Church Bombing in Java’s Heartland

Batik workers at Danar Hadi batik museum, Solo. The television is not part of some oppressive surveillance apparatus, but for the entertainment of the workers.

"Rumahku," My House, a refurbished 1930s Dutch era house, now a guesthouse and restaurant.

Slamet Riyadi, Solo's main street. The city moves at a slower pace than larger cities nearby. The quiet heart of old Java.

Here's the guy. Pretty tastless of me to put it up, right? Well, tastelessnespales in the face of moral cowardice. The daily outrages, 10 dead here, 30 there, these are real people, as is this man, as much a victim of a vicious and death worshipping ideology as the people he attacked. Churches burned, mosques bombed( by other Muslims, with Shia and Ahmadiiah, as well as the occasional moderate Sunni cleric taking the hit from the more pious). Buddhist monks, and children, beheaded in Thailand, cross border shoppers bombed there too, beer drinkers executed in Nigeria, and on and on…all real people. So have a look at it once in awhile to remember who these people are, and what happened to them. Tastelessness is nothing in the face of this holocaust. I like Solo. This pisses me off, so I put the pic up. Deal with it.

Solo, or its formal name Surakarta, the seat of an ancient sultanate, is a  center of  highly refined Javanese culture epitomized in its batik, court ceremonies, dance and gamelan music.

Less visited than its better known neighbor, Jogjakarta, it is quiet place with good accommodation, excellent shopping without the touts and traffic of Jogya, accessible by domestic air lines, with Silkair coming in from Singapore. Tourism will not be enhanced by the latest outrage in “moderate“ Indonesia, a  poor omen for  success in the country’s drive to  improve arrivals numbers, 7.2 million in 2010, compared to 12.6 for tiny neighbor Singapore.

Solo is also the birth place of Abu Bakar Basyir, radical Islamist and convicted, although lightly sentenced, terrorist mastermind.  In Solo, the cultural civil war between syncretistic Hindu-Islamic Javanese culture and Wahabiism  rages just below the surface.  The historic tendency of the Javanese toward syncretism and openness to different spiritual beliefs also resulted in a large Christan population,  Now there are jihadis to attack them.

Egypt’s and Tunisia’s tourist industries have been ruined, and will most likely never rebound as they become shariah dominated Islamic republics. This could be Indonesia’s fate as well.  Jihad is bad for business,

From  Reuters, via MSNBC
“A suspected suicide bomber attacked a church on Indonesia’s Java island on Sunday, killing himself and injuring 17 people, police said.”

The ubiquity of cell phones here, and lax policing procedures means that a pic of the dead bomber is already viral.  He looks like an offal stand in a wet market,  No “suspected” about it.

The story goes on: “Religious tensions still bubble near the surface in the officially secular nation.”  “Bubble” is a rather weak verb in this context.

“Officially secular”…yes, but not in a sense that nations like the US or France might recognize.  The country has a Ministry of Religion, which, given the demography concerns itself mostly with Islamic affairs, but does allocate some funding to other beliefs.  Domestic airliners, along with the emergency instructions and barf bag, have prayer cards for the major religions in the seat pockets, just the thing for white knuckle fliers,

In Indonesia, religion trumps everything , and one religion trumps all others.

And… “Religious conflicts flared up between Muslims and Christians in Maluku and Sulawesi, in the eastern part of the sprawling archipelago, following the overthrow of former President Suharto in 1998.”

This is a case where “religious conflict,” rather than being the value neutral and history shunning whitewash it usually is, may be an appropriate term, at least in terms of the inception of the conflicts, which were actually large scale regional civil wars.  Both sudden explosions, over perceived slights that quickly spread and dragged on for years.  However, in both areas was only the Muslim side that brought in arms and fighters from outside, with the indifference, if not outright collusion of the security forces,   To my knowledge, no clear journalistic account, in any language, has been written for either conflict.  At the time, local media withdrew and foreigners were banned.  Despite widespread lawlessness, and the deaths of thousands, only three people ever prosecuted, Christians Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu, all executed in 2001.  No one, Christian or Muslim was ever charged in the Maluku war.

