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Religious intolerance in Indonesia

1999 until now.

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Indonesia is a vast archipelago comprised of some 13,700 islands spread over 1,475,000 square kilometers. It is also the fifth most populated country on earth, with 220 million people, and the third largest democracy in the world -- trailing only India and the U.S. 1

Indonesia has about 210 million people of whom about 90% are Muslim. In fact it has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world.

There are many Christian enclaves in the country. Indonesia had been noted for its relatively high level of religious tolerance, until recent years when many conflicts between Muslims and Christians have occurred. Violence was particularly intense in the Maluku islands (a.k.a. Moluccas or Spice islands) a chain of 17 islands about 250 miles west of New Guinea.

At the end of the 20th century. Indonesians suffered massive violence at the hands of fellow Indonesians. These were generally motivated by religious hatred -- largely between Muslims and Christians.

Unfortunately, once started, such attacks tend to be self-sustaining as former victims retaliate against former attackers with the latter becoming the new victims who plot new retaliation.

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1998: Conflict in the Poso district:

The Poso district is in central Sulawesi, about 1,000 miles northeast of Jakarta. Christians originally settled the district. Muslim immigrants have since arrived. Christians still retain a slight majority in that area.

A dispute started between Muslims and Christians over the control of the local government in late 1998. It rapidly escalated into widespread clashes between the two religious groups. Hundreds died.

According to Foreign Affairs magazine, in 2000-MAY, 70 Muslims who had surrendered at a school were murdered in cold blood by Christians wielding homemade guns and machetes. Christians later hunted down other Muslims, slashed their throats, and tossed their bodies into rivers. Others were strung up on homemade wire nooses.

In early 2001, the Laskar Jihad, a terrorist radical extremist Muslim group, established a training camp near Jakarta. They claim to be a militia whose purposes are to defend Muslims, engage in social work, and teach religion. However, the Indonesian government has stated that the:

"Laskar Jihad is trying to seize territory from Christians. Lt. Gen. Abdullah Hendropriyono, head of the national intelligence service, was saying that Laskar Jihad fighters were receiving aid from the al Qaeda network" 2

The latter is the group that organized the terrorist attack on New York City and Washington. There are allegations that Jihad has had "informal links" with Indonesian military officers.

In 2001-OCT, Laskar Jihad "holy warriors" arrived in Poso. Between NOV-27 and 29, they had seized five villages and killed five Christians. More than 8,000 Christians were displaced from their homes.

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1999 to 2000: Other instances of violence -- :

bullet 1999-NOV-26: Ambon: According to Newsroom:

Church lawyers representing Catholics and Protestants in Ambon have asked the United Nations and the United States to intervene to stop escalating violence in the Indonesian province. Christian commercial districts and residential areas have been targeted in recent months, and up to 700 Christians killed. As repatriation of refugees from East Timor proceeds, religious extremism is being blamed for more bloodshed in Ambon. The province is one of several that may seek independence in a trend that some nationalists feared would lead to the breakup of Indonesia.
bullet 1999-DEC-2: Ambon: According to Newsroom:

More than 30 people were killed in further rioting in the troubled Indonesian province of Ambon. According to witnesses, many died at the hands of Indonesian troops who were taking an active role in the rioting...

About 20 of the dead were Christians and 10 were Muslims, according to a report from a British human rights group Jubilee Campaign. An Indonesian military spokesman insisted that armed forces intervened only to pacify the area, identifying the dead as 20 Muslims and 12 Christians. Witness accounts, however, including a local reporter quoted in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, say many of the dead were deliberately gunned down by army soldiers as fresh violence erupted between Christian and Muslim communities. More than 70 people were being treated for their injuries in hospitals....

