(A Coconut Leaf Plaited-Mat Strategy)



  • Jacky Manuputty





The period of transition of the Indonesian Archipelago from Soeharto’s new order to the reformation period significantly increased the number of conflicts in many parts of Indonesia. It was in the beginning of the year, 1998, when Indonesia had been struck by social, economic, and political chaos. That situation was getting worse, especially, when Soeharto’s regime, those who had ruled the nation for the last thirty years, was forced to resign, and finally collapsed. The typology of these conflicts is very diverse, such as religious conflict, ethnic conflict, or natural resources conflict, while the length of each conflict also varied.


The Maluku conflict is one of the conflicts that exploded during this period. The conflict had started in January, 1999, until the end of the year 2003. Considering the geographical length of the Maluku Province, the spread of conflict, percentage of population, total number of refugees and fatalities, and scale of destruction, some conflict analysts noticed that the Maluku conflict is the biggest “religious conflict” during the independent period of Indonesia. This conflict destroyed the Malukan community, both physically and mentally.


Through this paper, I am attempting to portray the Maluku conflict in a glimpse, especially related with our effort to overcome violence and bring about peace.


Maluku Conflict and Its Impact



The conflict began on January, 1999, on the day of holy Ramadan for the Muslim community.   It was a petty dispute between the local Christian public minibus driver and two other immigrant Muslims, who tried to extort money from the driver. Just in a couple days, the accident between them degenerated into overwhelming “religious conflict” and fired up the whole region just a couple of months later. The entire province was totally divided according to a religious line during the first month of the conflict.


Conflict escalation arose quickly and mobilized people from both sides, either to flee to the safe place, or to support their group joining the battle. Anyway, the prominent element that comes up since the beginning of the conflict was religion. Religion centralized the whole conflict’s energy and justified prolonged conflicts based on the interpretation of its value system and the authority of religious’ figures and institutions. There is no doubt that during the conflict, religions played a significant role in order to rationalize conflict as a holy war. There is no hesitation that throughout the conflict, most of religious’ figures in both parties legalized violence for their followers. On this phenomenon, the main question occurs can Maluku’s conflict be categorized as a religious conflict? The answer to this question is essential to acquire a deep understanding of conflict’s anatomy, in order to offer a useful formula to overcome violence and develop peace.


There have been a number of studies on Maluku’s conflict as well as a lot of reports, journals, and books that have been published to recognize the conflict. Most publications noticed that this conflict couldn’t simply be categorized as a religious conflict, since there are so many other elements intertwined with religious matters that have inflamed the conflict. Most of Maluku’s people finally agree that this conflict could not be identified as a religious conflict. Religion is only a wagon for some other goals underneath, such as political, economical, and power. The conflict was engineered for political purposes while the religious dimension is just a cover to manipulate some other aims behind the curtain. In other words, they noticed that conflict is a part of a political conspiracy to destabilize Indonesia for the sake of political gain at the national level during the period of transition. Anyhow, some analysts have perceived that this conflict is also an accumulation of the sedimentary problems, which have existed deep down within Maluku’s society for a long decade; without the exception of religious encounter between Islam and Christians during the period of Maluku’s history. Anyhow, the main question is still hanging on. Why was religion so easily provoked?


Quasi history of the harmony of religions in Maluku Province


Over the centuries, Maluku was well known as a model for the harmony of Muslim-Christian relations in Indonesia. The Spice Islands have been identified as the preliminary region where Christianity as well as western colonist reached out to the Indonesian archipelago over 400 years ago. Long before this time, Islam had already settled in the region; brought by some merchants during the 14th century. As a spice islands, Maluku become a famous destination for international merchants throughout the world during medieval centuries. Robin A.Donkin, in his book “Between East and West,” even pointed out that since the first century the Spice Islands became a target area for the global traders or those who attempted to get spices from the original land of spices. This region becomes a melting point for many different cultural, religious and ethnic encounters over the centuries. From this point of view, we can understand that conflict in potential has been embodied within the Maluku society for centuries.


