MODERATION EFFORTS: The nation-building process is taking place on the ground level with meaningful and tangible results
RAFIQ and I sit down and sip coffee while talking about the past, and how he set up his local radio station called “Love FM Poso”.
He expresses his disappointment over the manner in which his little town of Poso, in Central Sulawesi, was the subject of so much attention for all the wrong reasons a decade ago: “Whenever there is a bomb threat, or an explosion, then the media comes here to report the news. But once the situation calmed down and life returned to normal, nobody ever speaks about us. Nobody ever reports on our successes in conflict-resolution, or how we have managed to build a new life for the people here. Bad news always sells, and good news never makes the headlines. Nobody wants to know about us when the stories are happy ones.”
Its easy to see how and why people like Rafiq are sad about the manner in which their town of Poso has captured the world’s headlines for all the wrong reasons.
A decade ago, Poso was at the heart of a bitter and violent conflict between Christians and Muslims, and the town and the territories around it were divided between rival armed factions that were bent on exterminating each other.
It has been estimated that tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians fought and died in and around Poso, as well as other parts of Indonesia, and that Indonesia was on the verge of inter-religious war.
And yet more than a decade later, Poso has turned around and rebuilt itself. Rafiq’s radio station is one of the attractions in the town, and linked to it just next door is a music club, a restaurant and even a karaoke bar called “Matahari café”, which Rafiq started on his own with the help of loans from the bank and the profit from the radio station he started earlier.
The most startling thing about Rafiq himself is that he is not an ordinary citizen of Poso, but a former militant who was arrested and sentenced to jail for making bombs and taking part in the religious conflict in the past.
Today he has become a changed man, and he speaks frankly about his role in the violence of the past and how he came to realise the error of his ways: “When the fighting was at its peak, I was compelled by circumstances to take part, for we all felt then that there was the simple choice of killing or being killed. I made bombs, and weapons, during the conflict; and though I never killed anyone myself with my own hands, I cannot say for certain that nobody was killed or injured by the weapons I made. Then I was arrested and they caught me with weapons — it was clear that I was guilty, and I was sentenced to half a year in jail.
“But in jail I had a lot of time on my hands, and I considered the things I had done: I felt bad that I took part in the violence, and that people may have been killed or injured because of me. I felt it wasn’t right that I was only jailed for six months, for my sins were greater than that. And so I repented my ways, and when I was released I decided to turn a new leaf and to start my life again. That’s when I started Love Radio FM, as a local radio channel to give local news about the positive things in our society, and not the bad news about the past…”
The amazing thing about Rafiq’s effort is that it was met with a positive response from all sides: Muslims and Christians began to tune into the channel because they wanted to hear positive, uplifting news about Poso and to feel that they were still invested in their own society. Soon with additional loans Rafiq set up a music hall, a restaurant and a karaoke bar where people from different communities could come over together and re-live the happier days of the past, when Muslims and Christians were neighbours who cared about each other.
“We realise now that this violence was engineered, and that we never really hated each other. Long after the conflict is over, and the world has forgotten us, we began to ask ourselves — how did this happen and how did friends turn into enemies?”
At Rafiq’s Matahari café, the evening crowd is a mixed and fascinating one, where former Muslim and Christian militants meet together over coffee with young musicians, local activists and even off-duty members of the police.
In that relaxed atmosphere, the former combatants can speak about their past and share their common experiences, which includes discussing their common guilt and regret for what they did.
As I sit in the crowd, I am fascinated by the discussion that follows where former Christian and Muslim militants speak together as friends again, joke about their troubles, and occasionally express in muted terms their regret for the pain they caused each other.
Young musicians play music while older couples and families sing karaoke, and normality sets in. It is a scene that is almost movie-like, except for the fact that the actors in this case are real.
Indonesia is heading for the elections in a month’s time, and this time round a host of important issues will be raised. As a country that has gone through crisis and problems, Indonesia has emerged stronger and perhaps wiser, too.
From the analyst’s point of view however, the challenges that lie ahead for this archipelago are many, and there remains the need to form some kind of national consensus that will bind the nation together.
Yet we tend to forget that Indonesia’s complex story is made up of millions of stories like Rafiq’s, and in a quiet corner of Poso the process of reconciliation and rebuilding has already begun, albeit at a modest local level.
This is the sort of success story that one finds in Indonesia all the time, and yet is seldom reported as it lacks the shock value of disaster reports and tales of violence. Yet this is the sort of success story that really needs to be told again and again, for it is here that we see the nation-building process taking place on the ground level, with meaningful and tangible results for real human beings who are the Indonesians of today.