Paul Sheehan (SMH) Reports From Ambon

Lessons for the Middle East in Indonesia’s success

A very pleasing, soothing article by Paul Sheehan about the Moluccas and the Spice Islands which are -still- Christian. At the moment, it seems to be reasonably peaceful there, but make no mistake:  Islam can be dormant for quite some time, but then it will flare up again with a vengeance. The Christians in Ambon better prepare for the worst.

/Sydney Morning Herald columnist

When politicians, academics, journalists and muftis repeat the mantra that the massacres of innocents by Muslims does not represent Islam, they are promoting one of the great lies of our times.

President Barack Obama is the chief and serial perpetrator of this lie.

Illustration: Michael MucciIllustration: Michael Mucci

Before I flew to Ambon two weeks ago, the only thing I knew about the city was that it had been at the centre of the worst violence between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia’s history. The violence spread when Islamic militants from around the country flocked to Ambon to begin cleansing Christians from the Maluku islands (the Moluccas), one of the few places where Christians live in large numbers in Indonesia.

Indonesia may have the largest Muslim population in the world – 220 million – but the country is so diverse and so large that it also has one of the largest Christian populations in Asia – 25 million, far more than the 14 to 15 million Christians in Australia.

One sure way to stimulate religious faith is to suppress it, and the muscularity of the mainly Pentecostal and Protestant Christianity in and around Ambon was evident during the drive from the airport. We passed church after church, far larger than the average church in Australia, all with soaring spires.

In Ambon my wife and I had a guide, Anastasia, a Christian with a shock of wavy black hair, a ready smile and, as we would discover later, a lovely, smoky singing voice. When I eventually asked if her family had been directly affected by the bloodshed in Ambon, she told me her mother had been murdered – shot dead for being a Christian. Their local church was burnt to the ground. Her school was burnt down.

For her safety, Anastasia was sent to Bali to finish high school. She became one of the more than one million refugees from the violence, the largest internal displacement ever seen in Indonesia.

From Ambon we travelled by ship to the Banda Islands, known for centuries as the Spice Islands, with their incredible impact on history. We visited the oldest nutmeg plantation in the world, run by the same family of prominent Dutch trader Pieter van den Broecke​ since about 1620, whose portrait hangs in the living room of his 13th-generation descendant, Ponky van den Broecke, who owns and runs the plantation.

Despite his jaunty Dutch name, Ponky is very Indonesian and his personal history is tragic. During the violence that started in Ambon, armed Muslims sought to cleanse the Banda Islands of Christians. All the women in his family were murdered. His wife. His two daughters. His mother. His aunt.

To avoid being driven from 400 years of family tradition and to protect the life of his surviving son, the 14th generation, van den Broecke converted to Islam.

The murdered members of his family were among more than 5000 people killed in the four-year conflict, both Christian and Muslim. All this happened on Australia’s doorstep, while we were celebrating the 2000 Olympics.

Despite this setback Indonesia has been able to accommodate democracy and diversity in a way that every Arab Muslim state has failed to do. This is in large part because of its enormous regional diversity, with 300 ethnic groups spread across 6000 islands. Strong local traditions and beliefs, separated by the sea, made Islam adapt to the archipelago as much as the people adapted to Islam.

Indonesia’s ability to contain religious violence while so much of the Muslim world has been engulfed by it is partly explained in a superb book by Elizabeth Pisani, Indonesia Etc, published last year: “Most Indonesians support the idea of religious freedom in general, but members of the great orthodox Sunni majority are not going to storm the barricades and confront a handful of fanatics who have shown they are willing to maim and kill.”

She witnessed the influence of fundamentalism gaining ground: “The newly returned hajis [returning from pilgrimage to Mecca] wanted to purge their local religion of all the flavours it had picked up while stewing for centuries in the rich cultures of the islands… in favour of… pure, identikit Arab Islam.”

This is the new reality in the globalised world. Wherever there are Muslims in large numbers, there will be a strand of religious fundamentalists who view Muslims as oppressed by infidels and who read the Koran as a call to arms, providing the justification and vindication for violence.

The pattern is repeated constantly.

When politicians, academics, journalists and muftis repeat the mantra that the massacres of innocents by Muslims does not represent Islam, they are promoting one of the great lies of our times.

President Barack Obama is the chief and serial perpetrator of this lie. He repeated the pattern on Friday and Saturday, after the massacre in San Bernadino, in which two Muslims methodically planned and carried out a Paris-style massacre that left 35 people dead or wounded.

Anyone willing to fight and die for their religion cannot be rationalised away as psychopaths. Given the thousands of attacks against civilians made in the name of Islam over the past 20 years, there would have to be a wildly disproportionate numbers of psychopaths in the Muslim populations to justify the argument that Muslims who kill are not real Muslims.

What keeps the violent fundamentalism to no more than a strand is that the Koran also contains numerous invocations of compassion, a softer version which suits the nature of most people. Most want to live and let live. We all understand that.

I’ve just spent 10 days surrounded by Muslims and been treated with warmth and acceptance at every turn, as I was on two other trips in recent years. This time I saw dozens of Christian and Muslim students socialising together in Ambon. I’m already making plans to return to Indonesia, whose success is important to Australia for so many reasons.

Twitter: Paul_Sheehan_

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3 thoughts on “Paul Sheehan (SMH) Reports From Ambon”

  1. ‘What keeps the violent fundamentalism to no more than a strand is that the Koran also contains numerous invocations of compassion, a softer version which suits the nature of most people. Most want to live and let live. We all understand that.’ What utter BS. The ‘numerous invocations of compassion’ are found in the early parts of the Koran, when Mohammed had little power and his followers were few. These pretty, oft-quoted bits have all been ‘abrogated’ by the later verses of war, and the commands to kill and enslave the unbelievers. The Muslims who refuse to follow the personal example of the ‘perfect man,’ that warlord, murderer, rapist and slave owner, are obviously ‘bad’ Muslims, and apostates. And the Koran is very clear on what should be done with apostates.

  2. “What keeps the violent fundamentalism to no more than a strand is that the Koran also contains numerous invocations of compassion, a softer version which suits the nature of most people. Most want to live and let live. We all understand that.”

    Sheik,what is your take on this?

    Koran compassion or Human compassion?

    Missing your comments-(in red)

    1. Paul Sheehan is a gentleman. He writes for the extreme left Sydney Moonbat Herald.

      Part of his job is to hold out hope, to not be totally negative and not to put too many people off with the ugly truth.

      My take?

      The Koran doesn’t contain any invocations of compassion towards unbelievers, it claims “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and those with him are forceful against the disbelievers, merciful among themselves.” (48:29)

      There is no “softer version” of Islam. A torn Koran, a perceived insult, a mad mullah in one of the mosques, one who takes his Islam straight up, undiluted, and the whole place goes up like a tinderbox. The jihad can be dormant, for quite some time. But eventually, Islam must dominate and assert its supremacy. Stay tuned for fireworks and pass the popcorn. It is as certain as the ‘amen’ in a church.

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