Regarding religious encounters, I have learned that since the beginning of the Abrahamic religious encounter in this region, they were trapped in tension among each other. There are various tensions between Catholics and Protestants, as well as tensions between Muslims and Christians. Since the western colonial period, many Islamism’s regions in Maluku have converted to Catholicism, then again switched to Protestantism during the period of the Dutch’s conquest. In order to easily control the region, the Dutch mobilized and cracked the local Maluku people according to religious lines.  That is why, since only a century before we are able to recognize a clear boundary between Muslim villages and Christian villages, over the entire region of the Maluku province. Such treatment planted a historical wound within the society. This wound had been repeatedly recounted over generations of Maluku people. This kind of treatment has also constructed a tendency of the people to identify their social bond according to religious compartments. Religion was no longer appreciated in terms of the divine identity, but also as the element of social integration. For that reason, we can discover that religious tolerance much more emerged as a kind of lazy tolerance.


There are, at least, two reasons why the tension between the Muslims and Christians is not erupting during the history of their encounter.


First, the Moluccan people have a unique cultural relation. They know and protect their genealogical alliance system among villages regardless of the differences of religious factions.  That is a kind of self defense mechanism especially during the periods of mass mobilization in the colonial conquest, where they utilized such a system to resist the foreign intruders. Anyhow, they also believed that some of these inter-village alliances even had their origins in the distant past, long before Europeans invaded the Spice Islands. A unique model of fraternity has been defended over the centuries through some unwritten social norms that were binding them all together. The norms have been manifested in ethical rules among two or more villages regardless of their differences on religion. For example, if a Christian village, which has a fraternity type relation with one other Muslim village, will renovate their church building, they have been required to request their fraternal Muslim village to come over and help them, and vice versa, if a Muslim village is going to do the same thing, and then the Christian must fully participate. When the project is finished, they all enter the mosque or church building together for a common service. They believed that if one of each village denies their liability, then prosperity will flow away from them. Any transgression against these rules is severely punished by the ancestors who founded the relation. Breaking, the rule means destroy the social pact. Maluku people believe that because of the existence of such a system, any potential antagonism between religions was held to a minimum[2]. Within the fraternity’s type of our culture, Moluccan people dealt among each other as a Moluccan first, and not primarily as a Christian or Muslim. In spite of the cultural bond, on one side, it could be recognized as a buffer element for conflict outbreaks, but I think it has insufficient strength to unite the Moluccan people altogether, since the system was merely binding a few different groups of villages and has not become a common ethics system for the entire Moluccan society. There is another reason, which is I will mention in the next section.


Second, for over 30 years, Indonesia’s political system has been conducted under duress. The centralization process and unification philosophy in conducting the national development were practiced into the whole aspects of public life. Such tight control has not only taken place at the political domain, but also affected the cultural and religious sphere. The aim to enforce firm control over the nation is to guarantee national security for the sake of the national economic development, for the order of the former president, Soeharto, Indonesia over emphasized economic reinforcement. During the period, Indonesia’s situation seemed very calm and harmonious, but it was a superficial condition under the tight control of this regime.


The problem that arose on the Maluku Province during the period of centralization was a weakened condition of the local cultural system and its influence on public life. This condition reduced the role of the local system to buffer conflict potentials; in addition, it has caused an accumulation of social tension that was just waiting for the right moment to engender as a conflict within society. Anyway, this situation is not only happening in Maluku province but also affected many other provinces. When the Pandora’s Box opened, through the collapse of Soeharto’s regime, then all the accumulated hidden tensions came out and settled on the ground. This fact proves to us that the harmonious conditions of religious society in Maluku over the centuries are no more than a quasi history among the Maluku people.


Regarding the conflict, I could say, in summary, that for many decades of their encounter, religions had not successfully developed a model of integration among them, which would be able to build up an ethical system on a broader level of social life. A type of social integration and harmony seen during this time was actually created by the local cultural system rather than a systematically religious effort.


The Dynamic of Conflict


The Maluku conflict degenerated into a full-blown “religious conflict” through its sixth phase. From one phase to another, the quality of violence had rapidly grown. On both sides people were arming themselves with homemade guns, which then increased to heavy machine guns; with homemade boom to grenades and mortars. The entire region was extremely divided according to the Christian area as well as the Muslim area. Fatalities of the conflict spread out on the street regardless of age and gender. The death toll increased to 9000, the number of people on both sides, according to the government’s official report, while some other sources reported that the number was increased to 15,000 people. The conflict also caused massive internal displacement of persons (IDP). Over 500,000 people fled to another safe region; in addition, hundreds of thousands of them have been displaced to many other provinces; even though some small numbers have illegally sailed to the northern part of Australia. This means that almost half the population of the Maluku province becomes an IDP during the conflict.


