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Subject: Info on Maluku
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2000 11:20:20 PDT
From: "ali shehata" <calcarine@hotmail.com>
Bismillah Al-rahmaan Al-Raheem
As-salaam alaikum all,
This is some info on maluku. Please start telling others in your
communities about this insha'Allah.

The Map of Conflict in Maluku

This paper consists:

  1. Mukaddimah (Introduction)
  2. Chronology of the tragedy
  3. Ethnical conflict, religious conflict or Muslim-cleansing?
  4. Islam-Christian relations and Power in Indonesia
  5. Khatimah (Conclusion)

1. Mukaddimah

When I wrote this paper, I was receiving a letter from a journalist fellow. He had just interviewed a team of doctors that had been trapped in Tobelo and Galela (two sub-districts in Halmahera Utara) for a couple of week. They were in the middle of 5000 thousands Muslims from three villages -mostly women and children-- and were surrounded by 7000 Christian forces.

The letter says:

Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuh

Dear Brother, It's past midnight Jakarta time and I have just finished my interview with a group of doctors (from MER-C, Medical Emergency Rescue Committee, whose members are mainly affiliated with the School of Medicine at the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia) returning from their mission in Tobelo and Galela sub-districts in North Halmahera district of North Maluku. They told me that what took place in those villages was even more horrifying than the press reports.

In one of the Christian attacks against Tobelo, for instance, the Muslims were already besieged in a mosque. The attackers then snatched a number of babies, threw them up on the air, and skewered the small bodies with their swords before they reached the ground.

They took several children, tied and hung them and used them as targets for their arrows. They approached the helpless adults, and mutilate them before finally killing them. The attackers said, "excuse me, please, I want your ears/nose/gapai" and then just cut off the targeted organs. One of the four doctors showed me pictures of the Muslim victims of the Christian attacks.

A number of bodies, for instances, had all of their internal organs removed. Some -including children of elementary school age-were decapitated. The doctors said they risked their lives in order to enter and leave Tobelo and Galela. The regional military commander, Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela (a Christian), had in fact not given any guarantee for the doctors safety, so the "Red Army" could easily come after them. "The fact that we are still alive is really a miracle from Allah," said one of the doctors.


One of the attacks described by the doctors to my fellow journalist took place in the holy month of Ramadhan, or December 28, 1999. The Republika daily said 800 Muslims in Tobelo and Galela were massacred overnight -the report caused an uproar and denial from various quarters, but one week later Max Tamaela admitted that 771 Muslims were killed over ten days in the villages.

The Halmahera police chief admitted on the next day that 216 settlers from Java were burned alive in one mosque in the sub-district. No legal measures have been taken so far against the atrocity in Halmahera by either the local or national administration.

This tragedy is part of the religious conflict that has been affecting almost all parts of Maluku over the past year. The province spans all parts of the 1,765,272 km square ocean area and of the 185,728 km square terrestrial area with the 1,027 islands. It used to be known as the Spice Islands, and famous for its beautiful beaches and diving spots. The capital city of Ambon predominantly Christian.

A Chicago Univesity graduated Historian, Prof A Syafii Maarif mentioned, Ibn Batutah, a Muslim traveler of long time ago was to call Maluku as Jazirat Al-Muluk (Kings' Peninsula) for themany charismatic leaders (kings) he met across the islands. Islam was introduced into the islands since the 14th century as the formal religion of Ternate Sultanate.

It was Islam as a religion who served to fortify Maluku - although not thoroughly succeeded - from the attack of penetrating Europeans: the Portuguese in 1512 and the VOC of the Dutch in 1605. The Dutch dominated the lucrative spice trade for 200 years. Cloves, mace, and nutmeg that grew only there, and nowhere to be found that period in any other part of the world. The spices were literally worth their weight in gold. Ambon was also known to travelers as "the Queen of the East".

