The Jakarta Post
For the past decade the people of Ambon and the entire province of Maluku have been licking their wounds from a bloody sectarian conflict that sociologists said was a test of the country’s pluralism.
So when riots erupted anew in this peaceful town on Sunday, claiming three lives, wounding nearly 70 others and displacing 100 people, a mindboggling question immediately arose: Has the spirit of mutual respect enshrined in the national motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) gone?
A rumor easily fueled the communal clash. So quickly did a groundless report that a motorcycle taxi driver, Darfin Saimen, had been tortured to death fire the public’s anger in Ambon that perhaps even a trivial matter could be enough to incite greater conflict.
That, if true, will be a testament to our vulnerable society, which has long been lauded as a model of tolerance in the world. This ugly fact goes against centuries-old tales about diverse societies living in harmony within an archipelago now called Indonesia.
Many reacted in shocked disbelief when a fight between a Christian public transportation driver and a Muslim migrant around the Idul Fitri holiday in January 1999 immediately escalated into large-scale hostilities.
Thousands were killed and one-third of Ambon’s population of two million fled their homes. The violence engulfed the Maluku Islands as many dirty hands and interests got involved, forcing the government to impose emergency rule on the province.
Such a repeat of this human tragedy looks unlikely this time around, with the police claiming to have restored order following the riots on Sunday. National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said on Sunday that about 400 troops had been sent to Ambon to help the local police maintain peace.