TALKING BACK: Taking on the haters
Hiba Zayadin for IFEX – 9 March 2016
DISPELLING RUMOURS/ BREAKING DOWN STIGMAS
In 1999-2000, Ambon, an island city inhabited mostly by Christians and Muslims, was at the center of sectarian violence that left thousands dead. An uneasy peace settled upon the now-segregated city ever since and flare-ups, while small in scale, occur often enough to keep the communities distrustful of each other. One such flare-up occurred in September 2011, when a Muslim motorcycle rider died in a traffic accident in a Christian neighbourhood. Rumours that Christians had killed him swarmed the city at a rate only achievable through text messages and online. Soon after, two Muslim attacks on Christian areas and a retaliatory attack on a Muslim neighbourhood left 750 homes destroyed and more than 3000 people temporarily displaced.
While many residents let hatred and distrust grip their city once more, an interfaith network of religious leaders, students, activists, teachers, and journalists decided to take matters into their own hands to prevent an outbreak of violence. When disturbing claims spread through the city, they dispatched volunteers within minutes to verify their credibility. The details of a particular incident were then sent to a leadership that, in turn, double-checked the facts and sent out text messages setting the record straight. They called themselves The Peace Provocateurs, and signed all their communications as such.
“If provocateurs could use the new technology to incite violence, we could use it to undermine their incitement,” Jacky Manuputty, a Protestant minister and one of the leaders of the group, told The Independent in 2012. The Peace Provocateurs are still active, and when there are no rumours to dispel, they work to diffuse religious tensions by texting and tweeting examples of the two communities working and living together peacefully.