Religion, Violence and Peace Building: Analysis on Ambon Tragedy

Sumanto Al Qurtuby

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Ambon was in turmoil again. It reminds us of a greater tragedy in January 1999. Some academic studies have been done to uncover the root of Ambon conflict. Most foreign researchers focused their research on social, political, and economic aspects. They viewed trade competition, bureaucracy and dispute over land as the causes of the conflicts that occurred in Ambon. In fact, the existence of the two communities (Muslims versus Christians) indicates the strong role of religion in the conflict.


It is difficult to answer whether the conflict in Ambon was a religious conflict, or, religion was only one of the many triggers. One clear thing based on the research of Sumanto Al Qurtuby is that 90 percent of respondents who were interviewed about the Ambon tragedy in 1999, both the Muslims and the Christians, were saying that what they did at that time was an attempt to defend their religion. This is one of the findings revealed in Sumanto’s research for his dissertation at the doctoral program in Anthropology at Boston University, USA. His dissertation tries to take a different position from other academic studies that have been done there before.


CRCS-ICRS were honored to have Sumanto shared his experiences and findings related to Ambon tragedy at the Wednesday Forum in Room 306 the Graduate School Building of Gadjah Mada University on December 17, 2011. The argument that the conflict in Ambon is strongly related to religious motive, was strengthened by the statement of the leader of “Muslim Jihadist and Christian Fighters” who stated that the conflict is a religious war.


Initially, the war between Muslim and Christian communities in Ambon was a local fight involving the local community. The dispute became bigger in January 1999 and about 2000 people led by Ustadz Ja’far Umar Talib came to Ambon in May 1999. People forget about the local leaders and local militant groups which had been existed before the coming of Laskar Jihad.


According to Sumanto, the great expectation of civil society is just a romantic illusion. Indeed, civil society can be a cause of reconciliation, but we can not forget the ” uncivilizeduncivic” side of civil society. This was evident in the existence of organizations that spread hatred against other parties or groups that are different from them. Therefore, letting society solve their problems is not always effective. At this point Sumanto thought that collaboration among religious leaders and the government is very significant for peaceful resolution. Not only doing recovery in the economic, political and social sphere but also going further in analyzing cultural situation and the relationship between religions and combined it with the existence of justice in society.


Said, one of Wednesday Forum participants who was one of the witnesses and actors of Ambon conflict explained that local wisdom like “Pela Gandong” in Maluku cannot overcome the problem in Ambon. He referred to what Prof Anthony Reid said that based on historical factor, religious ‘competition’ in Ambon has long been happening there as colonial legacy.


In respond to Said’s statement, Sumanto quoted Thomas Hobbes’ thesis that conflict is humankind’s nature. Conflict exists everywhere, not only in Ambon. Eliminating conflict is impossible. What we can do is muffling the conflict so it does not change into violence. (ANG, translated by Inv)




This post is also available in: Indonesian


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