Increasing tension and escalation of the conflict attracted national (and even international) solidarity combatants to come to the region and take both sides in defending their religious group on the battlefield. Jihadist warriors on the Muslim’s side for instance, have rapidly and nationally organized themselves, based on the jihad fatwa launched by some Muslim sheikh from Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Since the second phase of the conflict, thousands of them regularly arrived in the Maluku region and were fighting side by side with local Muslims, while on the other side, Christian groups obtained financial support from different sources outside in order to arm themselves.


The conflict grew worse when some military units, as well as police, have stood on the sidelines and even participated in defending each religious faction on the battleground. There were a number of reports describing how embarrassed the military and police roles were during the conflict. I was even filmed in many events when military and police units played a deadly game on both sides. That is why I have been suspected as their enemy with many other peace activists who have been threatened during the conflict. Indeed, some political and military analysts noticed that military’s role during the conflict has been to boost their bargaining position against the president and other civilian politicians on the national level; including those who were working at that period of national transition to amend the national constitution, which is expected to end the military and police’s political role over the nation. As people well know, if the country’s highest legislative body had endorsed the amendments, then the military and police’s political role would have ended in the year 2004. Of course, the sudden change would have shocked both the military and the police by extremely limiting their economic privileges, which they achieved by their control over the country for more than three decades.


Anyway, the Maluku conflict leaves nothing but disaster. The social conflict that raged for about four years in Maluku Province-Indonesia has brought about tragic destruction of the society on a massive scale. The conflict did not only destroy buildings physically, including public facilities and settlements, but also structures, moral values and social relationships. As a result, communities are conditioned to experience prolonged trauma, and proceed in their lives in a segregated environment. Ironically, communities are segregated by religion, i.e. Islam and Christianity, as the conflict was triggered and sustained by religious issues, which are perceived as a sensitive aspect in Maluku. Communities are not only segregated by their abodes, but also by their individual mentalities. This has more permanently highlighted the trend of religious segregation, which was observed since the colonial period. Unhealthy social phenomena had provided a tragic ending that saw the dead bodies of our children, the embers of destruction, gunpowder that destroyed our cloves and nutmeg, and deteriorating life for adults. The children received the worst treatment because they were influenced by fear and hate that were demonstrated in their behaviors due to the anger and hate planted deep in their minds.


The most important damage is the devastation of religion’s mandate as an agent of peace. There are no doubts that during the conflict, entire religious elements are involved that inflamed the conflict. From the tower of mosques, a command to do jihad was shouting almost all the time, while inside the churches priests were praying for Christian combatants and gave blessings on their arms before going to battle. The holy Qur’an, such as the Bible, and the interpretation of these texts is utilized to justify violence and the right to kill the infidel. “This is a holy war, and we must defend our religion from its enemy,” that is what most people believed during the conflict. For that reason, most of the religious symbols, even though they were peace symbols, were reinterpreted and earned the new meaning in order to fire up the conflict. The word “Shalom” which means “Peace,” has been utilized in Christian groups to symbolize togetherness when they are going to the battlefield. Whenever we hear people shouting “Shalom,” we recognize the Christian combatants are ready to fight against their enemy. On the other side, when Muslims are yelling, “Allahu Akbar” which means “God is the greatest,” then we knows that they are marching to war.  There is no other prominent figure on the battleground than a religious leader who would be able to interpret the just war doctrine and justify that God required a holy war against infidels. Both Muslim and Christian’s combatants will not leaving for the battlefield without the blessing from their religious figure; otherwise, there is no blessing before the leader has quoted some verses of their holy book on behalf of God almighty.


