Slow Peace Grows between Christians and Muslims

( [email protected] ) Mar 31, 2004 03:19 PM EST

INDONESIA - The most violence between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia has occurred on the Islands of the Moluccas. The religious conflict had exploded suddenly in 1999, but an official peace was made in 2002, which proved to be quite effective.

On the Moluccans' main island, Ambon, Christians and Muslims are in the initial stages of reconciling their differences and hatreds towards each other. During the peak of the conflict, the main market had been destroyed in fires. Today, the area is crowded with many people who come to shop.

Mayor Jopei Papilaya has played an important role in reviving Ambon's economy by employing economic integration. "Everybody needs food" he said. "So I say to people, go buy from Muslims, go buy from Christians. The important thing is that you're Ambonese and we all need the same things." There are enormous divisions between the religious communities that will need to be surpassed in order for peace to come for the two groups. Much of the violence that occurred was due to past resentment of one group towards the other.

During President Suharto's administration, many of the differences were suppressed so there wasn't as much violence. However, after his downfall, many past deep resentments rose to the surface.

The Muslims were convinced that the Christians had received the best jobs in civil service. This may have been due to the past of their education. The Christians felt that the arrival of more Muslims, it would make the Christians minorities in a short amount of time. The situation had become worst when Indonesian soldiers and Muslim militants had intervened. For three years of violence, a total more than 5000 people had died.

The situation is recovering in Ambon today. The island is still devastated by the destruction reaped upon its structures years ago. Many people have been displaced and are constantly moving where they call home. There are now signs of integration of Muslims and Christians into the same school. One of these schools is a Muslim school and the other is a government-run Christian school.

In school, the students are encouraged to share the experiences that have greatly effected in recent years. Most everyone has known someone who was killed during the sectarian violence that arose. These integrated schools are under the supervision of the United Nations Development Programme, which has given much financial support to the cause.

Now that there is a shared building for the students, parents are now coming together from the two divided communities, and are working together to build a new peace for their children. Much time and effort will be needed in order to mend the damage inflicted upon these communities.