Despite a flurry of warnings about possible violence over the
holidays, residents in this capital of Central Sulawesi Province,
thought the bomb blast that ripped through a nearby pork-selling
market on New Year's Eve was an earthquake.
They were convinced, like so many others in the region, that the
communal tensions that erupted into deadly clashes between Muslims
and Christians five years ago were a thing of the past. Even after
finding out it was a bomb, they condemned it as simply the work of a
small group of "terrorists."
"Christian and Muslim people used to be very easily provoked,"
says a local Christian, Leo Parengkuan, as he sits drinking coffee
on his porch with a Muslim friend. "Now they're not, because the
people know that the violence is not because of religion, but
because of politics, economics, and other things."
This refusal to be provoked by a recent string of sensational
attacks - including the beheading of three girls walking to a
Christian school in October and an ineffectual bomb blast near a
church Monday - marks strong popular support for a 2001 peace accord
designed to end several years of large-scale Christian-Muslim
A deeper understanding of the unrest has sprung out of a general
conflict fatigue, with more people seeing past the seeming religious
nature of the ongoing attacks. Observers credit the careful work by
community and religious leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and
even the once-fiery local media with promoting that understanding.
Top religious leaders from both sides held public meetings to
talk about the need to end the conflict, and quickly and jointly
condemned further violence. NGO workers went to villages teaching
people to look more critically at the conflict, and trained local
youth "peace agents" to do the same. Comic books were developed for
children in nearby Poso with stories involving Muslim and Christian
characters resolving problems through tolerance.
"Muslims and Christians would really open their minds when they
saw this," says Iskandar Lamuka, director of the Institute for
Empowering Civil Society (LPMS) in Poso.
Tasrief Siara, a journalist for independent Nebula radio in Palu,
worked with other reporters and photographers to cover these peace-
building efforts and promoted "peace journalism" in the area after
seeing the way the local coverage of the conflict stoked tensions.
"We began reporting not only on how many victims there were, how
bad the mutilation was, ... but the impact of the violence on the
people," Siara says, "how many children were losing their fathers
and mothers, and how many widows were losing their husbands - the
mental impact, not just the physical."
The impact of such efforts is being felt even in the district of
Poso - the heart of the conflict in Sulawesi that left more than
1,000 dead - where burned and destroyed houses and religious
buildings are easier to find than sectarian anger. …