When the truth walks away, Everybody stays
Cause the truth about the world is that crime does pay
So if you walk away, Who is gonna stay
Cause I’d like to think the world is a better place
— Offspring, Have you ever
Earlier this week I attended the book launching for “After The Commual War” by Patrick Barron, Muhammad Najib Azca and Tri Susdinarjanti. The book is about the riots, murders and other forms of violence done by Christians versus Muslims and vice versa. More to the point, it is about two Indonesian islands. Both of them had a lot of violence between Muslims and Christians by the turn of the millennium. Since then, the island Maluku has continued to experience a lot of violence, while the island North Maluku have had much less violence. What are the relevant similarities and differences between these islands?
The book makes a very interesting study of this issue. How can we understand the violence, or lack thereof?
The concepts of “Muslim” and “Christian”
First of all, why do Muslims and Christians fight each other in the first place? To understand this, we must understand what it means to be a Muslim or Christian: What it means in this context.
The author portray the categories “Muslim” and “Christian” as having very little to do with belief and theology when it comes to violence between these groups. Instead, the two categories are social groups. Family, community and all kinds of social security is organized through these social groups. To make it worse, much of the local society is arranged in a hierarchal structure of patron and client, and this is also arranged by religious lines. To get a job, to get help when you need it, to get protection when you need it, it is all within your own religious category.
Thus, Christians are a threat to Muslims and vice versa: The threat is not about beliefs, it is about resources, security, jobs, and so on. Each group wants to get as big piece of the pie as possible. Two things are at play here. One is a zero-sum game, where any gain for the other group is a loss for your own group. The other is how big the pie itself is. Violence can increase this pie, in the form of relief funds to misuse. There are also many other reasons why random violence can be useful for those who do it and for their leaders.
The concept of elites
The book puts much focus on “elites”, a concept that include official and unofficial leaders on all levels. Violence happens because elites allow or encourage small things to escalate, and they are often the ones who get the violence started in the first place. However, the authors warn against viewing the regular people as passive victims of manipulation. On the contrary, elites are often under pressure from the grassroots. While the book doesn’t go much into the issue of how a person becomes elite or stops being elite, it is obvious from the context that a person can become elite by incite violence. A person stops being elite when he is no longer influential, when he is no longer a mover and shaker in the local community. One of the ways this can happen is to renounce violence without assuming a new powerful role, for example as a politician or peacekeeper.
The usefulness of violence
Hurting someone because he is of a different religious background. Burning down his house. Even killing him. What are the reasons for such barbarism?
According to the book, there are many reasons for such behavior. And that’s without even considering low reasons such as getting an outlet for your hatred, frustration and bigotry. Such factors don’t explain anything in this context, given that the two islands have the same kind of background and population. And they rarely explain much in other contexts either: Putting emphasis on the attacker’s hatred and bigotry may be a good way to condemn his actions, but little else. The book skips such issues entirely, and doesn’t even go into how the children from different religions are effectively taught in school to mistrust each other.
Instead, the book focuses on power and resources. There are many ways to gain or keep power and resources through violence, for example the ones listed below. Which ones of them work depends on the society you live in.
1.If you drive people from their homes, you can often loot those homes and occupy them. An occupied house can often be sold for cash.
2. Destruction is often followed by rebuilding projects and various forms of humanitarian aid. This means money that the elites can take for themselves through corruption, and it also means a lot of legitimate jobs that they can distribute to their followers.
3. If peace efforts include giving jobs to the former combatants, the effect can be that the most efficient way to get a real job is to join a religious militia now, so that you can get de-radicalized and given a job later.
4. Violence by your followers may enhance your position, at the other faction’s expense. But this also means that violence against you or your followers may bolster your rivals, at your expense. Thus you may feel the need to use violence even when you don’t gain anything from it, just to maintain the balance of terror.
5.If there was no violence, the budgets for the military and other relevant institutions will be cut. One of the complaints raised in the book is how the military waits until the problem grows spectacular. Another is about military participating in the violence, supporting one of the two sides – or both sides, with Christian soldiers helping the Christian militia and Muslim soldiers helping the Jihadists.
6. As a politician or businessman, criminal networks and gangs can be useful to have as your allies. Violence between religious groups is often part of the forging of such alliances.
7. Violence can be an efficient distraction from other matters, especially investigations about corruption. If you need the local government to uphold stability, then you’d better not question the intentions and integrity of the local government. The book gives examples of how rumors about the other religious group get started and explode into violence just before efforts against corruption is about to get started. The examples shows how the violence leads to the struggle against corruption gets canceled. And how this isn’t just something that happens once or twice, but how it is a pattern.
8. When business and politics is formed along religious lines, tension between the religious groups is a strong incentive for everyone to keep you in power. For example, it is common that the governor and the vice governor of a region are from different religions – and thus form different political parties, since voting in many regions is mostly divided by religious lines. This means that the risk that something would happen to one of the two politicians is a big threat to jobs et.c for everyone from his religious group. Thus, any accusation of corruption or misuse of power will be met with outrage, no matter how obviously true the charges are.
The key difference between the islands
One of the main differences between the two islands was how the peace was handled. On North Maluku, the peace-building efforts focused more on society as a whole. This proved to be the far more successful strategy. On Maluku, the efforts focused more on the two conflicting factions: Making peace between them, making sure that both The Christians and The Muslims got their fair share.
By appeasing both sides of the conflict, the government tried to buy peace. But peace can never be bought, only built. The deals with the factions have increased the factionalism, and it has also sent a clear message to everyone that crime does indeed pay.
It has been said that conflicts between religious groups is something entirely different from a civil war, but that is not true. The situation in Maluku is very much like a civil war, although between two unofficial states within the states.
To remove the basis for conflict, society must become more integrated. An individual’s participation in society must be based on citizenship, not on religious affiliation.
The authors propose twelve recommendations, divided into three fields. The first three recommendations are about minimizing the benefits of using violence while maximizing the costs of using violence. The following five are about addressing the social bases of violence. The remaining four are about professionalizing the security sector.
1. Prevent the use of funds and distribution of state positions to pay off potential troublemakers.
2.Address the culture of capitulation to threats of violence.
3.Strengthen the investigations of large incidents of violence.
4.Address spatial segregation, the problem that Muslims and Christians live in separate areas – often as a result of previous violence.
5.Invest in serious and systematic programs for dealing with post-conflict trauma.
6.Attempt to delink communal identities from political divides. In other words: Politics, security and distribution of resources should not be about what religion you belong to.
7.Prosecute criminal groups involved in violence.
8.Address youth unemployment.
9.Improve the capacity of police to deal with communal security issues.
10.Work on developing trust in the police.
11.Change the financing of police and military: Better salaries and less side incomes.
12.Change the tolerance for corruption. For example, it should become possible to prosecute policemen in civil court.