Last year, when pundits were discussing the role of the social media in triggering or exacerbating communal clashes in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar, I met Jack Manuputty at a conference in
Jack is the initiator of the Peace Provocateurs movement in the Maluku Province
of Indonesia. Bangkok
Peace provocateurs? Well, Jack actually did induce others to spread peace in the once conflict-ridden Maluku. In September 2011, when tensions erupted after a 10-year hiatus in the violence that cascaded in Maluku, Peace Provocateurs used the social media to defuse tensions.
|Bringing people together: Rev. Jack Manuputty|
Inter-religious clashes between 1999 and 2003 in Maluku, called Spice Islands, took a heavy toll: 9,000 lives (unofficial sources put the number at 15,000); over 500,000 internally displaced people and thousands who fled to other provinces in Indonesia and some who even sailed illegally to Australia; damaged houses and public facilities.
The social fabric was torn to shreds, and the 54 per cent Muslims and 44 per cent Christians that made Maluku’s population lived in an insular world. The Malino II Peace Agreement, signed in 2002, ended the large-scale violence, but there were sporadic tensions.
The media took sides in the conflict if not they were indifferent. So when conflict erupted again 2011, many media houses portrayed it as similar to that of the 1999 conflict. The visual media used pictures of the violence in 1999 in a loop. At a different level, rumours, exaggerated reports and misinformation flew thick and fast in the capital
via SMS, Facebook, Twitter and
blogs. Many radical websites stoked the fire. Ambon City
That was when Jack founded the Peace Provocateurs movement involving a network of students, lecturers, religious leaders, journalists and others who had strong connections across the religious divide. “We
decided to respond in kind with a reverse intent. If conflict provocateurs could use new technology to incite violence, we could use it to undermine their incitement,” he told this writer at the Consultation on Media and the Promotion of Peace and Justice held in
the first week of September. Bangkok
Significantly, Peace Provocateurs adopted the same methods as that of the mainstream media or at least what they ought to have done. Every time there was a rumour, like churches or mosques being burned, its members checked out to see whether there was any truth in it, traced the source of the information and used Twitter and text messages to send clarifications on reports. Eventually, the mainstream media began to follow their information on Twitter and Facebook. What’s more, the mainstream media agreed to choose their words carefully while reporting violence; for instance, the term “riot” was replaced by “tumult”.
Peace Provocateurs made sure to burst the “expanding bubble of anger” at the earliest, mostly in an hour. For instance, when a Christian girl had her arm hacked off by a Muslim crowd, everyone expected more trouble to follow. Soon a Twitter message signed “Provokator Perdamaian”, or “Peace Provocateurs”, began doing the rounds: “The girl is fine & at home with family. Look, here’s a fresh photo of her. And here’s a video with her made a few minutes ago.”
In another instance, when a grenade attack a week before the opening of the National Quran Recitation Festival (MTQ) injured 48 Christians, Jack tweeted, “Don’t you ever think that you can provoke the anger of the Christian community so the MTQ will fail. We will fight to the end to make this event successful.” The message went viral and both Muslims and Christians agreed to make the MTQ a success as part of the Maluku pride.
The Peace Provocateurs movement, which has no formal structure, has now extended its activities to peaceful times. One of its arms is the Maluku Photo Club. Its members circulate pictures of peaceful interaction among the community through YouTube and other social media outlets. Photographs like that of a Muslim trader in a predominantly Christian area serve to demonstrate the fact that the vast majority of people have no interest in the violence that vested interests are trying to stir up.
A documentary made by ICT Watch, a Jakarta-based civil society organisation established in 2002, explains how Peace Provocateurs started “making peace with our fingertips”. Almas Catie, one of the founding members of the movement, and his friends have waged their own battle against the mainstream media’s domination by publishing a community magazine.
The use of Internet to provide peace is the outcome of the strong ties
and friends fostered over the web and
in the virtual world--school alumnae, neighbourhoods, soccer clubs, musicians,
photographers, bloggers, and so on. The strategy was simple: identify
‘strategic partners’ in the border neighbourhood; build a team of contacts
located at flashpoints throughout the city; and enlarge the group of friendship
web by encouraging much more friends to join the movement. Glenn Fredley, the
Moluccan singer who campaigns for peace and justice, says he believes his
friends on the social media. Almas
The success of the strategy was not surprising, as there are 55 million Internet users, 42.9 million Facebook users and some 3.3 million bloggers in
. The number of Twitter
users has trebled in the past three years. Indonesia
“The entire strategy is wrapped up in what we called the coconut leaf plaited-mat strategy,” said Jack. “The character of this strategy is adopted from the
practice of plaiting coconut leaf mats, where each group is woven in with other
groups in order to achieve strength to pursue the peace process and
dialogue/communication within community at large.”
However, the social media is just a part of a big repertoire of the peace movement. Music, dance, theatre, photography, storytelling and sport were used to bring people together, bridging the gap among them, and building trust among each other.
Jack is also the co-founder of the Maluku Interfaith Institution for Humanitarian Action (LAIM), which creates institutional capacity-building programmes, develops positive public discourse, and builds a network of pluralistic conflict prevention observers. LAIM builds interfaith peace groups of journalists, women, religious leaders and students. In its “live-in” programme, clergy men and women spend overnight in each other’s homes in order to build trust and work together to solve social problems in the country.
The network has expanded its work and even posts volunteers in the streets to address flare-ups directly. Many of its models have been adapted for use in other parts of
On October 11, 2013, the
for Interreligious Understanding awarded Jack Manuputty, a Master of Arts and
International Peacemaking Program graduate from Hartford Seminary in the ,
its Peacemakers in Action award in recognition of his peacemaking efforts. United States
“These activities involve the provocateurs in the story to the point that they are no longer observers and reporters, but active participants,” said Jack, who believes in the power of action to transform society.
His clerical robe makes him believe all the more about his role in the reconstruction of society.
The Reverend Jack Manuputty is a pastor of the Maluku Protestant Church (GPM).
(Published in New Vision for a Changing World, September 2014)