Some observers claim the riots were started deliberately by militants intent on Islamizing the province. They include factions in the armed forces. In a statement, Jubilee Campaign says that

"... the process of Islamization is already well under way, with Christians forced by Muslim rioters to flee the Banda islands in southern Moluccas."
The Moluccas islands are also known as the Malukus and Spice islands.

bullet 1999-DEC-3 Indonesia army & Muslims vs. Christians: According to the Maranatha Christian Journal for DEC-5:
"The Rev. John Barr, secretary of Indonesia and East Timor for the Uniting Church of Australia, reported that although Indonesia is no longer prominent in the headlines of the American media, Christians in Indonesia and East Timor still face violence and widespread desolation."
He mentioned:
bullet Brutal fighting between Muslims and Christians in the island of Ambon. Major violence over the Christmas period was anticipated.

bullet 30 people killed and 2,000 Christians driven out of Halmahera Island. Their churches and homes were destroyed.

bullet Maltreatment and fear in Indonesian concentration camps.

Rev. Barr warned:

"Be aware that the vast majority of people in Indonesia do not support the terror and violence that has been going on. We should be careful with any criticism not to label or blame ordinary Indonesians. Many Indonesians have actually fought with courage and integrity to bring about change in their country. They have also stood in solidarity with the people of East Timor."

bullet 2000-JAN-11: Malukus Islands: According to ReligionToday:

"Harming innocent Christians is a sin, Indonesian Muslim leaders said, rejecting demands for a holy war. Thousands of Muslim protesters are demanding jihad [struggle] against Christians in response for Muslim deaths in the Moluccas (a.k.a. Maluku) islands. Some 1,500 Christians and Muslims have been killed in the past two weeks, news reports said. ...'I reject jihad if it means to collect thousands of people to gather around and cry out expressions of hate to take revenge,' Muslim cleric Umar Shihab said. He is co-chairman of the Indonesian Ulemas Council, Islam's top official body in the country. War that is conducted in revenge is a sin, Shihab said. President Abdurrahman Wahid, also a Muslim scholar, also rejected the calls for jihad....A jihad against those who provoke violence against Muslims is allowable, and people who are fomenting the violence should be restrained, Shihab said."

bullet 2000-JAN-12: Malukus Islands: According to ReligionToday:
"Hundreds of Muslims have died, some in mosques, in religious violence in the Moluccas (a.k.a. Malukus) islands. Scores of charred corpses reportedly were recovered from burned-out mosques on the chain of islands 1,550 miles northeast of Jakarta,
Indonesia, CNN said. 'It's very difficult to count the bodies,' which were 'torched and burned by unidentified people,' said Mursal Amal Tomagola of Medical Emergency, an aid group. Authorities believe nearly 1,000 people have died in the past two weeks after a Christian bus driver accidentally killed a Muslim boy. At least 1,500 have died in similar outbursts of violence since last January, CNN said. The Moluccas are traditionally Christian..."

bullet 2000-MAR-1: East Timor: According to DayWatch:
"In a historic gesture, the president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid has apologized for violence carried out by Indonesian troops during the 24-year occupation of East Timor, specifically referring to the victims of the Santa Cruz cemetery massacre in 1991, when Indonesian troops opened fire on civilians on a funeral march."

bullet 2000-APR-7: Maluku Islands: According to Newsroom: and ReligionToday:
Sectarian tensions in Indonesia's Maluku Islands are escalating according to church leaders who report the details of recent atrocities by radical Muslim groups and Indonesian military troops. About 3,000 people, most of them Christians, have died in the past 14 months as a result of religious violence, news reports say. The islands were once mostly Christian, but the Muslim population has increased in recent years with a "radical minority" causing unrest, news reports said. Christian clergy in North Maluku province and the island of Buru claim that 'jihad troops' determined to expunge Christians from the areas have slaughtered many believers and burned down churches and homes."
bullet 2000-MAY-16: Ambon: According to Maranatha Christian Journal:
Violence erupted in the Moluccas Islands on MAY-16. During the following six days, 40 were killed and over 100 injured. There are allegations that 10,000 Muslims received military training elsewhere in Indonesia in preparation for the attack, and that the government closed down the military training camp in April. Most Muslim leaders in Indonesia have condemned the violence.  Apparently most of the casualties were caused by the government security forces attempting to disperse the rioters.
bullet 2000-DEC-4: Maluku province: According to Newsroom:
In Indonesia's eastern Maluku province, attacks on Christian villages by Muslim warriors  have left more than 50 people dead.
"The most deadly attack came on the same day that provincial leaders were planning ways to stop bloodshed during the upcoming religious holiday season, when sectarian attacks often are sparked."

