On September 11, 2011, when the United States commemorated the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, communal violence between Christians and Muslims broke out again in Ambon city of Maluku (the Moluccas) in northeastern Indonesia leading to damages, deaths, and injures. By September 13 of that year, markets, schools, and offices returned to normal, but Ambon had some 4,000 newly displaced persons (IDPs), some of whom had lost their homes for the third or fourth time in twelve years. “I just rebuilt my house for the third time, but now it was burned again,” Yongky Siahaya, a Christian from Talakke region of Ambon told me. The mass uprising certainly caused shock and aroused fear among local populations of a return to the disastrous Christian–Muslim violence that had wracked Ambon and the surrounding islands from 1999 to 2004.
Some commentators did indeed forecast in rush that the September riots were essentially a “new turbulence with an old pattern.” Media outlets, national and local, also compared the 2011 riots to that of 1999. It is imperative to note that even if the interreligious conflict of 1999 had formally ended with the signing of a peace deal in 2002 (called Malino II Peace Accord), tensions and suspicions between Christians and Muslims are still high in Maluku today that might provide a fertile ground for renewed outbreaks of violence. The September unrest (2011) as well as communal violence in Universitas Pattimura (2010, 2011) and Pelauw of Haruku Island (2012) prove this assumption. However, it is wrong to compare the 2011 riot with that of 1999. Unlike the 1999 violence, which spread across the Moluccan Islands from Ambon city, Buru, and central Maluku (e.g. Seram, Haruku, Saparua) to Southeast Maluku (Tanimbar and Kei) and the northern areas of the archipelago (e.g. Ternate, Tidore, Tobelo, and Halmahera), the 2011 failed to tempt wider communities of Christians and Muslims to become involved in the fighting. As a result, the recent instances of collective conflict failed to reach other areas, and only occurred in isolated places in Ambon town.
The successful story of preventing Ambon town’s intergroup riots into wider areas of Maluku, it should be noted, cannot be separated from the hard work of Provokator Perdamaian (Peace Provocateurs), an informal voluntary association established in 2011 by a small group of Ambon’s Christians and Muslims following the September turmoil, whose tireless efforts in intergroup peacemaking, together with other faithful individuals and social groupings, have made seemingly impossible calm possible. Members of Peace Provocateurs, comprising a diverse network of daring activists, students, journalists, academics, and religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, have been able to utilize and maximize resource potential to avoid violent conflict, reduce violence when it does occur, create spaces for building trust and intergroup dialogue, strengthen commonality while minimizing discrepancy, and rebuild bridges between sides after chaos has ceased.
Founders of this interfaith group define Peace Provocateurs as a “community-based movement whose main objectives are to provoke peace, reinforce amity, and reduce tensions and the escalation of violence in Ambon city.” In particular, this interfaith alliance has two specific goals: defusing religious tensions and urging calm by dispelling rumors with the potential to inflame local populations into collective riots. To achieve these aims, this group uses multiple instruments, including print and electronic media (newspapers, TVs, cellular phones), Internet devices (Twitter, Facebook, emails), and friendship relations. In Ambon, intergroup fighting was often triggered by false rumors distributed by “invisible hands” by means of text messages or Internet devices. Countering such rumors and false news by using the same tools as the instigators is therefore central and apt.
The group certainly did more than send text messages and post pictures on the Internet to defuse tensions and generate calm. As Rev. Jacklevyn (Jacky) Manuputty, co-founder of this group, has remarked, “social media is only one tool” among many to build bridges between people with differences and divided communities.
Although the September violence ended, the group’s peacebuilding work continues until nowadays. For this group, peace is not simply marked by an absence of violence, which is often called “negative peace,” but also by the presence of just socio-cultural-political conditions that contribute to the shape of healthy and peaceful relations among individuals and social groupings. In this regard, peacebuilding for this group means an array of activities aiming at transforming violence and massive injustices into a just peace through various approaches and means including, but are not limited to, music, dance, theater, photography, storytelling, and sport, all of which are useful for bringing people together, bridging gaps, and building trust.
Interfaith peacebuilding workshops, some of which involved international peace workers, are other key programs and activities undertaken by this group to transform destructive violence into productive peace. Participants in the “interfaith workshops” varied, ranging from community leaders, village chiefs, and schoolteachers, to women, youth, religious leaders, and ex-members of militia groups from both Christians and Muslims. The training was designed not only to heal the wounds but also to generate intergroup harmony by developing, for instance, peace education, peace sermons, and peace journalism, as well as to produce peacemaking envoys.
