is not Chittagong here - it's
By Andre Vltchek
MADURA ISLAND, Indonesia - For a short
time, this island that begins just a mile from the
shores of the second largest Indonesian city -
Surabaya - made it to the local and international
press. Two Shi'ite men were murdered by a
machete-waving crowd of bigots belonging to the
Sunni majority. In the single hamlet of
Nanggernang (Karang Gayam village), in the center
of the island, some 50 houses were destroyed, most
of them burned down.
Almost 200 Shi'ite people are
now living in the indoor tennis stadium turned
refugee camp in the nearby city of Sampang.
Refugee camp at Sampang
Some say the dispute began over a young
girl, a pupil at a religious boarding school.
Two imams - two brothers -
one Shi'ite and one Sunni were involved. A Sunni
imam fell in love with a girl and his brother
prevented him from marrying her.
always rumors like that in Indonesia. Bigotry and
racism are never blamed on those who commit
genocide, murder and discrimination plaguing this
archipelago since the US-sponsored coup that put
Suharto in power in 1965.
There are clear
signs of 'foreign', namely Saudi influence, but
everyone is afraid to speak about the issue.
"Not all Saudi alumna in Indonesia are
anti Shi'ite", explains Azyumardi Azra, Director
of the Graduate School of State Islamic University
in Jakarta. "Look at the former Minister of
Religious Affairs, Said Aqil Husein Munawar."
But one could say, look at the present one
- Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali and
what comes from his mouth: "Converting Shi'ite
Muslims to the Sunni Islam followed by most
Indonesians would be the best way to prevent
The government of
Indonesia is once again failing to stop the
violence against minorities. The outbreak of
fierce discrimination did not begin with some love
story, but with the religious fatwa passed by the
MUI [Indonesian Ulema Council] of Sampang deeming
Shi'ites as heretical.
And by the militant
pamphlets that are being distributed by madrassas
in Sampang and elsewhere in Madura, as well as
East Java, proclaiming that the Shi'ite community
is following misguided teachings of Islam, with
the conclusions that "The Muslims have to be alert
Police car near
"Before Ramadan this year,
Al Anwar mussala from across the street had been
broadcasting sermons twice a week. They had their
loudspeakers directed towards our school. They
were broadcasting that our blood is halal",
explains Naila Zakiyah, a Shi'ite teacher at Al
Mahadul Islami Yapi boarding school in the city of
Bangil, East Java, which includes a sizeable
latest case of religious intolerance, on a recent
journey to Madura, right after the ferry crossing
I came across the most polluted beach I have seen
anywhere in the world. No sand was visible; the
entire shore was covered by garbage.
on the horizon, like some terrible ghosts, stood
enormous decomposing cargo ships.
closer, soon realizing that what I was witnessing
was an Indonesian version of the infamous
Bangladeshi breaking yards found in Chittagong.
A team of shipbreakers
Hundreds of coolies were taking apart,
with their bare hands, enormous sea vessels. The
sparks were flying, terrible fumes covering the
area, and the water all around was turning black.
I was told that people die here, or get
injured. It was explained that periodically there
are terrible explosions.
The images were
so powerful that I immediately went to work, using
my entire still and filming equipment.
some reason I felt that what I was witnessing in
the interior of the island of Madura was connected
to those violent images from the coast.
was what the mainstream Indonesian and Western
press mostly omit that made the stories of Madura
and so many places all over the archipelago so
powerful and often so appalling: the intolerance,
even feudalism, in which the country with its
chronically low level of education and disgraceful
poverty was still living.
images of the breaking yard were somehow
synonymous to the mental state of those who kill,
destroy and insult because of ethnicity or belief.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist,
filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered
wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His
book on Western imperialism in South Pacific is
Oceania and is available here.
His provocative book about post-Suharto
Indonesia and its market-fundamentalist model, is
- The Archipelago of Fear.
(Republished with permission