Violence, Identity, and Religion

What is seen as violence whether it is based on the identity or religious issues has been created throughout the history and mostly has been used by the political elites to strengthen their influence on the society.
Exercising the historical and socio-politico approach in order to understand the feature of the violence several years before and after the fall of New Order’s Soeharto (1995-2004), John T. Sidel in Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia sees the ethnical and religious violence in Indonesia as rational consequences of a long time political process dating back to the colonial Dutch era.

He gives an example how in the seventeenth century the Dutch colonial power had divided, segregated, and ghettoized Chinese immigrations and descendants from the local people even there were historical evidences that before the establishment of the VOC many of immigrants from southern China had assimilated easily into Javanese society. Some of them had become prosperous traders, and some others were Muslim ulama who involved in the peacefully promotion of Islam in Java Island and other island during the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

At the same time, Sidel’s perspective fills up the blank sheets left by the advocates of “religious violence industry” who believe that terrorism actions emerged in Bali (2002), Jakarta (2003 and 2004), and many other regions during this period, simply motivated by the sacred text of the Islamic teaching and moved under the Islamic banners. He notes that this kind of view, as elsewhere, “has become intimately bound up with the exercise of various form of power” owned by the state and global regime that look for support and justification under the global war on terrorism placards.

Similar to the riots based on identity; the religious violence has its own roots back to the previous eras and has been influenced by the local, national and global political context. Sidel strongly suggest the use of historical context approach in looking at the religious violence in Indonesia.

Sidel argues that his study on religious violence “takes a skeptical view of large-scale research project linked to major funding bodies, government agencies and other center of state power”, and moreover his framework differs from those already developed by the sponsorship of the “religious violence industrial” approach.

Slightly similarly to Sidel’s study, Jacques Bertrand’s Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia sees the violence in the late 1990s Indonesia can be partly explained by analyzing Indonesia national model and its institutionalization during Soeharto era.

Using the institutional approach Bertrand to some extent compares the way Sukarno and Soeharto treated Indonesia’s principle of national model in different era; Sukarno had mediated and provided “a broad agreement” among his fellow countrymen whereas Soeharto had strongly imposed the idea of Indonesian unitary state together with its national symbols as the things that should be taken for granted and banned such questions on it.

In another part Bertrand notes that violent ethnic conflict “is not always a product of conscious effort to redesign institution or modify existing national model.”

The third work for this week is Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India by Ashutosh Varshney, where the author discusses the violence between the Muslim and Hindu in India after the India-Pakistan partition until 1995. He brings up the debate between postmodernist and constructivist in defining the cause of conflict.

Unlike postmodernists who see that the violence is mainly created by the elites’ political ambitions and objectives, the constructivists believe that the nature of violence is not merely a master narrative.

Using Benedict Anderson’s imagined community concept, Varshney stresses “modern technology of imagination are not available only to the knowledge and power elite but also to the people at large.” The process of making resilience and resistance or violence and revenge narrative is not dominated by the political elites.

Varshney stresses his study to the need of civic engagement as an instrument to reduce and decline the number of violence. He argues that the more open one ethnic group or religious association to the others, the better connection among those different societies, communities or groups and the less number of violence among them under the banner of ethnic or religion differences driven by narrow political elite’s interest.

Modernity at the same time has changed the meaning of identities by bringing the masses into a larger, extra local framework of consciousness and made it wider and more institutionalized.

I myself determine and believe that the violence is caused by social and political gap in the broader or umbrella society.

When a group of people, whatever their ethnicity and religion, has been politically pressured and economically marginalized, thus their existence has been diminished by the superior for such a long time, they would likely produce and manufacture the resistance-rhetoric among the group’s members and transfer the resilience from generation to generation.

That happens in my family, in my society and my local community. Injustice and unequal treatment are the seed of resilience, and could manifest in to violence at the end of the day.

As many of the New Order’s criticizers, I assume that the regime has mistreated the unitary-state concept as the foundation of the state. He has discriminated many of local/native peoples in the archipelagic country, and centered the development process mostly only in the shantytown of Jakarta, and accumulated the wealth even only in his allies and cronies.

He treated the Chinese descendants in two different ways. In one hand he gave a sense that he treated the Chinese descendants, as they were involved in what was campaigned as the 1965 communist coup d etat, so then the rest of Indonesian associated the Chinese men with communism and blamed them for what has happened.

The New Order regime has banned several scholarly works that provided evidence of the amalgamation process between Chinese immigrants and the local Indonesian, such as Prof. Slamet Muljana’s Runtuhnya Kerajaan Hindu Jawa dan Bangkitnya Kerajaan Islam Nusantara and Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Hoakiao di Indonesia.

Meanwhile, in another hand Soeharto gave privilege and protected Chinese tycoons (Bob Hasan, Liem Sioe Liong, Jimbaran groups, etc.) as his compatriot in the capitalistic and Western style development program.

Soeharto and his administration established the invisible Berlin Wall between the Chinese descendants and the rest of Indonesian. Soeharto exercised quite similar treatment to the Muslim groups, pushed them to accept Pancasila as the only foundation for any Muslim organization, and associated those who rejected Pancasila with the communism and the nationally banned Indonesia Communist Party (PKI).

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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