[Essay] In The Name of God: Peace Building in A Pluralist Community


“Religion is the cheapest and easiest reason for humans to hurt each other. All we have to do is cite God’s will which includes the command to go to war, without even explaining the context, people will gladly lift their weapons. But is God really so stunted to uphold His beliefs and teachings that He would need humans help to go to war?”

– Arman Dhani, 2015

Differences are the roots for all conflicts. In early days, Marx defines conflicts as the outcome of differences in social and economy status. People, who were then defined by their ‘class’, are grouped into two—the ruling class and the ones being ruled. In that era, people feel pressured by the divide between those classes, and thus conflict is created. Both of them want to be superior, in terms of social and economy.

Contemporary conflict studies see beyond Marx’s definition. Conflicts do not only come from hierarchical structures, but also through differences in horizontally-structured communities. The differences do not necessarily related to social and economic status of the group, as conflicts can also happen between people in the same class. Individual and group characteristics, which then defined as culture, differ from one another and create potential conflicts in every communities. A high level of differences in many cultural aspects would create a harmful potential conflict in the community. Differences in religion, which Clifford Geertz defined as a cultural system, could also resulted in conflicts.

In a multicultural society such as Indonesia, the big number of potential conflicts frequently resulted into intergroup frictions. Cultural aspects, which are deeply rooted into the society, often clashed into one another when brought into a broader context. This condition also applies to religious differences, only in a much amplified scale. Religion plays a big role I Indonesia’s constitutions. While many countries have decided to separate their governmental system with religious beliefs by implementing secular systems, Indonesia chose not to. Instead, the country decided to put religion as a fundamental part of it’s basic constitution with the establishment of the first point in Pancasila, “Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa.” It means that the country’s governmental aim is to uphold God’s will, which stands above all else.

Problems started to arise after the establishment of Pancasila. Indonesia is not a country which uphold only the rights of one religion—it acknowledges six. With six different religious groups in it, Indonesia defines itself as a religious country. This move is considered to be fatal by a number of people, as different religion have different way of living, and thus there is no concrete base of the constitution—it stands in between the divides of those six. Thus, began the long history of religious frictions in order to gain political power over Indonesia.

Defining the country as a religion-based community while acknowledging six of them means that from it’s establishment, Indonesia has admitted the differences in it. This does not only deepen the divides between its citizens, but also pushing them further to behave cynically towards others. There had been many cases in which differences in religion plays a central role in developing conflicts. Unlike other cultural aspects, religious frictions are faced with a more brutal response, such as the demolition of religious buildings that happens occasionally.

In the mid of July, 2015, conflicts arose in Tolikara, Papua, which many identified as based on religious differences. A prayer house of Moslems was burnt, and it was said through many media that the actor of the accident was Christians who do not favor their praying rituals of celebrating Eid Mubarak. The mass media postings which identify the case as a violent act of one religious group towards another then produces conflicts on a much bigger scale. Moslems all over Indonesia began to sympathize with people in Tolikara and gather funds to support the rebuilding of the prayer house. In the other hand, they also began to oppress Christians with violent acts such as the demolition of Christians’ church in Aceh and Solo.

As Gandhi believes, violence only leads to a chain of sorrow—and it is now happening in Indonesia, marked by the Tolikara conflict. News on the conflict which mostly framed the Christians as the culprit put Indonesians on a state of bigger conflict. As stated before, Indonesians relate themselves with religions closely, and identify themselves with religious groups based on six acknowledged in the constitution. When seeing the framed news, they began to see the issue as interreligious conflicts, identify themselves as a part of the groups in conflicts, and began to respond excessively.  The violent acts happening all over Indonesia after Tolikara showed how media framing in religious aspects can have a significant impact towards country’s state.

The irony comes when further investigations are conducted towards Tolikara case. It was found that the prayer house was not burnt down deliberately, and there had been shootings towards eleven Chistians afterwards, with one of them dead. The shootings was not mentioned in many mass media, which then placed Christians as the one in the wrong and Moslems as the victims. Furthermore, many media tend to portray the news excessively with the use of strong dictions. One of them dubbed the case as “inter-religion aggression” and other distinctive negative-toned ones.