Today we can still easily find the Dutch influence in the culture, dressing and language of the local people. For some of the native Maluku Muslims, the current conflict is a repeat if what their ancestors had endured at the hands of the Dutch colonial forces. Before the conflict, Muslims made up 40 percent of the total population of Maluku. They were scattered in various islands, but were mostly concentrated in Northern Maluku. In the past, three small Islamic kingdoms -Ternate, Tidore and Bacan-survived the Dutch domination.

2. Chronology of the Tragedy

The first major eruption of the conflict took place on January 19, 1999, on the Eid-al-Fitr day. Christian mobs attacked Muslims who were leaving the Al Fatah Mosque after the Eid shalat in Ambon. Smaller scale unrest, however, had taken place several days before following what some people claimed to be a petty street quarrel involving two men from both Muslim and Christian communities.

Soon afterward, Christian men wearing red bandana or headbands and wielding swords began roaming the streets of Ambon, attacking Muslim homes. Haj Abdul Aziz Arbi, the imam of the Al Fatah Mosque, spoke to me about one particular attack in the 1999 Eid-al-Fitr day when Christian mobs slaughtered a Muslim family and set their house on fire.

One of the children came home from school, and cried hysterically upon witnessing the brutality. The attackers captured the child and threw him to the fire. There were many other atrocities committed against Muslims on that Eid-al-Fitr day.

The Muslim community rose up to defend themselves, and the religious war continues until now. The tension prompted the administration of President B.J. Habibie late last year to divide the province into two - the Muslim dominated North Maluku and the Christian-dominated Maluku. Observers have doubted the division of the province would ease the tension because in fact, many Muslims were still living scattered as isolated minority communities in the Christian-dominated areas.

The fear of further violence became a reality in the Bloody Ramadhan in North Halmahera sub-district. This area is actually part of the Muslim-dominated North Maluku province, but in the sub-district the Muslims were the minority. Since the beginning of the war, Marketplaces and stalls belonging to Muslim settlers from Buton in neighbouring Central Sulawesi province, Bugis and Makassar in South Sulawesi, from Java and Sumatra islands were also targeted and were razed to the ground. This particular group of people --Buton, Bugis, Makassar, Java and Sumatra (BBM-JS)-- later became the most hunted Muslims in the conflict.

Observers, however, believe that the conflagration of violence in Idul Fitri 1999 would still take place even without the quarrel that took place in the public transport terminal of Batumerah. H.M. Nur Wenno, an Ambon researcher affiliated with the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, described four indications that the Christian attack against Muslims in the city was planned. First, the attackers all wore similar red headbands. Second, the attackers were armed with not only swords and arrows, but also petrol bombs (Molotov cocktail). Third, some among the attackers were equipped with HT communication. Fourth, the day of the attack itself. "The attack could not have been a response to the extortion by Nursalim," Wenno said, adding that the attackers chanted slogans about how they would cleanse Maluku of the BBM-JS people. They also sang a hymn, "The blood of Jesus is flowing," and yells that supported separatism.

On the day of the first major attack, 19 January 1999, thousands of Christians surrounded the Al-Fatah Mosque in Ambon and launched their attack against the Muslims who were saying their Eid-al-Fitr shalat. Ustadz Ikram Ibrahim, a leader of the Al Khairat Islamic school, who was also in the mosque said the jamaah defended themselves by throwing stones at their attackers. "Had there not been Allah's help, the mosque would have been razed to the ground," he said.

On the same day, some 500 Muslim men from four villages of Hitu, Mamala, Morela and Wakal left the Leihitu sub-district to travel the 42 kilometers to Ambon to defend the Al Fatah Mosque and the Muslims in the capital city. The Hitu Muslims are known locally as warriors with superior fighting skills and religious devotion, their physique and beards lend them the appearance of mujahiddin in Afghan and Chechnya. It is said that one of the men's commanders was a young boy of 14. Reports said how the Hitu men then attacked four Christian villages on their way to Ambon, causing a great casualty on the part of the Christian camp. They were turned away from Ambon by a group of police Mobile Brigade.

