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Jakarta Post

EDITORIAL: Defuse Sentani tension


    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, March 22, 2018   /   08:14 am
EDITORIAL: Defuse Sentani tension The mesmerizing view of Lake Sentani in Jayapura, Papua. (Shutterstock/File)

Authorities in the Papua regency of Jayapura should act fast to defuse the sectarian tension building up in the wake of local Christian church leaders’ objections to the ‘’overly tall’’ minaret of a new mosque in Sentani. It is good to hear local government, police and Muslim authorities’ assurances that there is nothing to worry about because all parties are working on finding a solution. However, the undercurrents remain unknown.

The Christian-majority township showed signs of religious tension last week after the Jayapura Churches Association gave the regency administration until the end of the month to have the minaret of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is under construction, shortened to the average height of churches in the area. In a petition filed with the local government on March 15, they threatened to take their own action unless the authorities met their demands.

Apparently, the mosque project is only a symptom of simmering conflict between mostly Christian indigenous people and generally better off and more skilled Muslim migrants. In their letter, church leaders also conveyed the complaint that the Muslim community had built the mosque without prior consultation with their neighbors — a mandatory procedure under a joint ministerial decree on construction of places of worship. They also expressed disappointment that their long-standing objections to the blaring call to prayer, the adzan, from mosque loudspeakers have gone unheeded.

Any sign of sectarian conflict in restive Papua, especially, should be handled swiftly yet carefully because of its extremely high sensitivity. The minaret row is only the latest in a string of conflicts fueled by complex social, economic and political problems in the resource-rich territory long beset by secessionist issues.

The influx of migrants that started in 1974 under the state-sponsored transmigration program, and which continues as individual migration, has helped the local economy. But their rising numbers coupled with heavy military presence have caused fear among indigenous people that they are being “colonized”, outnumbered and their culture is being threatened.

That is why in Papua any religiously or ethnically charged conflict has immense incendiary potential. The present ripples recall the ramifications of the 2015 Muslim-Christian clash in Tolikara, southern Papua in which an indigenous resident was allegedly shot dead by police. It triggered retaliatory attacks on churches in Java and exacerbated Papuans’ distrust of the police, whom they suspected of pandering to the migrants.

Christian and Muslim leaders in both Jakarta and Papua should refrain from issuing provocative statements that will only inflame the already tense situation. Influential religious organizations like the Indonesian Ulema Council, Nahdlatul Ulama, the Indonesian Communion of Churches and the government should work hand-inhand in finding a peaceful settlement.

We hope that the government and religious leaders will soon be able to resolve the brewing conflict amicably. If not, the tension could escalate and provide grounds for militants from both religious groups to take the law into their own hands. The police, notoriously trigger-happy when handling rowdy crowds in Papua, should be particularly careful so as not repeat the mistakes of Tolikara.