If you want learn more about promoting interfaith cooperation it makes sense to listen to activists who have been working on that in an area of the world where there is considerable inter-religious conflict. That’s why I’m looking forward to the September 22nd visit of Bernie and Farsijana Adeney-Risakotta, two outreach workers of the Presbyterian Church USA, who live in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have been especially involved in promoting Christian-Muslim cooperation.
Daniel M. Silverman of the University of Florida describes an alarming trend. Throughout its history Indonesia has tolerated most religions, he notes, but recently things have changed. He cites the following:
Worsening Relations Between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia
In the Poso district Muslims and Christians have been vying for control of the local government. The rivalry has become violent. Terrorist groups have formed there, including Laskar Jihad, an Islamic group funded by al Qaida. According to religioustolerance.org, Laskar Jihad seized five Christian villages, causing 8000 people to flee for their lives.
In Bali, terrorist explosions killed over 180 persons. 200 persons are still missing.
Such incidents have aroused much attention from human rights organizations.
Some Causes of Inter-religious Conflict in Indonesia
“So what can be done about this?” questions Sidney Jones, Executive Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. He continues,
About media reports: “Clearly the way these conflicts are portrayed in the media (newspapers and the broadcast media in particular) is critical. In Indonesia one of the things that is striking is how much the Muslim side of the conflict is portrayed in the media and how much the international press focuses almost exclusively on the Christian victims. In fact there are an equal number of victims and perpetrators on both sides. It is critically important that the media be attended to as a factor in the conflict.”
About the need for quick response to counter extremists’ incendiary interpretation of events: “I also think you need an instant response from civil society groups to counter some of the more extremist interpretations of the conflict.”
About just prosecution of perpetrators: “You need clear and public prosecution of those involved in the violence.”
About building skilled community leadership: “You need to work on building civil society so you don’t have – as you have in many parts of Indonesia – all the NGOs on one side of the conflict. In West Kalimantan the Dayaks had all the NGOs and the Madurese had virtually no civil society organizations to work at a community level, at the grassroots level. The same was largely true in Ambon; most of the NGOs were Christian and not Muslim. This is something to think about as we look toward conflict resolution. You clearly need skilled leadership at the national and local levels, which we don’t have in Indonesia at the moment.”
I commend to you Mr. Jones’ detailed analysis of the causes of inter-religious conflict in Indonesia, which is too lengthy to cover in this post. Suffice it to say that he finds that competition for economic resources and political power play as great a role in this conflict as do differences in religious belief and practice.
Not many Americans know much about Indonesia, a nation of over 17,500 far flung islands populated by more than 210 million people, ninety percent of whom are Muslim. I am looking forward to hearing from a husband and wife who have lived in the capital of Indonesia, and have been deeply involved in promoting interfaith understanding and cooperation, especially among Christians and Muslims. I will post again after their visit to Wilmington, Delaware in September.