When I read Charles Kimball’s book, “When Religion Becomes Evil,” I obtained a more complete mirror that was structurally reminding me of the wicked role of religion during the conflict in my homeland. At least four of the five major points of Kimball’s book could be appropriately applied to the portrait of the “religious conflict” in the Maluku Province. The first major point is an ‘absolute truth claim,’ where religion becomes God for its followers, which requires the obedience of its followers. The second point is the ‘blind obedience,’ where religious leaders have been considered as the representatives of God. The third one is ‘the end justifies any means,’ where, for the purity of religion, people are ready to sacrifice others. The fourth point is ‘declaring holy war,’ where religious followers could be sacrificed themselves. These four points were intertwined and poured gasoline on the conflict for many years. There is no doubt that religion has presented itself in a terrible manner for the period of Maluku’s conflict. Such a manner that I truly believe has been imprinted on the memory of Maluku’s society and will take place for a long time into the future. For that reason, all efforts to develop new dimensions of a religious encounter in Maluku Province are imperative and must be done.


The Effort to Overcome Violence and Building Peace

In general, the effort to bring an end to the conflict and bring about peace building there has two different levels: First, the exertions of government, which are dominated by humanitarian aid distribution and a security approach. In terms of humanitarian assistance, the government is getting support from many international agencies as well as foreign countries. There are international outcries from many international bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union which have motivated and managed campaign of humanitarian aid by the United Nations Development Program, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program and the World Health Organization. The ICRC, Medicins Sans Frontieres, World Vision, ACF, and hundreds of other international and national NGO’s come into Maluku’s region of conflict with the Indonesian government’s appeal and approval. The United Nations even set up the office of the United Nations’ joint effort on Maluku humanitarian assistance that consists of eight UN different organizations.


Concerning the security situation, the Indonesian government has regularly deployed at least 34 well-armed battalions of our national troops in order to secure the region, which consists of only 1.3 people. These battalions are the army, the navy, the air force, the Special Forces and the police. In spite of the many battalions that have come there, the conflict still escalated. Following the increased death toll, the central government implemented a Civil Emergency status in Maluku Province from June, 2000, to September, 2003. Regarding the Civil Emergency status, which was insufficient to end the conflict effectively, the central government considered implementing Martial Law over the province. Fortunately, national members of parliament rejected the idea of Martial Law.


Within the framework of security treatment, the government gathered some meetings and dialogues among many different groups in Malukan society. There were 34 meetings that I counted during the conflict period initiated by the government to gather several segments of society, such as religious leaders, traditional leaders, youth leaders, women activists and so on. The most important dialogue meeting, which the government believes ended the conflict, is known as “the Malino Agreement.” The meeting was held in Malino, a town of the South Sulawesi Province in February 2002. This meeting brought together both conflict groups, which consisted of different segments of society, and they finally came up with 11 points of agreement to end the four-year conflict. This accord agreed to stop violence, support socioeconomic development, and undertake a national independent investigation into what originally sparked the conflict.


The treatment that the government has given is the top down approach to overcome the violence; nevertheless, there are many other efforts in terms of community-based conflict resolution, which were been initiated by many groups on the ground. My report, as the secretary of the Maluku Protestant Church’s Crisis Center, registered that there are 113 separate dialogue meetings, on many different scales, which were sporadically initiated by civil society components during the first years of the conflict, in order to prevent the spreading of conflict over the region. In spite of grassroots efforts and initiatives, they were not able to assist since the tension of conflict was greatly escalated. Even though they tried, they failed because there was always a fresh conflict. Nevertheless, these initiatives were able to construct a sufficient condition where other efforts have been enabled to enhance the peace process in more systematic and structural ways. I noticed that the women’s movement, to overcome the violence, was the first existing group for the duration of the conflict, despite the fact that many women that are under threat by the major group, who were opposed to the peace process at the time. Otherwise, some groups are systematically working together through underground movements in order to break the cycle of violence and bring about peace. Next, I will describe such underground peace movements, where I was deeply involved in its process, from the beginning to the end.


Such underground movements started in January, 2000, when the conflicts had highly escalated. At that time, it seemed impossible to talk about peace, even in our own religious group, since people still cynically pointed their finger at someone else as a traitor.   There are small units of combatants in both groups, who are put in charge in order to hijack and even secretly kill the people, who have been considered collaborators. This is one reason why our effort had to take place underground for almost one year, before finally coming up and settling on the ground. Strategically, this movement could be highlighted through some points that I will mention in the following section.


