Thousands of Christians have died, fled their homes or endured forced circumcision and conversion to Islam as Muslim extremists press their ‘holy war’ in the Moluccas.
Duma is one of thousands of island villages that dot the crescent-shaped archipelago of Indonesia’s Molucca Islands, a paradise rich in natural resources, unspoiled beaches and botanical gardens. Although 88 percent of Indonesia’s 210 million residents are Islamic, Muslims have lived harmoniously in the north Moluccas for years with their Christian, Buddhist and Hindu neighbors.
For Christians, that harmony ended in January 1999 when a series of small domestic quarrels throughout Indonesia’s north Moluccas led to a jihad, or “holy war,” waged by Muslim extremists against non-Muslims. Since then, Duma has become one of hundreds of Christian villages that have been attacked by Muslim militants connected to the Laskar Jihad, or “warriors of the holy war.”
By June of last year Laskars had made 21 attacks on Duma, and the village’s 1,500 Christian residents were living in constant fear of another jihad scourging. On June 19 lookouts warned that Laskar Muslims were approaching. Christians in the village were outnumbered and lacked the sophisticated weaponry needed to defend themselves.
“We did everything we could to defend our village and church,” says a leader from Duma, named Obie. “I told everyone to run to the church, hoping we could defend ourselves [there].”
Crude attempts were made to thwart the attackers. Sixteen-year-old Tina ran to the church and rolled fuel drums into the path of the advancing warriors to form a barricade. Bullets passed through the drums and hit her legs.
“I just didn’t want them to take our church,” she said. “I fell to the ground wounded and was helped by some of the young people. [Jihad warriors] burned my father alive and cut my brother to pieces with their machetes.”
The Christian men held off the attack at the front door of the church while the women and children escaped through the back door into the jungle. When the men finally ran for their lives, the Laskars called after them: “We are going to catch you and cut you up into tiny pieces!”
Obie was unable to run fast because he carried his young son in his arms. One of the warriors slashed at Obie, slicing his neck.
“With God’s help, I managed to grab his machete and slew him,” Obie said. “This caused the other warriors to fear, so they ran away.”
Back in the village, Christians who didn’t make it to the safety of the church scattered everywhere, running for their lives. One woman named Selena cried out, “Lord, help us!” A jihad warrior came up to her and said, “I’ll show you how God helps you,” and put a pistol in her mouth and pulled the trigger. Half her face was blown off, though she survived.
Children who did not escape were either killed or captured and taken to Ternate Island where they reportedly are being converted to Islam by members of the Laskar Jihad. Fifty-six of the Christian men who fled with Obie were slain. In all, 400 Duma villagers died in the massacre. Another 120 drowned while trying to escape by boat.
Obie and his son caught up with the women and children in the jungle, and he led the group to the safety of a refugee camp in Manado on the island of Sulawesi. They live there today in crowded conditions with more than 7,000 other Christian refugees who have survived similar attacks.
In all, the jihad in Indonesia has killed more than 8,000 people on both sides of the fighting and displaced 500,000 into refugee camps where there is little food, overcrowded shelters, poor sanitation and inadequate water. Having little hope of soon rebuilding their lives, Christians gather to worship, often expressing their grief in songs they’ve written about the loss of loved ones, the destruction and looting of their homes, and the dreams that have been crushed.
“We sing about what happened, but we know God is really good and faithful to us,” one refugee singer said. “We wanted to live in peace with the Muslims, and we really didn’t think that our neighbors would attack. We don’t have guns, but the jihad warriors had arms and bombs, as well as support from the military.”