Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet Vignettes in Indonesia ; Sectarian Violence in the Maluku Islands Rages, but Reconciliation Is Also in the Works

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Quiet Vignettes in Indonesia ; Sectarian Violence in the Maluku Islands Rages, but Reconciliation Is Also in the Works

Article excerpt

During a year of sectarian violence, the city of Ambon in Indonesia's Maluku islands has become a checkerboard of hatreds. A Muslim who enters a Christian quarter will very likely meet death, and vice versa.

For centuries, followers of both religions existed amicably here, until a mixture of resentments, political changes, and possibly some external provocations turned the two sides against each other. Some 1,000 people have died in clashes in the region from Dec. 26 to Jan. 17, according to the military.

But a few days spent in Ambon shows that life is not all riots and standoffs. In the quiet times, people return to overlooking their differences. Reconciliation - though it isn't imminent and won't be easy - seems possible.

Side-by-side market

Just down the street from where the Muslims rallied, an informal interreligious market has started. With a military checkpoint close at hand, Muslims bring goods to sell to Christians.

Mostly the trade is in entertainment - satellite tuners, video disc machines, stereo equipment. Watching the tube is especially prized in a place where a 10 p.m. curfew puts a damper on nightlife.

Idris Kiyat, the imam of a nearby mosque, says that the solution to the religious strife in the Malukus "has to come from the grass roots."

The sidewalk market illustrates his point. Never mind that some of the trade is in black-market pornographic videos that would probably scandalize the imam. At least the two sides are getting together for something.

Refuge on a Naval base

The Indonesian Navy's Halong base is just 30 minutes by speedboat from one of Ambon's Christian docks. Nearly 6,000 refugees have found safety here.

Muslims and Christians live side by side and worship in the base's mosque and church. Muslim and Christian sailors and soldiers work together.

Why this coexistence, when outside the base there is such turmoil? "It's under military control," says 1st Lt. Gunawan.

Indeed, the base is a microcosm for one vision of a peaceful Indonesia - where an authoritarian government stifles disagreements through sheer power. …

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