Setting Up the Core Group of the Peace Network


            There are some peace activists who came to Maluku and secretly encouraged some figures from both conflicting groups to meet each other. At that time, they were able to persuade twelve prominent figures to gather outside Maluku Island. The first meeting of this small group was held in the capital of Indonesia, far away from the hot spot or region of conflict. During the meeting, we just exchanged our experiences, reflecting with each other, while some social and political analysts conducted discussions among us in order to figure out the nature of the conflict. It was not easy to hear, among each other during the meeting, each other’s prejudices which still weigh heavily upon us. Anyway, when we counted the number of victims, and other impact of the conflict, we realized that a quick response should be taken to stop the violence. Searching for the common enemy was the other major point which surfaced during the meeting, where finally we noticed that both military and political advantages have predominantly colored the conflict behind the curtain, rather than religious matters. Sometimes some conflict analysts have intimated that the conspiracy perspective regarding military or political roles behind the curtain was just a trick in order to blame a scapegoat. Of course, we can argue about the military or political hidden agendas behind the conflict, but indeed, I could not deny that many times I utilized just such a trick in order to get a cease-fire and then bridge the two conflicting groups.


There was not an easy way to cultivate our peace embryo when we returned home since the conflict had escalated so much, especially when our relatives have been killed, or our belongings have been destroyed. The conflict cost us too much, so it was difficult to keep a distance from the hatred and vengeance that we felt. This one meeting could not automatically reduce our own eagerness to defend our own group. The desire of peace did not go away but grew slowly, especially when we were able to distance ourselves from the conflict region. Through many meetings outside, we were getting closer, among each other, and then getting a stronger commitment to enlarge our networks back home. Keeping in touch with each other was the most important thing that we agreed on during the series of our small group meetings. Nevertheless, the situation was getting worse in terms of our communication back home when public communication systems were also devastated, while the entire region already was divided according to religious lines. The neutral places where we were able to meet with each other were only army or police security posts that were located along the border of the Christians and Muslims’ demarcation. Such hidden encounters, at security posts, are not only unsecure but also uncomfortable for us because we have to pay either military or police personnel for their security service during the short duration of our meeting.  Anyhow, we were more confident that our efforts to overcome violence could not be stopped. Secretly we provoked people on both sides by distributing the ideas of our common enemies, those who sacrificed us for their own hidden agendas. Just in a couple of months, we could get new members from both groups, those who voluntarily joined our network. When USAID decided to support the following series of meetings of our underground peace movement, then we caught a great glimpse of the momentum necessary to enlarge the network and its activities, in order to plant the desires for peace within the conflict region.


The new participant of our movement was increasing gradually. From the initial year of our first initiative meeting, we were able to bring about forty figures to join in the follow-up meetings, outside the region. They all came from disparate backgrounds, such as traditional and religious leaders, women activists, youth groups, journalists and lawyers, grassroots’ leaders and combatants. Regarding the recruitment of our new participants, there were some conditions that should be considered, such as the level of charisma of the figure, their ability to influence somebody else, sub-ethnic representatives, gender representatives, and the most important thing was the patronage system of the Maluku society.


During the sessions, we would wisely consider the cohesive topics as an entry point to bind the dialogue for all the participants, and guide the sessions’ process from phase to phase effectively. Sometimes, for the high-tension interactive discussions we would remove the main sensitive issue at the beginning of the process. Instead, we had to develop our dialogue by introducing each other’s supporting issues gradually, in order to increase the intimacy of participants, before we could extend the dialogue process to focus on the main idea or central issue. We realized that the first meeting would not achieve a good atmosphere if we would address some sensitive issues at the beginning of the process, such as the issue of the religious role during the conflict. It was imperative to recognize that the common appreciation among each other had been enhanced. By considering that all participants of the dialogue sessions have been infected by a “religious bloody conflict” for at least four years, we decided to put aside every sensitive issue regarding religion or religiosity, and choose some supporting issues concerning human rights and the effect of the conflict on human dignity. Our purpose in choosing such issues was to strengthen intimacy among the participants, by introducing their common positions as victims of the conflict, as well as their collective responsibilities to overcome such kinds of humanitarian problems. We made the analogy about the strategy similar to ‘eating the hot porridge’ where people always started from the outside of the bowl and then worked their way to the center. On the other side, we consented to continue using local traditions and our particular hospitality, such as local idioms, the specific gesture, and local music to accommodate the different interest among participants. The consequence of such consensus was that the local traditional leader must take the lead of our movement. Actually, what we did strategically was to switch the eagerness of the conflict among each other and transformed that energy to combat our common problems. For charismatic figures who really were involved in the conflict front line, we tried to convince them that being a peace activist does not reduce their charisma, but actually, they would get a big opportunity to work for many more people, regardless of their ethnic group, race or religion.