On, 25 January 1999, Some 5,000 Muslims became the first group of refugees to flee Ambon, heading to South and Central Sulawesi provinces on the KM Rinjani ship. Since that time, the flow of refugees never ended. "They looked just like war refugees," said Ambon port director Captain Soetedjo. An estimated 200,000 Muslims are now still living in various makeshift refugee centres, some 19,000 Muslim homes have been burned to the ground. The violence immediately spread from Ambon to the sub-districts in other islands with various triggers. Aproaching the middle of 1999, situation in Ambon had cooled down.

On 12 May 1999 a peace agreement was signed in a ceremony at the Merdeka Square in Ambon, witnessed by then Armed Forces commander General Wiranto, local religious and community leaders. Unfortunately, as soon as the hustle and bustle of the general election (June 7) was over, violence again erupted. This time it affected Saparua Island, triggered by a quarrel over some spice plantations in Ulath and Sirisori villages. Dozens of Muslims were murdered. One of those who escaped the atrocity described how their attackers used some automatic weapons. At around the same time, tension returned to Ambon with clashes erupting on the streets followed by the burning of dozens of houses in the Perumnas and Poka areas. Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela later said the arson was actually a fire caused by a short-circuit.

In the following month, Pelemesan Latuconsina, a Muslim student at the Pattimura University, was killed in his campus and his body was set on fire on top of a stack of tyres. A Muslim lecturer, Husein Salampessy, was also attacked but was saved by a military officer passing by the attack site.

Dozens of Muslim students and lecturers' houses were also attacked around this period.

At the beginning of December 1999, Governor Saleh Latuconsina called religious and youth leaders to a gathering, and asked them to read a declaration of restraint and a cessation to violence as a gesture of respect for the onset of Ramadhan and the upcoming Christmas season.

On 12 December 1999, President Abdurrahman Wahid, Vice President Megawati Soekamoputri, and several cabinet ministers visited Ambon. President Wahid said in his speech that only the Ambonese could solve the conflict among themselves. The following day, even before Megawati left Ambon, a clash took place in Seram Island. Five were killed and dozens of houses were burned down.

In Ramadhan, 28 December 1999, a massacre of Muslims occurred in North Halmahera. An estimated 800 Muslims from three separate villages were killed overnight on Dec. 28, 1999 and scores of women were raped on the streets by Christian attackers in the latest outburst of violence between the two groups. The attack took place at about the time the Muslims of Halmahera district were breaking their fast and preparing to say their Maghrib prayers...Only two days before, the Christian mobs had also attacked some Muslim enclaves in the district.

The last atrocity in the villages of Gurua, Popelo and Luari in Tobelo sub-district brought the death toll to up 2,500 in Halmahera over the past five months. Various mosques and Islamic offices were also burned down in the district of 50,000 population where Muslims are the minority with only 5,000 people."Thousands of Christian in trucks rode through the Muslim villages, and started spraying the Muslim homes with gasoline and set them on fire. When the inhabitants fled their homes, the Christian attackers then slaughtered them," says Thamrin Amal Tomagola, a respected, Maluku-born sociologist at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. "When some Muslims and local Chinese people ran for shelter in the local mosques, the Christian mobs set those mosques in fire, burning those inside alive."

The next day, another attack by Christian mob was launched against Muslim villagers in another sub-district, Susupu. There are no official reports about the casualty figure in this attack. The circle of violence is there. Victims have fallen in both the Muslim and Christian camps.

What soon ensued was a war of information. The Christian camp then spread words about "the atrocities of Muslims" against the Christian people in Maluku. They, too, hold conferences and gatherings for their cause just like what we are doing now in Newcastle. Journalists sent to Ambon had to contend with the widening "demarcation" between Muslim and Christian enclaves, so much so that no Muslim reporter could ever go and get the story from the Christian camp and vice versa. This is why it would be difficult for people to get what is called a neutral and balance account of what is going on in Maluku provinces.

3. Ethnic conflict, religious conflict or a Muslim-cleansing?

This is also why people are now questioning whether the violence in Maluku was an ethnic conflict, a religious conflict or a Muslim cleansing? The answer depends on where you are standing and whom you are asking.

