Correspondence

Modern Religious Wars

The weathered boatman peered out at the three Westerners as we climbed into a small water taxi to cross the bay from the city of Ambon to the airport. "You're from America? Send us arms. The Muslims are bad." He used his hands to indicate a rifle as we pulled away from shore. Ambon, the provincial capital of the Moluccas, or Spice Islands, is now largely quiet. The city is blanketed with police and military units, which have suppressed most intercommimal violence. The remains of war are present everywhere, however. A few blocks from our hotel, street barricades separate Christian and Muslim sections of town.

You venture into enemy territory at your peril. While returning from Muslim territory, our interpreter, a Christian hotel manager named Theny Barlola, mentioned that it was the first time he had been in that area in three years. He initially hesitated to accompany us, exclaiming: "If I go, they will kill me, they will take me away." But he relented when the Muslim authorities sent a van for us.

Between the sections lie several blocks of no man's land, ruined buildings that once housed Christians and Muslims, as well as a thriving Chinese business district. The remains of gutted two- and three-story buildings stand as silent sentinels. Bits of wall surround the debris of war: rusty corrugated roofing, dented dishes, skeletons of sewing machines, burned motorbikes, bent bed frames, weathered...

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