Instead, academics, religious leaders and government actors spoke of “horizontal conflict,” convened conferences and hammered out intercommunal agreements.  This is the Indonesian way, where confrontation is avoided, and consensus, regardless of justice, is valued above everything else. That is, until tempers rise too far.  “Amuck” after all is a Malay word(for non- Indonesian readers, the  Indonesian language is based on the Riau-Johore dialect of
Malay.)  This, as much as political indebtedness to Islamic parties, may be at the heart of President Yudhyonos’s passivity in the face of rising Islamist agitation and violence.

In its story, the Jakarta Globe quotes police sources as saying the attack may be linked to recent violence in Ambon.

Note that once again, a “clash“ is Muslims attacking Christians, just as this is usually described wherever it may be, Egypt, Nigeria, or Indonesia, among others,

Since the end of the wars in Maluku and Sulawesi almost ten years ago, I would challenge anyone to find an instance of a Christian initiated “clash” in Indonesia; If nothing else, those “conflicts” taught the minority that they are not going to win, even in areas where they have numerical equality, or even superiority.

Another Globe story quotes Christian and Muslim clerics as warning against a plot to stir up “conflict.“

Here in microcosm, is Indonesia’s quandary, and the world’s, in confronting Islamist extremism.  A refusal to look at the core texts of Islam, not the various islams practiced in different forms across continents, but the texts whose exact words motivate terrorists and jihadi fighters, results in logical fallacies, x-factor searches for conspiracies, leading to abject  failure in defending the societies attacked.s

Just as is standard procedure in the Us and Europe, when a “lone wolf” jihadi is caught, or acts,, we are told that he or she is not part of a network, as if that is reassuring, and police and press speculate as to motive.

Motive?  I posit Islam.

“When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them.”

Surah 9:5 Al Saif(the Sword)

Paranoia and Intolerance in Central Sulawesi

Sunset, Prince John's Dive Resort, Donggala, Palu Bay, CentralSulawesi, Indonesia

From the Jakarta Post, Sunday, September 18, 2011 13:47 PM

US family in Palu evacuated over rumors of proselytizing

In this story you have all the elements behind both the truth and the wishful thinking behind the phrase “Moderate,  modern Indonesia.”

The Central Sulawesi Police have evacuated a family of four American nationals from their rented house in the BTN Bukit Kabonena Permai residential complex in Palu to the local immigration office, allegedly because they were in danger due to rumors they had been proselytizing to locals.

The Graeff family, including father David Ray, 41, mother Georgia Rae, 41, and children Benjamin David, 12, and Daniel Earl, 14, were evacuated on Sunday evening reportedly after locals had begun to question the family’s presence in the region.

Locals then burned the family’s car after they were evacuated.

Palu Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Deden Granada said that David Ray Graeff, who had been in Kabonena for two weeks, was a teacher at Uwera Theological School in Marawola, Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi.

“We had to evacuate the family for their own safety,” Deden said.(more)

I’ve been to Palu,  the capital of a region of stunning natural beauty, three times.  The town lies at the head of an lovely mountain girded  bay, so long that the sea is not visible from the city.  The first time was in in 1975, when I  flew over from Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan, to buy and sand and gravel for the LNG project I was working on.  Then, there were no hotels, so I stayed in a dirty boarding hose with light so weak I had to supplement it with candles.   Now there is a Swiss Bel-Hotel.  In 1994 there was a decent small hotel in town with air conditioning and hot water, and cable TV. Later in that trip  I stayed up the bay at a  German run dive resort, and returned there in 05.  During my first two visits, Islam never crossed my mind.  The last time I flew up there I was struck that every woman on the flight, including small girls, aside form two Chinese and the stewardess wore a hijab,  By that time, I had read that a local cell of  the terrorist Jemaah Islamiah had met at the Hotel Central..

In the thirty years between my first and last trip, communications, and the standard of living had increased immensely, and the natural beauty, and tourism potential was still evident, but little more exploited in 05 than it had been in 95.  The material culture was greatly advanced, but something ancient, and foreign has seeded the minds of many with distrust and hatred.

The story quotes Habib Saleh , a teacher at an Islamic boarding school, as saying he had heard rumors of foreigners engaging in missionary activity, and being transported by helicopter.  These schools, called pesantren, are often hotbeds of extremism, and sometimes incubators of terrorism.  The public can be rather volatile in Indonesia, and rumors spread by both the traditional gossip network, and nowadays, text messages, are often the source of violent incidents, as in Ambon last week.