If you are in Jakarta and ask the government, the answer would be the first -it's the same answer given by both the military and the civil administration under both B.J. Habibie and the incumbent Abdurrahman Wahid. President Wahid had in fact repeatedly denied the Maluku unrest was a religious conflict; he called it instead a conflict between ethnic groups, or even a conflict among political elite. This stance was said to prevent the conflict from spreading to other parts of Indonesia, and to prevent undue, dramatic international attention. I think other parties with weak ghirah would give the same answer.

If you ask either Muslim or Christian group, both in and out of Maluku, the answer would be that it has been a religious conflict or war. Inside Maluku everyone is involved in any possible measures to defend themselves and their property from being attacked or seized by the other group. Outside of Maluku, so many people are now committed to helping (morally or materially) their brethren trapped in the violence in the provinces.

However, if you seek your answer in facts and data...

Firstly, approximately a month before the Bloody Eid-al-Fitri in January 1999, about 500 Christian Ambon hoodlums were sent home by Jakarta police headquarter on a ship from various areas in the capital city. They were enraged over the "Ketapang case" -an incident when a shady area lined with gambling and massage parlours in downtown Jakarta was attacked by local Muslims. The hoodlums, many of whom worked as bodyguards of those parlours, lost their employment after a riot which killed eleven of them. It is the belief of many people, including some activists of NGOs in Malukus, that the hoodlums returned home to provoke unrest in Maluku and expel Muslims from the province (Human Right Watch in New York also confirmed this fact).

Secondly, Muslims are the minority in Maluku. Logic would dictate that they were the ones who had to defend themselves from being attacked.

Thirdly, reports show that Muslim refugees far outnumbered the Christian refugees -approximately 200,000 Muslims are now living in appalling condition in various makeshift refugee centres, including in nearby South Sulawesi and Central Sulawesi provinces.

Based on these observations, I have to say that what's happening in Maluku is Muslim-cleansing. Many Christians have suffered, too, in the conflict, but only after Muslims rose and gone on the jihad to defend themselves and their homes.

4. Islam-Christian Relations and Power in Indonesia

Almost 55 years after its independence from the Christian Dutch colonial forces and the fascist Japanese occupation in the second world war, Indonesia, which is the world largest Muslim population, has proved its benevolence by accepting the some 12 percent non-Muslim groups into its fold.

This generosity was shown even further when one day after the independence on August 17, 1945, Muslim leaders agreed to revise the opening of the Constitution that said that "the state of Indonesia is based upon the belief in one God, with the Muslims' obligations to observe the shariah." Out of tolerance to Christian groups, the opening now mentions only the first part of the sentence.

It is obvious that the root of the tension between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia has existed since the establishment of the republic. It is therefore difficult to separate the question of religious co-existence with the question of power, regardless of who holds that power.

During the years of first president Sukarno, religious co-existence was in place mostly because of two factors: an awareness about being a newly-born state under the leadership of Sukarno and the strong leadership of ulemas and Muslim leaders, who were actually the founding fathers of Indonesia.

Under second president Soeharto, religious groups appeared to tolerate one another because of the strong military control over all spheres of people's lives. In the early years of his regime, Soeharto (who admitted to being a Muslim while adhering to the Hindu-Javanese mysticism like millions of other Javanese) launched a campaign to de-politicise Muslims.

His government controlled any of the Muslims' social and political activities. This approach received the support of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) -a think-tank set up by some Catholic and secular scholars and army commanders. For almost two-third of Soeharto's administration, the institute assisted him in cooking up his economic, political and social policies.

This period of de-politicised Islam provided Christian and Catholic missions with opportunities for aggressive and offensive proselytising. An issue of the Crescent International magazine in early 1980s discussed at length an international Christian network's plan to christianise Indonesia in 50 years. Such plan would not have been born had they been not convinced about how "conducive" the country was for their mission.

This period of politically-weak Indonesian Muslim community was also marked with cases of inter-marriages, cases of employers forcing their Christian belief to their poor Muslim servants, the domination of strategic posts in both the military and the civil service by either Christian-Catholics or by Muslims who were ashamed to admit they were Muslims, cases of proselytising masked as economic assistance or even rice donation, the establishment of churches within Muslim compounds...

