Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Prejudice, Ignorance, Inequality
A scene at the animated television series Justice League Unlimited shows a Greek god telling Wonder Woman that people will always have massacres, bloodlust or slaughters as long as there are "prejudice, ignorance and inequality."
Ares, the ancient Greek god, just lost a war he helped instigate when telling the winning Wonder Woman, "But I'll be back and sooner than you think. Wherever there's prejudice, ignorance, inequality, I'll be there."
Standing right in front of Ares, Wonder Woman coldly replied, "And I'll be waiting."
I like to learn from that scene. When crisscrossing Indonesia and Timor Lorosae over the last four years, from Aceh in northern Sumatra to Papua near Australia, I visited many mass graves and researched many slaughters under both the Dutch and Indonesian rules over the last four centuries. Ares' statement is relevant to this archipelago.
Unfortunately, Wonder Woman's presence is only fictional. Wonder Woman, whose real name is Diana Prince, is a founding member of the Justice League Unlimited. Other DC Comic characters in this series include Batman (Bruce Wayne), Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (John Stewart), Hawkgirl (Shayera Hol), Martian Manhunter (J'onn J'onzz) and Superman (Clark Kent).
In Greek mythology, Ares or Ἄρης or Άρης is the son of Zeus and Hera. Though often incorrectly referred to as the Olympian god of war, he is more accurately the god of savage war, or bloodlust, or slaughter personified.
Let me give you one simple example. In October 1999, a contentious letter began circulating around Ternate and Tidore that shifted attention from a land dispute in the Malifut area in Halmahera to the religious aspects of the conflict. The letter was addressed to the “Head of the Halmahera Synod in Tobelo” from the Synod of Maluku.
This letter contained plans for the removal of Muslim Makian settlers from Halmahera and the establishment of Christian control over the island and its wealth. Muslim readers saw the letter as evidence of the church’s role in the violence in Malifut. It also drew a link between the events in Kao-Makian village war and the sectarian violence in Ambon. Kao is predominantly Christian although Kao Muslims also took part in battling the Makian settlers.
The letter was signed by “Semi Titaley.” There were many signs that the letter was a questionable one. It has no official church letterhead. Sammy P. Titaley also usually used “S.P. Titaley” plus his academic title “S.Th.” when signing a church document. The Protestants churches implicated in the letter, GPM and GMIH, denied its authenticity and quickly released statements that decried it as a blatant attempt at provocation.
The Evangelical Church of Halmahera (GMIH), the immediate successor of the Dutch mission church, has long held a near monopoly over Protestant Christianity in North Maluku. It remains the dominant church in most of North Maluku with the exception of Tidore, Obi and Bacan, which are under the Protestant Church of Maluku (GPM).
Muhammad Amin Faaroek, an elder in Tidore, told me that when he received the letter he saw the signature to be a fake. “It doesn’t look like Sammy Titaley’s signature,” Faaroek said. That fake letter, however, succeded in triggering a sectarian conflict between the Muslims and the Christians in Tidore, Ternate, Halmahera etc, killing more than 6,000 people and dividing the society along religious lines. Sometimes I suspected Ares was walking somewhere in Tidore or Ternate when that letter circulating.
The scene took place in Justice League Unlimited Season 1 Episode 4 entitled "Hawk and Dove." In the series, Ares was told to create a bloodlust between two peoples. He pretended to be an arms dealer, selling arms to both sides and hoping the war will increase his benefit. Wonder Woman and her colleagues got involved in the battles, telling the warring sides that they were being used by Ares. Finally, Wonder Woman could stop the war and confront Ares. She told Ares not to do the arms dealing again.
Justice League will never be present to stop violence in Aceh or Papua or the Malukus. But Ares' statement about prejudice, ignorance and inequality always remind me about the wars in the Malukus, Acheh, Minangkabao, Java, Borneo, Minahasa, Poso, East Timor, Papua et cetera. In the summer of 1965, a so-called Gilchrist document also circulated in Jakarta about a Council of General prepared to conduct a coup against President Sukarno. It prompted the September 30 Movement to kidnap and later to kill several Army generals in Jakarta, triggering a massive manslaughter in Java and Bali. The document, an alleged letter from the British Ambassador to Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, revealed the British were working with the CIA to help the Council of Generals to supervise Sukarno's policies. Many wars began with rumors, fake letters or anonymous messages.
Perhaps, we could not help to fight prejudice, ignorance and inequality in this part of the world. But we could always remind ourselves to be careful when finding anonymous messages. Ares is a real presence in many parts of Indonesia while the Justice League is only on our television screens.