Change Starts When We Listen to Victims of Religious Conflicts

By webadmin on 11:02 am Jul 31, 2012
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Intan Uswatun Nisa

I used to be indifferent whenever I would hear or read about violent conflicts between religious groups. At best, I only wondered why it was happening again and again. Although I am now a final-year student in university, I never did try to understand more about the core of the issue.

A while ago, though, I attended a session at the School of Human Rights for Students, run by Jakarta-based human rights nongovernmental organization National Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). After meeting and listening to the victims of religious conflicts, I feel like a different person now.

Selected students from all over the country joined the forum, some of them victims of religious conflicts in Ambon, Poso and Cikeusik. The forum was the first time I saw their faces and heard their voices — and it changed my life forever.

In the religion and peace-building session, the attendees watched a documentary called “The Imam and the Pastor.” The film showed how the two community leaders in Nigeria, who had been enemies, reconciled.

The imam and the pastor both lost loved ones due to the violent conflict between their religions and hated each other as a result. Though it took a long time, they eventually changed their mind and decided to build peace. Later on in the film, the imam and the pastor played an important role in many conflict resolution processes not only in Nigeria but in Africa and around the world.

Dion, a Catholic from Ambon, said the religious conflict portrayed in the film is similar to the one in his hometown. He believes the conflict resolution depicted in the film can also be adapted to their situation. The result may not be significant at the start, but the victims would need to implement the resolution consistently.

I found it ironic when Syahwan, an Ambonese Muslim who had to migrate because of the conflict, said that in Jakarta, he and Dion can be friends and sleep under one roof. Yet when the two return to Ambon, they may not have the courage to visit each other.

From these two Ambonese friends I also found out that the Indonesian government’s statement that Ambon is much calmer and safer now isn’t always accurate. The stories told by Dion and Syahwan convinced us that tension is as high as ever in Ambon, where communities are still segregated along religious lines.

Another story is of Nanda, a daughter of a well-known cleric in Poso, Central Sulawesi, who was imprisoned for some years because of his involvement in the conflict. Being the same age as Nanda, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must have been to be separated from my father. Even worse, three of her childhood friends were mutilated during the conflict.

Nanda, who was crying as she shared her experience, said she thought the conflict was because, sometimes, we want to show off how religious we are, and that we are the right one. These days, Nanda prefers spirituality than the outer form of religion; the first unites people, the second divides them.

The most horrible story came from Udin, an Ahmadi and a victim of the Cikeusik violence. Having been traumatized by encounters with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), he grew to hate the organization. He said the conflict between him and the FPI would never be solved until he at least made peace with himself. After the tragedy, he had to be hospitalized for seven months and drop out of university. At that point, he said, he almost gave up on life.

Another attendee, Kahfi, a Muslim resident of Banten, where Cikeusik is located, apologized to Udin because he didn’t do anything to help.

I was ashamed to realize that these all these realities are here around me. The voices of these victims need to be heard.

We can’t expect much from the government, which has to deal with so many different interests. But I believe change starts when people listen to the victims of violence.

Mahatma Gandhi of India once said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I hope I can be that small change, and I hope you do too.