12 Religious Conflict in Indonesia: The Maluku Conflict

Located in the Maluku archipelago of Indonesia, the Maluku people saw a rise of conflict that took place in the late 1990s to early 2000s. This ethno-political conflict that flirted with religious ties, led to the conflict on the Ambon and Halmahera Islands (Lestari 2019).

Conflict stemmed from political and economic instability in Indonesia due to the fall of dictator Suharto and the devaluation of their currency, the rupiah. Political disputes were exacerbated in the Maluku province and north Maluku provinces due to increased tension along religious lines as conflict took place between Christian and Muslim communities in January of 1999. This conflict quickly escalated into warfare as tension arose between Christians and Muslims in this region (Lestari 2019).

The objective of the violence that unfolded was the intent to displace members of the Christian community. The Laskar Jihad, a Muslim militia group that existed in the Maluku provinces, sought to eliminate Christians from their neighborhoods. This goal led to eviction of families, as they were displaced from their homes; harassment of Christian residents; malicious attacks of locals within the community; and arson attacks that razed entire neighborhoods.

Because this conflict was predominantly militia based, the authorities were criticized for their inaction in preventing the attacks. Indeed, many military and police personnel were reported to have joined the Muslim militias and partake in the conflict instead of quelling the conflict.

The militia, realizing the backlash from outsiders, sought to organize themselves as protectors of the community early in the conflict as a means for thwarting outside interference. However, due mostly to the inaction of military and police groups, the militia grew and evolved, eventually mobilizing to the point where local gangs were created (Lestari 2019).

Devastating atrocities took place during the course of the fighting. Aside from the displacement of countless people and the loss of life, many saw child soldiers who unofficially fought in the civilian militia on both sides of the coin. Furthermore, a significant number of local Christians were subjected to forced conversion and circumcision. These males and females were forced to undergo genital circumcision between the years of 2000 and 2001. Many of these victims suffered complications from the genital circumcision, requiring emergency treatment. A few were subjected to penis removal. Much of these circumcisions took place on the islands of Kesui and Teor, where reports indicate approximately 405 Christians were subjected to enforced genital mutilation.

The Maluku conflict significantly affected the lives of 2.1 million people. Eventually, when the Maluku conflict reached its peak, a number of organizations sent security forces to areas of conflict to quell the fighting and aid in discussions of peace negotiations with the central government, local government, religious leaders, and community leaders. However, by this point in the conflict, approximately 700,000 people had been displaced and no less than 5,000 people were killed (Lestari 2019). The signing of the Malino II Accord in February of 2002 finally led to a cease in fighting and a conclusion of the religious conflict.

Works Cited

Lestari, Dewi Tika, 2019 Religious Conflict Transformation through Collective Memory and the Role of Local Music. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research (ASSEHR), Volume 187: 119-123.


Written by Jennifer Faux-Campbell. Edited by Julie Jenkins. Layout by Amanda Zunner-Keating.


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Beliefs: An Open Invitation to the Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion Copyright © by Amanda Zunner-Keating; Madlen Avetyan; and Ben Shepard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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