Peace Education in the Mollucas, Indonesia: Between Global Models and Local Interests


Abstrak Disertasi Oleh: Alpha Amirrachman (Universiteit van Amsterdam)

Defense date: 6 June 2012

The objective of this case study is to examine the impact of peace education projects supported by international agencies UNICEF and UNDP, and bilateral agency JICA in the conflict-affected province of the Moluccas, Indonesia. Four schools were selected: a private junior high school: a private junior high school (School 1) located in a Christian dusun (village) of Ama Ory, Paso; an Islamic school (School 2) located in a Muslim dusun of Telaga Kodak, Leihitu; a public junior high school (School 3); and a private senior high school (School 4) -the last two of which are located in the city of Ambon.

The study was based on a one-year research fieldwork (January-December 2009) in the island of Ambon, the Moluccas, Indonesia, where peace education projects were introduced into formal education after the province had been devastated by a communal conflict between Muslims and Christians. Schools 1 and 2 received peace education intervention from JICA, School 3 from UNICEF and UNDP, while School 4 did not receive a specifically tailored peace education intervention. My research questions are as follows: 1) What was the nature of the design and implementation of Moluccas’ peace education projects?; 2) Who were involved in the design and implementation of these peace education projects?; 3) How did the four selected schools experience the conflict?; 4) What was the impact of peace education projects on everyday school life?; and 5) How did the peace education projects influence students’ perception towards citizenship?

After the fall of the authoritarian New Order’s regime in 1999, the province was swept with massive sectarian conflict during the period of 1999-2003. The violence in the Moluccas has been described as massive in scale and scope, and one of the most shocking of its kind, spanning from the capital Ambon to the villages, killing at least 2,000 people and making more than a quarter of a million others homeless throughout the vast Moluccan archipelago. Besides the sectarian conflict, the country also saw a strengthening of what seemed to be an exclusive identity politics where local people in Central Moluccas – who have enjoyed political and economic dominance since the Dutch colonial period – tried to ‘return’ to their local traditions (adat) after almost thirty-years of an oppressive and centralised New Order regime.

However, the term ‘adat community’ of Central Moluccas, which is claimed to represent ‘indigenous people’, is problematic because, for example, migrants such as Butonese, Buginese and Makasarese (Muslims), and even people from Southeast Moluccas (Christians and Muslims) who have lived in Central Moluccas for generations, are not perceived to be in the same category as Central Moluccans. It is important to note that the unfavorable sentiment towards non-locals was evident during the initial stage of the 1999 conflict and that the conflict itself started with a skirmish between locals and non-locals, which evolved into a massive religious conflict involving Moluccan Muslims and Christians themselves. Furthermore, the notion of ‘adat community’ believes in a homogeneous ethnic group and turns a blind eye to the impact of urbanisation, migration and, equally important, state institutions. Still, the peace education projects -which received support from UNICEF, UNDP and JICA – incorporated these values of Central Moluccan local adat into their programs.

Based on their own local tradition, people in Central Moluccas live religiously segregated. Adat-based pela-gandong, which is a traditional alliance between negeris (traditional villages, comprising Muslim and Christian negeris), is traditionally viewed to as a way to maintain peaceful relations between negeris. The finding, however, shows that a certain degree of suspicion and hatred between Muslim and Christian students remain intact, particularly at Schools 1, 2 and 3, despite the fact that they have received peace education intervention. This is, I believe, a part of the attitude in a society where religious segregation exists and is endorsed by their own local tradition. The peace element, which was actualised mainly by school visits, was practically insufficient because it was conducted only once or twice and limited to only two schools. After the project, the school visit activity did not continue because of a lack of resources, among other reasons. Continued informal relations between the people of the two dusuns were evident, but they were very few and far between, and the marriage relations were also problematic because of the sensitivity of religious conversion issues.