The helicopter story is an example of  paranoid fantasy apparent not only in matters of religion here.  Despite the internet, cable TV, and more frequent travel abroad, many Indonesians believe there are dark forces ranged against their country.  I had students tell me that the US was working to break up Indonesia in order to seize its resources.  I tried to explain that a breakup  would be a security nightmare for America, but to a little avail.

Habib Saleh wondered why the seminary would import English teachers.  Having made a living as such in Indonesia  for more than ten years before my retirement, I can easily answer his question.  Since independence, English  has always been the second language of the Republic, and with the economic expansion the country has enjoyed the past few years, the thirst  for competence in English has become universal.  Even isolated villagers speak of globalization, and ask for a quick lesson or two.  The more progressive and modern pesantren have incorporated English competence into their curricula. It is clear that Mr Saleh is unaware of this, as he as quoted saying,  “What was going on? There must be some other agenda.”  The Indonesian phrase here for “must be”  is likely pasti ada, used in both a kind of conspiratorial subjunctive( “9/11 must have been an inside job,” widely believed here), or to express a fond, but unsupported hope( “There must be a gas station up ahead, I really have to go.”)

So were the Graeffs proselytizing?

Proselytizing is not illegal in Indonesia.  The Constitution  acknowledges one god, but there is no state religion.  The state officially recognizes five religions, a stricture introduced under the Suharto regime.  Atheism is not outlawed, but all citizens must state one of the recognized religions on their identification cards, and religion is recorded in all kinds of transactions, such as school registration, where it would be prohibited in the west. In theory, all are free to change religions, but bureaucrats make it very difficult to change a registration in Islam for a different belief.

Nevertheless, preaching Christianity to Muslims  In Indonesia, as in any Muslim majority country,  is extremely risky.

I don’t doubt that the Graeffs are dedicated Christians. Such schools as the seminary offer little more than a work visa and a token salary of perhaps two or three hundred dollars a month at most.  Like many I have met, they mostly likely financed their sojourn largely from their own resources. The province is almost 25% Christian, so their would be more than enough scope for pastoral work without proselytizing. Local Christian institutions are well aware of their inferior status, and would not encourage open preaching.

Indeed, all versions of the story, both in English and Indonesian, refer to rumors, and provide no proof.  The headline in the large circulation Indonesian Islamist newspaper, Republika,  took the proselytizing as fact, and only deeper in reported it as suspected.  Readers’ comments were uniformly incensed at the evidence of “Christianization,” and complimentary to the police for handling the situation.  Some were angry that the government had not dispatched the crack U.S. trained Densus 88 anti-terror brigade to capture the missionary terrorists,  seeing this as a sign of systemic discrimination against Muslims by the central authorities, and that the Jakarta government is subservient to Washington.

The religious school  teacher found it suspicious that the family lived in Kabonena, rather than in town. In Palu, as all over Indonesia, new suburban housing estates and satellite towns with modern facilities are springing  up to meet the needs of a growing middle class. Republika reports, but doesn’t comment on the fact that the Americans rented their home from a member of the provincial assembly, H. Nasir Djibran, clearly a Muslim name, and a person of some substance locally. The housing estate is one kilometer from the city center.  The seminary is in Wera ( not Uwera, which is in Uganda), near the port of Dongggala( where Joseph Conrad met Olmeijer, the protaganist in his first novel, “Almayer’s Folly,” so that Palu could add literary tourism to its already considerable attractions!) halfway up the western shore of Palu Bay, a reasonable and very scenic commute on the quite decent road, which I have traveled, in the large and comfortable Toyata Kijang the Graeffs no longer have.

This story summarizes all the difficulty caused by the insidious spread  of a dry, desert ideology, call it wahabism, salafism, or what you will, that threatens to overwhelm and supplant the syncretic forms of Islam that worked well for so long here, and reflected the reality of the archipelago’s cultural and religious history.  Palu, a region with immense potential for investment, tourism and recreation, and a decent life for its inhabitants of all faiths, could lose its chance to progress further and succumb to ”religious tensions.”

As has been seen many times on Java, the authorities do not punish attackers, and consider their work done if they merely prevent grave harm to those attacked, reflecting a greater malaise, and dangerous inertia, as the government  of a secular republic refuses to acknowledge its subversion.

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