The Council for the Islamiyyah Da'wa (led by the late Muslim leader Dr Mohammad Natsir) recorded in detail various tactics employed by the Christian group in Indonesia in a book called "Facts and Data of Christianisation in Indonesia." The book has been reprinted dozens of times over the 1980s and 1990s.

In many cases, these tactics created tension with Muslims at local levels, which were then suppressed very effectively by the military. Muslims then had to endure this situation silently. What some other countries thought as a peaceful co-existence among religious groups in Indonesia during Soeharto's years had been only a sham.

Over the last 10 years of his administration, Soeharto became so confident and stopped considering Muslims and Islam as a threat to his powers (though some observers believed it was because he now needed the support of Muslims, having exhausted the support of the Chinese major businessmen and other groups). He went on the Haj; he gave his blessing for the establishment of Islamic banks and other institutions, and the establishment of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI), and started to distance himself from the CSIS. He hinted at naming Hobby, a Muslim and high-tech wizard, as his successor, and basically created policies which were more Muslim-friendly.

Among the highlights of these new policies was when he went to Istanbul in 1997, on the invitation of Turkey PM Necmettin Erbakan, to set up an economic caucus with 7 other Islamic heads of state. Following this (now largely obscure) Developing-8, some Muslim leaders in Indonesia became so touched that they openly prayed that Soeharto be given a husnul khatimah. Gone are the bitterness and sad stories about how Soeharto's military officers from the lowest rank once tortured ulemas in prisons when they had done nothing but spreading the words of Allah.

Some social and political groups among Indonesian Muslims took advantage of the "wind of change" brought about by Soeharto in a very high profile way. They believed Habibie would become the next Indonesian leader, that he would be able to launch a democratisation that is free from the tyranny of the minority. Muslims would be safe, Soeharto would be safe, the military would be safe, and political, legal and economic democratisation would commence.

But what really happened was that the Christian and secular communities felt increasingly threatened, and they responded by building up opposition forces outside of the state administration system. Intrigues were launched, including one where a group of people raised up the issue of "fundamentalist Islam" which coincided nicely with Samuel P. Huntington's thesis of "clash of civilisation." Then Soeharto was toppled, an event that was helped along by the Asian economic crisis and widespread poverty and hunger in Indonesia.

Various social problems that had been there all along, now erupted into major conflicts and gave birth to national instability. Among the fuses to that "time bomb" was the poor Muslim-Christian relations. Maluku met all the "criteria" for the explosion to be arranged. The Muslims are the minority there. Following Soeharto's last friendly gesture toward the Muslims, the local administration was arranged in such a way as to be dominated by Muslims and so creating widespread jealousy among the Christian population. Finally, Maluku is not only remote from the capital city of Jakarta but is scattered into so many islands that are difficult to access and control.

5. Khatimah (Conclusion)

Both Habibie and President Wahid have so far failed to control the fire in Maluku. Both faced at least two major problems concerning the question of territorial integrity -growing economic and social discontentment in regions after years of exploitation by Soeharto's regime, and growing restiveness in the military who has had to lose their various privileges because of the ongoing political reform in the past two years.

Many people believe that the outcome of the current standoff between the military and President Wahid would greatly affect any efforts to search for solution for the Maluku conflict. In addition, President Wahid has been made busy answering political attacks against his leadership. All these have made some people to think that prospects for peace and solution to the Maluku conflict are dim indeed. Much would depend on the civil administration's ability to control the restiveness in the military; otherwise, conflicts within the military would continue to hamper any effective efforts to solve the Maluku conflict. It is actually a common problem faced by every new civil administration for the sake of political reform. Wallaahu a'lam bish-shawab.

Bristol, 11 February 2000
Wpr with full support from Swe

  • this paper was delivered for "Indonesian Day" program, organized by Muslim Association of Britain, Asians Society in Newcastle and University of Newcastle Islamic Society, Sat. 12 Feb. 2000

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