It was amateur hour last week. In this world of fear, mistrust and division, we have a responsibility to avoid sowing seeds of further division and mistrust, of warping issues and pigeon-holing societies because we lack the capacity to understand nuance and the fact that issues such as religion and culture play different roles in different societies across the globe. I am angry because when I turned on the TV last Thursday to follow events in during the terrorist attack in Jakarta, what I heard coming from commentators’ mouths was this – that because Indonesia is a Sunni country (it is?), that although the general population does not sympathize with ISIS, they are sympathetic to the plight of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. It gives a sense that somehow Indonesians support the drivers of terror, if not being actively involved. It sticks all Muslims and all countries with Islamic populations into one corner or one side and reinforces an us-them or Christian-Muslim divide. It lumps together populations who just don’t want to be lumped together (trust me. As a Canadian, I often get asked if, or even ‘told’ that, Canadians and Americans are the same. We are not. We are so not. Just as all Americans are not the same, nor are all Canadians).
But back to the commentator on Indonesia’s terrorist attack. First, I would question whether this gentleman has ever been to Indonesia. If he has, he would know that Indonesians don’t identify as Sunni (or Shia). They are Indonesian and they are Muslim (and Christian and Bhuddist and Hindu). Full stop. Maybe technically they are Sunni because that is the version of Islam which migrated to the country with Arab traders but it is not how Muslim Indonesians define themselves.
Second, I would question why this gentleman feels the need to parallel Indonesian culture with Arabic culture. Just because the regions share a religion in name does not mean that, in practice, that religion influences daily life in the same way. Conversely, culture has an astounding impact on how we practice religion and how it influences daily life that is dramatically different from one country to another. I have never heard it so eloquently put as by Khalid Latif when he described Islam as a ‘river’ which flows through the many countries where people practice it, and like any river, changes colour, speed and shape as it flows through different lands, picking up new influences as it travels.
The horror of what is happening in Syria and Iraq (and spilling over into Turkey) is different from what is happening in Nigeria and Chad and Cameroon and yet again different from what is happening in Somalia and Kenya. The forces of terror and destruction claim to be driven by Islam, but again, nuance. Culture influences Islam differently in the Middle East, in Africa (and its many diverse areas), in the Balkans, in Southeast Asia, in India. An ‘Islamic’ practice in one Muslim country may be viewed as absurd in another, just as ego drives visions of piety and definitions of ‘unbelievers’ from one country to another. It is no different than how Christianity influences politics across the United States. From the conservative South to the liberal West Coast, and every shade and influence in between, including everyone’s favourite haters – Westboro Baptist Church (indeed). Don’t lump everyone together. Every time we do, we start tearing each other apart.
In this world of division, hatred and conflict, this is not how we manage conflict. We do not pretend everyone is the same when we put them on one side or another. We don’t take our ideas and beliefs about what is driving conflict in one country and apply it to another simply because these countries share characteristics of religion. They do not share histories, or cultures, or governance. They do not even share language.
It used to be that conflict management was left to the hallowed halls of government, the UN and the battlefield. It is now influenced so dramatically by what we see and hear in mainstream and social media – filled with people who talk but truely understand little – that ‘amateur hour’ will become the norm. For years we have been talking about the need to see conflict management evolve because conflict itself has evolved so dramatically from the days of states against states, armies against armies. But now, it seems, conflict management won’t just be about the conflict, but global society because conflict now consumes us all in one way or another. HashtagAmateurHour HashtagDivisionHateConflict