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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Elsewhere in Indonesia

Saturday's bombings have put Indonesia back in the spotlight, as well as the question of minority faiths (in Bali's case, Hinduism) in the country with the world's largest Muslim population. Some of you might not know about the violence between Christians and Muslims that has flared in recent years in the Moluccan Islands, but, fortunately, Globalsecurity has a long and detailed article on the subject that is of great interest. Here's a taster:

By the early 1990's, Christians became a minority for the first time in some areas of the Moluccas. Some Christians believe that the Government intentionally sought to alter the demographic balance of the eastern part of the country by resettling Muslims in the area and providing various subsidies for those who settled spontaneously. While government-sponsored transmigration of citizens from heavily populated Java, Madura and Bali to more sparsely populated areas of the country contributed to the increase in the Muslim population in the areas of resettlement, there is no evidence to suggest that creating a Muslim majority in Christian areas was the objective of this policy, and most Muslim migration was spontaneous.

In the Moluccas, over half a million people were internally displaced, and thousands forced to convert to another faith, largely because of their religious affiliation. While the underlying causes of the conflict were attributable largely to unresolved grievances and resentment over the distribution of economic and political power between local residents and more recently arrived migrants, the competition quickly took on religious overtones and resulted in the segregation and displacement along religious lines of the population in both provinces. A major factor contributing to the continuation of violence in these two provinces was the failure of the Government and security forces to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to prevent the influx of or deport several thousand armed Muslim militants (Laskar Jihad) from Java who joined forces with Muslims in various parts of the two provinces. The presence of these outside forces hindered local reconciliation efforts and peaceful resolution of the conflict.

In January 1999, serious fighting erupted between the Christian and Muslim communities on the Islands. Though there were occasional lulls in the fighting, over the next two years 5,000-8,000 people were killed and 500,000 people displaced from their homes. The conflict divided Moluccans along religious lines, though its origins involve ethnic, economic, and political rivalries also. Houses of worship were pointedly targeted and more than 100 mosques and churches have been destroyed or damaged. During the first 15 months of the crisis, the fighting between the two groups, largely cyclical reprisals, resulted in more or less equal numbers killed on each side.

The apparent spark that led to the outbreak of fighting is reported to have been an argument in Ambon city between a Christian public transport driver and at least one Muslim passenger. The argument soon deteriorated into a brawl and then spiraled into several days of mob violence.28 The fighting then spread to other islands, thus beginning the cyclical pattern. Much of the initial anger on the Christian side was directed at the Bugi, Butonese, and Makassari immigrants rather than Moluccan Muslims. In North Maluku, the fighting was not initially along religious lines at all but was between rival supporters of the two leading sultans in the region.

In the Moluccas, early December 1999 saw a continuation of the sporadic violence that began in late November. One incident that reportedly encouraged the involvement of the Jihad was a particularly bloody battle in December 1999 on the island of Halmahera in the north in which 500 Muslims were killed and the district "cleansed" of 10,000 others who were forced to flee. This incident, as one report notes, "was pivotal in galvanizing national Muslim calls for Jihad." In addition, attacks on the islands of Kesui and Teor brought with them reports of forced conversions to Islam. These forced conversions are reported to have continued through the end of the month. Meanwhile, Ambon Island and other parts of Maluku became much calmer as the month progressed. Initial fears of reprisal attacks during the Christmas and Idul Fitri holidays gave way to a cautious calm as people of both religions celebrated their holidays quietly and in relative peace.

Religious intolerance, especially on the part of extreme Muslims towards religious minorities, including Christians, increasingly was evident and became a matter of growing concern to many religious minority members and Muslim moderates. The lack of religious tolerance continued to manifest itself in scores of violent incidents in the Moluccas, including forced conversions and killings of individuals because of their religious affiliations. There were credible reports that several hundred Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity in North Maluku in early 2000 and thousands of Christians were forced to convert to Islam in North Maluku and Maluku provinces during 2000. Religious intolerance also manifested itself in numerous attacks on churches in various locations, ranging from minor damage to total destruction. Mosques also were attacked in Maluku Province. While in the past the victims in the Moluccas conflict were equally divided between Christians and Muslims, most of the estimated 1,200 victims during 2000 were Christian.

Other stuff of interest:
"Cyberdemocracy and the Moluccan Conflict" (pdf)
"Causes of Conflict in Indonesia"
"The forgotten war in North Maluku"
HRW Report
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