When we felt our core-group getting stronger, we were able to move to the next step of our peace approach. We named the second stage of our approach ‘a coconut leaf plaited-mat strategy.’


A Coconut Leaf Plaited-Mat Strategy


A  Coconut Leaf Plaited-Mat Strategy is the strategy to multiply and cultivate the core group to make many new groups in every exclusive religious region. Throughout the previous phase, we agreed that every participant should set up their own new core group secretly, according to the same profession that they have. That is why, in the second year of our underground movement, we had many small interfaith coalition groups, such as the group of interfaith lawyers, the interfaith journalist group, the Interreligious IDP’s coalition, the traditional music and dance group for Peace Movement, and the Traditional Leaders bond. Finally, in the third year of the movement, we came up with the Maluku Interfaith Foundation, which consisted of every religious party; even those who were in conflict during the period. To multiply the new group, participants of our core team replicated the same strategy that we used to set up the core team since the beginning. It was not only the strategy, but also the custom and culture of our movement. Nevertheless, they just modified some minor point of strategy in order to synchronize their approach to the specific character of the new group. At the end of the second year of the movement, we had more confidence in declaring our movement to the public.


At the same time, we set up small units that consisted of some prominent figures, those who were in charge of advocacy movements in order to gain support for our peace process at both the national and international levels. Since the Maluku conflict affected the national atmosphere on a large scale, we decided to get a road show in an important province, which is well known as a region with militant combatants regularly deployed to side with religious groups in the Maluku conflict. Through the peaceful road show, we gained support from some prominent national figures, those who joined us in pushing the central government into taking serious responsibility for its role in overcoming the violence and bringing about peace to the Spice Islands. There is a national appeal which comes up many times demanding for hidden intellectual actors and groups to stop their roles in politicizing the Maluku conflict. In a similar way, the small interfaith groups were on plane regularly to gain support at the international level, such as European countries and its institution. They did this in order to assist the Indonesian government to deal with such kinds of bloody conflicts, and to make a quick response concerning the human rights gross violation that has occurred during the conflict.


All of our efforts to maintain and weave every different group within the Maluku Society were making progress in order to increase trust between each actor. We were able to create neutral meeting points among us and even some of us felt increasing confidence in secretly crossing the border to meet our partners from the different factions. Nevertheless, this progress could not guarantee security for any of us. One of our Muslim partners was killed during his journey to collect our questioner on the other island, while I was beaten by military personnel, and my home was burned by a Christian mob when I traveled outside for a peace campaign. Terror, blackmail, being threatened, being accused and shot, and even the threat of being killed are heavy costs that we experienced along this process.  But we truly believed that so long as the conflict was still going on, we would have to pay unpredictable and serious costs. There is no point of return, for we cannot imagine how our people and our families would suffer if the conflict was still escalating. At every meeting, we repeatedly convinced ourselves that nobody should take our rights to live in peace for their own advantages. This is the time when we came to the third phase of our process.


Affecting the Society and Enlarging Neutral Zones


It is not easy to lift the level of trust in our society since people already are skeptical because of the many failures of the peace processes. For that reason, we avoid using the term of peace in our approach within society. What we did to gather people from both sides was to hold negotiations over our common needs. Concerning the divided area between Muslims and Christians, people were needed to get a secure route for public transportation so they would not pay big amounts for military security protection services if they would come across their enemy’s region. Regarding their common need, we initiated a number of meetings among the Muslims and Christians, especially those who lived in the surrounding areas that we had targeted to become neutral zones. Our negotiation gathering has involved both the military and the police commanders, who are in charge of order to secure the targeted area during the time.  At the end of 2001, we were able to secure three neutral zones, where people from both sides were able to gain access through neutral roads. Both groups conducted joint efforts to secure the road.