Remotivi.or.id analyzed the case as a mass act of unprofessionalism from media workers.  It was found that some media posted the news a few hours after the prayer house was burnt down, which usually takes about several days considering the distance in location. It was considered to be unusual, as Indonesian media would take longer time to get there. The first published news was by Kompas.com and MetroTVNews.com which were later found to be only accepting materials from a contributor and did not go through verification.

Aside from the inability to check for facts, most media also tend to do several practices which go against the essences of journalism. Remotivi.or.id dubbed most media, at that time, to be unable to differentiate between the facts and talks. Stanley Adi Prasetyo, a member of Indonesian Press Council agreed on this idea and titled Indonesian journalism trend as “Jurnalisme Desas-desus” which treats fact and gossip on a same level.  Other critiques of the news media in reporting Tolikara includes it’s provocative news character and inability of choosing the right person to be interviewed.

Center for Religious and Cultural Studies (CRCS) of Gadjah Mada University claimed that while having those incompetency, journalists’ main failure is that they did not understand what happened in the field.  The conflict was not a one-time event, but an outcome of a long-standing frictions in Tolikara, Papua. CRCS identify the conflict as a friction between two groups that did not necessarily based on religious tendencies. It was a long-standing conflict between the natives and newcomers of the area, which happens to be of different religions.

Is it just a matter of technical incompetency of the journalists in handling the case? In 2012, Yayasan Pantau, an organization established to encourage journalism practice in Indonesia, conducted a research titled “Persepsi Wartawan Indonesia terhadap Islam dan Jurnalisme” with 600 respondents. The research was conducted to analyze journalists professionalism in handling sensitive case such as the ones involving religious aspects. Through the research, it was found that most Indonesian journalists tend to be biased when handling religious cases.  The main reason for that is because they cannot differentiate between objectivity and religiosity. They identify themselves as Moslem before they are journalists or Indonesians. 66,5% of the respondents even agree that the main task for journalists includes upholding Islamic tradition. This self-identification is what later cause a biased reporting and eventually leads to conflicts in a bigger scale.

In a religious pluralist community such as Indonesia, ‘God’ is often used as a justification of violent acts. The main cause of that condition is the big divides that separate six religions. People identify themselves as having different points of rightness and wrongness because of their different religions. This challenge is much bigger than the ones happening in a secular community. Seculars differentiate morals and religions values, and so, there is no power struggle in determining which are acknowledged by the constitutions.

To cross the boundaries between religious groups in a religious pluralist community is not an easy tasks. The first step would be to realize that all religions hold the same moral value—none of them approve violent acts in which some activists tend to get involved actively. Religion true nature is to guide people into living in harmony with others, and not the other way around. It was only when we stop using God’s will as a justification of violent acts can we live in harmony with one another.[*]

Lintang Cahyaningsih



Price, Vincent. 1989. Social Identification and Public Opinion: Effects of Communicating Group Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press.

CSRC UGM. 2015. “Tolikara Idul Fitri 2015: Tentang Konflik Agama, Mayoritas-Minoritas, dan Perjuangan Tanah Damai”. Archived in http://crcs.ugm.ac.id/main/news/3511/tolikara-idul-fitri-2015-tentang-konflik-agama-mayoritas-minoritas-dan-perjuangan-tanah-damai.html, accessed on 26 Januari 2016.

_____. 2015. “Insiden Media di Tolikara”. Archived in http://www.remotivi.or.id/meja-redaksi/161/insiden-media-di-tolikara, accessed on 26 Januari 2016.

Prasetyo, Stanley Adi. “Jurnalisme Desas-Desus”. Archived in http://dewanpers.or.id/opini/detail/140/jurnalisme-desas-desus, accessed on 29 Januari 2016.

_____. 2014. “Islam dan Jurnalisme”. Archived in http://www.pantau.or.id/?/=d/739, accessed on 4 Februari 2016.

Dhani, Arman. 2015. “Indonesia: dari Tolikara Hingga Aceh-Singkil”. Archived in http://www.rappler.com/indonesia/109566-indonesia-dari-tolikara-hingga-aceh-singkil, accessed on 4 Februari 2016.


Presented for US – Indonesia Partnership Program 2016 Summer Exchange on “Religious Pluralism and Democratic Society” application


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