bombed and to send a clear message to protagonists that violence and provocation would not be tolerated. It was a bold move in a conflict where others had been slain as ‘traitors’ for supporting their religious brothers and sisters.

For sustainable peace, political and economic strategies must sit alongside understanding and healing. To prevent conflict relapse, village leaders need to foster a relationship that enables clear communication to dispel rumours and address early signs of conflict, as occurred in Josa’s village. In 2004, when conflict in Ambon was in danger of recurring, one local peace-building network used SMS to inform Muslim and Christian youth of conflict hotspots and safe passages to travel. Such networks seem an effective method of dispelling myths of violence and updating communities on action being taken to address the conflict.

Still, prejudice is difficult to overcome. Seven years after conflict hit her village, forcing her to live in the jungle for weeks without access to safe supplies of food and water, Tamika admits she remains prejudiced against her Muslim neighbours. Despite having regular contact with other Muslims, including a few close friends, she is not sure about Muslims beyond her immediate circle. Tamika’s suspicion is a common representation of how prejudice can linger in communities and create fuel for future conflicts.

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