The case of School 4 serves as evidence of how school principal leadership played a significant role in mitigating the effects of the conflict and nurturing peace at school, despite the fact that the school was located in a flash point of the conflict and did not receive specifically tailored peace education intervention. While the school was able to convince the students to keep studying even during the peak of the conflict, other schools, including School 3 in the city of Ambon, were forced to halt its teaching and learning activities due to religious tension among its teachers and students. Muslim and Christian students of School 4 also mingled well with each other; they befriended and interacted with each other just like any other children would do in a normal situation without any religious sentiment. They also visited each other and many of their parents took no issue with this.

The community participation was only obvious for the duration of the project and after its completion it did not continue, except at Schools 1 and 4 whose parents already had a certain degree of trust towards the school prior to the start of the project. School 4 showed a high degree of community participation and this was the result of a strong bond between the school and the community, which had been developed and nurtured over a long period of time due to the leadership of the school principal.

I argue that the locally oriented peace education was made against the backdrop of, and was shaped by, the strengthening of local identity politics evident in Central Moluccan society. Tension between national, ethnic and religious identities was palpable even at school level. Students rigorously challenged an imagined Indonesian national identity, which was systematically nurtured during the New Order via schooling. Again, unlike other schools whose students had strong preference for religious and ethnic identities, School 4 shows strong preference for national identity, which encompasses religious and ethnic boundaries. The already marginalised groups (the Butonese of School2 and, to a lesser extent, the Southeast Moluccans of Schooll, for example) can also have the feeling of being neglected and pushed further into the periphery if the nurture of peace is designed in such a way, within the framing of only Central Moluccan local tradition. It should be noted that schools, instead of contributing to peace, can also contribute to division, which is an embryo for violence within society. In my case study, clearly it was only School 4 that was able to spread and nurture peace culture through its caring and decisive school leadership, without having to talk about the so-called local tradition.

My study likewise shows that people were reluctant to talk about the past openly, although they are eager to bring the darkest chapter of their history to a close. Nevertheless, almost no one was willing to discuss this in an open, reflective and critical manner. Worse still, opportunities to train students to become critical and reflective citizens were reduced almost completely as final year students were drilled to prepare for a ‘black and white’, multiple­ choice national examination. Therefore, the multiple-choice system of the national examination turned the elements of problem-solving, critical thinking and inquiry skills into a mere ornament.

On the whole, my study displays the limitation of peace education as conceptualised by UNICEF, UNDP and JICA, and implemented in the local context. It also discloses the erosion of a unified national project of national identity since the period of decentralisation. The structural reform of decentralisation, which is manifested in the form of an excessive regionalism, proved to be prone to identity-based conflict and eroded the feeling of national identity. Hence, the role of schooling in nurturing peace culture and citizenship needs to be in tandem with the wider reform of democratisation in the society. Nevertheless, at the same time, parents of the students are members of a wider society, which means schools still have a chance to initiate and exert influence on a wider society through community or parental involvement.

On a skeptical note, I believe that the peace-related components in these projects were too superficial or too little to achieve a deep and long-lasting impact upon students and society. Furthermore, the Central Moluccan culturally exclusive orientation of the peace education curriculum will not help to address the power and social inequality that is deeply-rooted in Moluccan society, where there is still tension between locals and non-locals, and even among the locals themselves. On an optimistic note, School 4’s principal leadership shows its paramount influence in helping to build relations among students, and to secure parental and community support, regardless of their religious and ethnic identity. This school is as an exemplary model where citizenship consciousness is nurtured in an effectual manner. More promisingly, the case of School 4 shows that people have the capacity to initiate a persistent process of peace education without assistance from foreign agencies.

Reflecting on my own case study and the pertinent theoretical underpinning, I believe that in a conflict-affected society where power inequality among religious and ethnic groups can still be found, and where competition for power and influence among them is still deeply marred with religious and ethnic sentiment – further exacerbated with traditional belief, which legitimises religious segregation – the conception of identity politics is useful to understand how, and why, inter-religious and ethnic tension remains intact in what was supposed to be a post-conflict situation. My research therefore contributes to the theoretical debate on whether peace education can enhance citizenship awareness, the role of education in conflict affected areas in helping to unite or disintegrate the already divided society, and the role of school principal leadership in carrying out school vision.


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