The movement motivated people to set up some other melting points among them, such as small economic transaction areas and truck drivers’ melting points. Fortunately, at the end of 2001, the conflict had been deescalated, and the Muslim Jihad Warriors declared their dispersal at the national level. Such conditions had fired up our peace network to maximize the peace movement. Our peace activists took advantage of every small chance to convince our people that overcoming violence and building peace were the only choices for our better future. In spite of some mysterious actors who kept trying to sabotage our peace process by exploding high impact explosive homemade bombs or throwing grenades in public areas, people were not easily provoked. This provided a chance for us to declare our campaign for peace, while we regularly encourage people by spreading an issue of our common alien enemies in order to strengthen solidarity among our people. There is no clear answer regarding the singular causality of the conflict at that time, so we were able to play the “common enemy game,” in order to speed up our efforts to overcome violence and build peace.


Happily, through the approach of youthful core groups within their bonds, there were some hardliner youth fighters who decided to join our movement and utilize their influence on larger groups of fighters. Switching their image from youth fighters to youth peace activists was imperative and had to be done. We learned that we should keep their level of acceptance within society in an equal way when they switched their role from combatant to peace activist. Sometimes the ex-fighter feels desperate when a community of peace is stigmatizing him as an actor in the conflict. A few of them silently left our movement since they felt unwelcome by other peace activists; but then they returned when we utilized media to profile and publish their figures as peace activists. In some of our journeys abroad, we even involved them, so they could gain respect from our broader peace network. Such respect motivated them to do more for the peace process back home, and our goal to influence them to work in their homeland to bond with other peace activists, and to be on fire for the peace movement.


There are other movements within the society which enhance the peace atmosphere.  These movements were helped by many international institutions as well as the government.  The government’s role in this was to make political decisions. One thing we learnt from this process that there is no way for the peace process to be strong enough and firmly exist from the bottom up perspective, except with the political stronghold of power to push it up.




In learning from our bitterness, we found there were no other choices that presented themselves to us, except to move forward and embrace the more positive aspect of this entire journey, which became our entry into the peaceful side and turned away from the chaos and conflict.  The process of moving forward should be understood, as a religious dialectic relationship where religions would be able to find the “common spirit” The dialectic relationship that I am referring to is a true living dialogue process.  In other words, this process is an effort in learning how to synthesize   both the thesis and the antithesis along the path to the religious encounter.


The spirit to move forward, in togetherness, is embodied in every religion; however, they would need to have an open dialogue, sharing from each particular religion its context and its specific culture. The Moluccan conflict made clear, that for a long time, the Muslims and Christians failed to contextualize themselves in the Moluccan cultural system.  Basically, the Malukan cultural system has, in place, already what I refer to above as “the synthesizing of the thesis and the antithesis,” in order to keep tension from escalating during the difficult times. This synthesizing relationship can be traced within the existing local idioms that we embrace every day, such as the idiom of “Siwalima,” which we used to bridge the dichotomy of the clan of Siwa and the clan of Lima.


How can we find a model for religions, such as the Christians and Muslims in Maluku to synthesize their fragmented relation? This question continues to be the main focal point because the conflict permanently divides people according to their religious lines, not only by their geographical location but also by their mentality.  For instance, the conflict changed the local, common cultural idiom that served to bind us as a Malukan society during that time.  In reference to my point about how the local mentality changed after the conflict, we used to say, “bung” to signify an elder man, and “usi” to refer to an older woman.  After the conflict, the Muslims began using their word, “abang,” to refer to an older man, and “caca” now represented an older woman.  These terms were changed by the Muslims just to show the division between the in groups and the out groups.


Dialectical relations, in terms of religious contextualization were being viewed as a big effort that needed to be taken care of by all of the religious factions.  Now, I will attempt to explain what I mean by contextualization, by referring to three basic points or principles.


First, contextualization as a dialectical of culture.