bullet 2001-MAR-1: Kalimantan provinces According to the Associated Press:
The Dyaks make up about 40% of the population in the Kalimantan provinces of Indonesia. They are a Christian group, although many still hold some Animist beliefs. They feel that they are discriminated against in education and jobs in this predominately Muslim country. About 8% of the population are Madurese. They are a strict Muslim group who began to be relocated to the province in the 1960, in order to relieve population pressures elsewhere in Indonesia. Many of the Muslims are troubled by the customs of the Dyaks including the keeping of dogs as pets and the eating of pork. Both practices are forbidden in Islam. 

During the latter third of 2001-FEB, inter-religious rioting resulted in the deaths of at least 428 people. Aid workers estimate that up to 1,000 may have been killed. For many days, about 2,000 Madurese hid in the jungle; most were without food or water. Roving gangs of Dyaks slaughtered many of them on sight. The government was able to negotiate with the Dyaks to allow the Madurese to be evacuated to safety. Having received a government guarantee of protection, many Madurese came out of the jungle. But the Dyak Christians broke their promise and trucked 118 Madurese to a local soccer field. Six Muslims were beheaded. Others, including the elderly, women and babies, had their limbs chopped off and stomachs slashed open. None survived.

bullet 2001-OCT-1: Klaksanaan village: According to Crosswalk/Religion Today:
Churches and homes were attacked on 2001-SEP-17 in Klaksanaan village. Two church buildings and 23 Christian houses were burned. Fifty-eight Christian families were made homeless.
"No one was killed or seriously injured in the attack, according to The Voice of the Martyrs (Canada). But Muslim militants in Indonesia have killed 10,000 Christians in just the past two years, according to reports by The Persecution & Prayer Alert service of VOM."
The report did not include an estimate of the number of Muslims killed by Christians over the same time period.
bullet 2002-APR-28: Soya village; Ambon, Maluku province:  According to the Associated Press:
"Black-masked assailants armed with guns, grenades and daggers stormed a village in Indonesia's religiously divided Maluku province Sunday, killing 14 Christians in a brutal pre-dawn attack that threatened a fragile peace pact. Shouting 'kill them all,' a dozen men entered the mostly Christian village of Soya on the outskirts of Ambon, the provincial capital and the focus of three years of sectarian violence that killed 9,000 people, witnesses said." 3

bullet 2002-OCT-12: Bali: Three massive bomb blasts, apparently planted by terrorists, killed over 180 people; over 200 are missing. Most were vacationers from Australia. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "We are dealing with these extremist groups whose activities know no frontiers, and whose evil knows no limits." French President Jacques Chirac, said during a speech: "The mass crime which was just committed in Indonesia confronts humanity once more with the unspeakable."

2002-OCT-16: Maluku province: A peace pact has been signed between Christians and Muslims. Jafar Umar Thalib, leader of the Laskar Jihad group, has decided to disband his group and to pull all 3,000 of his Muslim fighters out of the Malaku province. 4

Relative peace was eventually restored to the region.

References used:

  1. "Muslim-Christian violence rampant in 'new' Indonesia," Contender Ministries, at:
  2. Ian Timberlake, "Indonesia group tied to al Qaeda kills Christians," Washington Times, 2001-DEC-13. See:
  3. Michael Casey, "Fourteen Christians killed in Indonesia," 2002-APR-28, Associated Press, at:
  4. Telly Nathalia and Karima Anjani, "Militant Islamic group disbands in Indonesia," Reuters, 2002-OCT-16, at:

Copyright 2001 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-DEC-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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