Features

Seething Jakarta

International | Timor may have the eyes of the world, but conflicts threatening Indonesia are everywhere on the rise

Issue: "Who'll be king of the Hill?," Oct. 7, 2000

in Jakarta-Tjahyono Tri, grounds manager at Doulos Bible School in Jakarta, says the Muslim mob that destroyed the Doulos campus last December believes "maybe they can become [Indonesia's] leaders." While the eyes of the United Nations and the rest of the world are focused on violence in East and West Timor, Mr. Tri sees Indonesia's most fundamental conflict coming to rest in the capital: "The goal is to make this a Muslim country," he said. With over 100 churches burned around the country, and thousands killed in Muslim-Christian violence just since June, Christians in Jakarta, the nation's capital, increasingly believe that nowhere in Indonesia are they safe from Muslim militants. "They hate Christians, because the number of Christians is growing," explained Bible teacher Robert Lesnussa. "Muslims are converting [to Christianity]. They feel Christians are threatening their religion." Late last year, a Muslim mob of thousands descended upon Doulos, a modest seminary and hospital. "There was no reason," said Mr. Lesnussa, who explained that the school's 395 students had good relations with their neighbors. But a month before the attack, Doulos was vilified by leaders in a local mosque because, in their words, it sought to "Christianize the Muslims in Indonesia." Rioters descended, burning campus buildings and killing one 23-year-old student. Burnt beams still lie amid concrete rubble. Unfortunately, to rebuild, "you must get permission," said Mr. Lesnussa. The government typically refuses in the face of threats from Muslims. "There is no solution for Christians," he observed. "If you rebuild many people will die." Thick strands of barbed wire are now buried in the shrubs in front of one of Jakarta's downtown hotels. Hotel staff say the cordon is for the protection of guests in case of another riot. No one has rioted in the capital this month, but-from the capital city to the northern islands of Maluku-Indonesia is a country ready to blow. In January more than 80,000 Muslims marched in Jakarta to demand a jihad, or holy war, in Maluku against Christians. Amien Rais, speaker of the constitutional assembly and a prominent religious leader, appeared at the rally to support the holy war demands, declaring, "Our patience has limits." In the beginning the Christians were able to defend themselves against the threats and even the physical attacks. But Muslims advanced because their thousands of jihad troops received backing from many cooperative policemen. Indonesian soldiers sent to stop the killing stood by while the jihad forces arrived. Some even turned over their weapons to the Muslim militants. A number have actively intervened on behalf of Muslim fighters. "The military hasn't done anything," complained one Christian leader, who asked not to be identified because he feared retaliation. At the core of the conflict is a central government-barely managed by President Abdurrahman Wahid, whose physical incapacities and mental inconsistencies seem to grow daily-that is slipping into chaos. Vast gaps run between the elite who grew rich through the political patronage of ousted dictator Suharto, and the masses who live in vast shantytowns. Demands for autonomy or independence now extend beyond the well-known case of East Timor, where UN soldiers patrol a fragile peace. The most desperate region is Maluku, where anti-Christian pogroms have continued with little government interference. Christians and Muslims have been battling in the provincial capital of Ambon for more than a year. Over the last 18 months, 4,000 have died and more than 100,000 people have fled. The fighting started among local people, but efforts to restore peace were impeded by Muslim fundamentalists and the imported jihad fighters, local Christian leaders told WORLD. "Ambonese, Christians, and Muslims of Moluccan origin are fed up," said Lobulisa Leo, a retired general. He said the local Muslims "must follow the provocateurs, or they will be killed." He warns that "a trend toward genocide" is in the making. Although religious hatred seems to be the most important motivation, other factors play into the disturbances. The fighters, according to Gen. Lobulisa, "are Suharto's children. They have no housing, no schooling, no voting rights. They are short on everything. They will be a lost generation." Many Christians in Jakarta assume that enemies of Mr. Wahid are attempting to destabilize his regime. Their fears are palpable. "Christian villages have been burned down. People have fled to the mountains. They have no hope. That's why we need help," said Gen. Lobulisa. One group of Christians-educators, journalists, pastors, retired military officers, and businessmen-met earlier this month with American humanitarian and church workers in Jakarta to talk about the rising persecution. Most of the Indonesian Christians asked not to be identified because of the danger they fear from militants and from Muslim leaders who object to Christians meeting with Westerners. The Indonesian Christians were simultaneously angry and anguished: As emotions rose during the meeting, one shouted, "People are crying for help." They offered a series of firsthand horror stories: a son murdered, neighbors killed, villages uprooted, churches and schools burned. All, they say, with the complicity of the government and security forces. What to do? The group agreed that the jihad warriors need to be removed, obviously, but how? Some would prefer to substitute police for army forces; others believe the military may play a genuine peacekeeping role; all believe real peace will require outside intervention. Many believe diplomatic pressure, at a minimum, should be brought by the United States. They noted that many churches have called for a mass evacuation of Christians and introduction of peacekeeping forces by the United Nations. Some argued for Kosovo-like intervention. But Indonesia is not Kosovo. The world's fourth most populous state, with the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, is unlikely to allow foreign occupation. Gen. Lobulisa, a retired three-star general who once served in the violence-torn Moluccas, says the option is unthinkable. What the government will do is difficult to predict. Pressure from overseas could be hard for the weakened Wahid government to resist. But while international pressure for a solution in East Timor is strong, few have condemned the Muslim-Christian fighting. Groundskeeper Mr. Tri believes even that "is according to God's plan." Christians in Indonesia, he said, "are under purification from the Lord." Another former general, to whom WORLD granted anonymity, said Indonesian people "sin too much." He said, "God is allowing this to happen, so we will be united." He and others note that in July and August Christians of all denominations conducted a 40-day fast, an unprecedented coming together in times of war or peace.

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