Grudges born in clashes far away
UJUNG PANDANG, INDONESIA
Zainudin Fenetiruma's biggest worry right now is his curly hair: He fears his looks may portray him to be someone he's not. As a Muslim living in a predominantly Muslim town, you would think he'd be safe from the religious strife between Muslims and Christians in other parts of Indonesia.
But in cities like Ujung Pandang, the provincial capital of South Sulawesi that is home to dozens of ethnic and religious groups, simple facts such as whether your hair is kinky or straight are complicating life.
Reacting to fighting on tiny Ambon, more than 600 miles away, some of Mr. Fenetiruma's fellow Muslim students are blocking any Christians from their university campus. More than 100 Muslims have died in religious fighting in the past few weeks on the island of Ambon. Many of the Ambonese are Christian, and most tend to have curly hair.
An English student, Fenetiruma is from the majority Christian province of Irian Jaya, 1,000 miles to the east of here. As it happens, many of the Ambon victims were ethnic Bugis originally from Ujung Pandang. The survivors have come home with more than just a grudge against Christians. Or against people who look like people who tend to be Christian.
Such complexities have made Ujung Pandang a powder keg that could set off a chain reaction of ethnic and religious conflicts across Indonesia.
Known to riot for causes as mundane as bus fares, Ujung Pandang is still pockmarked by torched shops that bear witness to anti-Chinese pogroms that swept the city in 1997. At the entrance to Hasanudin University stands the blackened frame of a church set alight by Muslims following the burning of mosques elsewhere last year.
Fenetiruma says students from his island are demanding safe passage home. "We all want to go," Fenetiruma says. "I'm a Muslim but I'm afraid too. I have kinky hair so I can be taken for a Christian."
Fenetiruma says he is not just thinking of his own safety. He points out that the Bugis are a minority on many of Indonesia's islands, including Irian Jaya and West Timor. "If only one Irian student gets killed here it will be fatal for the Bugis in Irian Jaya," he says.
"We don't want what happened in Ambon to happen in Irian. So it is better for us to go home so no one gets killed."
Bugis families ran for cover after a Bugis bus driver hit and killed an Irian child in the provincial capital of Jayapura in February, fearing a retaliation that, this time, did not come. Last year a dispute over prices led Irians to torch a Bugis market in western Irian Jaya.
That helps explain why the governor of South Sulawesi banned Irianese students from leaving, even though he has no such authority, and why the Irian governor also urged them to stay put. Officials fear that their arrival could spark a backlash against the Bugis in Irian Jaya and encourage new attacks on Christians in Ujung Pandang.
This year, so far, Ujung Pandang has been spared most violence. When Muslim refugees arrived here they were escorted home by the military to make sure they stayed clear of the Ambonese neighborhood. Eight soldiers guard the main Ambonese church around the clock and patrol the neighborhood's streets. When Muslim protesters, reacting to the Ambonese killings, stoned Christian churches last month they never made it to the Ambonese church.
Benny Gaspersz, elder of the Ambonese church, credits the relative peace in Ujung Pandang to the lack of lingering tensions between the Bugis and Christian minorities in this city (though the relative prosperity of the Chinese minority across Indonesia still breeds resentment). "Most migrants here live modestly," he says. "There is no basis for jealousy towards us."
But the frequency of ethnic and religious conflicts across Indonesia in recent months proves that jealousy is not a requisite for conflict. Some ethnic groups have started fighting over as little as a taxi fare. Now people from the same religious and ethnic background are fighting, and as Indonesia gears up for general elections in June, rival parties have started clashing in the streets.
Some Muslim students have teamed up with Christians to call for fraternization on campus here. In Ambon, the military has moved in and managed to halt the killings in most areas. But on the island of Borneo, soldiers are struggling to halt more killings, this time by Christian Dayaks and Muslim Malays against Muslims from the island of Madura.
Anto, a Muslim student who like many Indonesians uses only one name, warns that his friends may be provoked if Muslims are targeted elsewhere. "We just wanted to show that we can do the same as they," he says of the blockades on campus. "In Ambon Muslims are the minority, but here we are the majority."