The best way to understand the perspective of religious contextualization is to portray how the Moluccan people apply Islam and Christianity in their own cultures.  On this point, the history of religions in Maluku should be read from the social-religious viewpoint, and not merely from the social-political frame of mind.  For a long time, the social-political perspective shaped the cognitive pattern of Moluccan society .That is why people had a tendency to understand more clearly the history of religious encounters as a history of conquerors and invaders.  After the conflict, the religious role must be developed for a kind of socio-religious format in terms of its contextualization within the Moluccan culture.  However, religious relationships, in this sense, became a kind of socio-cultural dialectic, especially in encounters with the local Moluccan cultural system.  In other words, religious people should have found a particular way of being a local Moluccan Christian, as well as a local Moluccan Muslim. The process of being Christian Moluccan religion and Muslim Moluccan religion is not truly steeped in the Moluccan culture because for a long period of time the Christians, as well as the Muslims in Moluccas, tended to embrace the “old baggage” of Abrahamic religions instead of contextualizing within the local cultural system.  So it is that the contextualization of Christian and Islam is not yet part of the local Moluccan culture – it is still in the process – it is not finished yet.  During our peace movement sessions, especially when we set up the Moluccas interfaith institution, such topics of contextualization repeatedly came up as a main issue.


Second, contextualization as a dialectical of liberation

The other path of the contextualization of religions in Moluccan civilization should be based on the understanding and the empathy of the Moluccan people, which the conflict served to destroy; as human beings, every person is entitled to his/her dignity.  Religions, per se, should not only understand the concept of human dignity, but they must also have empathy for all of humanity, especially when a threat is imminent.  With empathy, they are able to more readily put themselves into the depth and breadth of another human being in order to “truly feel what the victim feels.”  Concerning the fate of the victims of conflict, all religions must be able to embody each person individually and meet them sincerely at their exact same level. All religions have truly believed that re-humanizing man’s dignity was the main objective of their calling. Emphatically putting concern on one’s human dignity, especially when it has degenerated due to the conflict, presents the place where religions could really contextualize themselves within the Moluccan society.    Contextualization not only refers to the way that religions have dialogued with the local Moluccan culture, but also concentrates on the manner of religions and their effort to advocate the destruction of man’s dignity. Based on this foundation, the dialectic of religious encounters has significantly grown to reach the level of the dialectic of humanity, where religions from different backgrounds have gathered on their equal levels of concern. This principle plus their common goals toward the liberation of the oppressor from their evil deeds is a level of concern, as well as the necessary tool which must be utilized in order to liberate those who have been oppressed.


Third, Contextualization as dialectical of hope

The third perspective of religions’ contextualization into the Moluccan society is the way those religions guide the history of their encounters in a more meaningful direction. To determine the direction of their history is not only a duty of religions regarding their socio-historical entity, but also in order to actualize their theological existence it is a necessity. All the Abrahamic religions believe that their mission on earth has taken place through their dialogical participation with God, who has kept working all along the periods of history. From that principle, religions can clearly see that consciousness of God must be intertwined with their caring of man, regardless of race, faith, ethnicity or class. By this example, all religions would be able to proclaim hope for humanity. Hope does not exist in the empty space, but lives through our participation with God. This is dialectic of hope, where all religions should look forward to walking together and in togetherness with God, for the sake of justice, peace, and the integration of humanity. Just when religions become evil, then we will lose our hope to gain something better for the future of humankind.

Three paths of religious contextualization that I briefly mentioned above have become entwined with our peace effort in a practical way, especially when we founded the Moluccas Interfaith Institution for Humanity in the year 2003. Bringing interreligious relations down to earth is our main objective. Through many different programs, we have tried to resonate the bitterness that screams loudly as each victim’s voice is heard and understood. It is this scream for our local people to confront religions for the real context of their duties in implementing their own common sense of calling. We believe that when such bitterness cries out due to the context, this emotion will color the mission of religion; then and only then, can interreligious relation be more fruitful and prosperous.

As regards the conflict transformation, in order to change the culture of violence to a culture of peace, religions must bridge the gap by recognizing the dignity and human worth of each person as an individual regardless of what their biases might be. The role of religion is to create a format, or friendly space where all people, regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, culture, etc. can come together and be recognized as inter dependent on one another.  I mention friendly space, because all biases and negativity must remain outside this “sacred” designated space.  Inside, there is only room for positive efforts to move toward each other in love and mutual respect in order to keep each culture “sacred,” and not have them atrophy in ruins.  However, it is not only co-existence, but pro-existence that religions need to embrace.



[1] 60th  GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF EUKUMINDO, October 21st – 23rd 2010, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands.

[2] To get more understanding about the type of Moluccan Fraternity please read some articles written by Dr. Dieter Bartels and published in his site

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