The group, moreover, utilizes networks of friendship in building peace. Jacky Manuputty said that in Ambon and Maluku in general strong and close interreligious friendship can be used as an effective medium of Christian–Muslim peacemaking and reconciliation. Manuputty named his method of using friendship networks a “strategy of weaving a mat”. A conflict resolution practitioner, he believes that such friendship networks can be utilized to generate a “web of peace-builders,” and hence can be a powerful means of peacebuilding and reconciliation. Manuputty is an “icon of peace” in Maluku. Despite death threats and the destruction of his home by arson during the 1999 bloody violence, Manuputty continued to promote peace and interreligious harmony among the warring parties until nowadays Maluku, not only in Ambon city but also in other part of the archipelago. No wonder then if he was awarded “Peacemakers in Action” award in 2012 by New York-based Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. Christian ethics and values of peace as well as the nonviolence practices of Jesus Christ have been instrumental in shaping Manuputty’s peacebuilding work.
Along with Muslim peace workers notably Dr. Abidin Wakano (Director of Ambon Mediation and Reconciliation Center) and Zairin “Embong” Salampassy (a journalist and human rights advocate), Manuputty has used his friendship networks of Christian and Muslim peace activists since the establishment of Peace Provocateurs in 2011 to develop multiple creative interfaith peacebuilding programs such as trauma healing workshops, peace sermons in churches and mosques, “live-ins” in houses of opposing religious groups, interfaith camps, and “art for peace” with the involvement of international peacemakers from India, Australia, England, and Africa. These activities in fact were able to air tensions, minimize suspicions, build trust, strengthen commonality, and create a public culture of tolerance and fraternity.
Art for Peacebuilding
Art for Peace is among the core and unique activities initiated and advanced by this group. The philosophy behind this program, Manuputty explains, is “to bridge social segmentation on the basis of religion, ethnicity, class, gender and the like by means of arts such as theater, dance, music, acrobat, etc.” Through these activities, he said, “people or communities who lived in the edge are connected to those in the center. As well, through these arts, people from different religion and ethnicity are demanded to work together in order to create harmony in the art performances.”
The form of the performance varies but usually the group began with asking local people to select a grand theme or a common folk story which is taken from their local traditions and cultures to be performed together by artists from Christian and Muslim. The group used IAIN (State Islamic College), UKIM (a Christian university), Universitas Pattimura (a state-owned university), and other public arenas (such as the main Lapangan Merdeka in the center of Ambon city) as places to perform the show. “More than 350 local artists (seniman) involved in this show,” Manuputty said. “This is not just a usual art performance but a presentation for peacebuilding,” Manuputty added to underscore the objective or “mission” of the art show. As part of peacebuilding practices, the point of such performances, Manuputty said, is the interaction of inter-individual/groups of different religious affiliations which are then developed into friendship relations beyond religious/ethnic boundaries.
A scholar of international peacebuilding Scott Appleby said: “At its core, peacebuilding is a process of fostering and sustaining interpersonal and cross-community relationships that draw on the human capacity for healing, reconciliation, and social transformation,” and “music, literature, and spiritual practice make the depths of human compassion and creativity accessible to this process.” Accordingly, Appleby explains, the arts deserve a prominent place in peacebuilding practice and scholarship. As Appleby has remarked, Peace Provocateurs, through “Art for Peace” program, have been able to restore friendship which are previously broken by violence, and keep this friendship networks to boost Christian-Muslim peace.
Given the centrality of the role of religious leaders and communities in promoting sustainable peace in Ambon and the Moluccas in general, it is thus imperative to look for ways that go beyond the “liberal peace” frameworks that solely emphasize the role of formal peace accord, cease-fires, elections, and short-run peace operations carried out by international institutions, Western states, and political elites in attempts at building lasting peace in conflict-ravaged societies. Although “liberal peace” is necessary, it is not enough to establish a just and sustainable peace. Narrowly defining the work of peace as bringing armed groups into a peace treaty fails to account for the elements that constitute a peaceful society.
While no simple answer exists in solving ethno-religious conflicts worldwide, the Ambon case, at least, shows the ways in which religious and cultural resources, including arts, can still be utilized as a fruitful source for peacebuilding. Music, poems, dances, metaphors, and stories of sufferings and survival can be powerful resources to recover and reconnect previously “broken communities.” The activities of this interfaith group productively bridged differing parties by building trust among them and strengthening friendship by means of creative acts; thereby helped reduce violence, improve dialogue, and promote peace.
In fact, while some areas of Indonesia have been marked by religious intolerance, anti-religious minority actions, destructions of churches or mosques and other properties belonged to Ahmadi or Shii communities, Ambon is relatively free from such features. There is tendency in today’s Maluku that, instead of religion, in the aftermath of religious violence, ethnic difference, identification with clan (“clan-ism”) or ethnicity (“sukuisme”), and regionalism are becoming more pronounced that in some places could generate communal violence.