NATIONAL DEFENSE

Massacres and reconciliation

Modern Indonesia has been shaped by the events on September 30, 1965, when a round of political assassinations sparked months of communal violence, arrests, executions, and disappearances. Anyone suspected of belonging to or contacting the PKI was likely to be killed or to vanish in the night. Imam Aziz is trying to help Indonesia deal with its past by airing the facts of the 1965 massacre, an event that created deep rifts that continue to divide Indonesian society decades later. He believes that real democracy will never be able to take root in Indonesia as long as a sense of hatred and revenge continues to exist among its people. He uses a citizen-to-citizen approach designed both to reveal the truth and to foster cooperation to restore the civil rights long denied to many. He is operating from within the modern Nahdulatul Ulama (NU), an organization with forty million members across the country, and paradoxically (given its own involvement in the bloodshed) the only one with the breadth and credibility to help Indonesia overcome its violent legacy.

Retelling stories from both sides and reexamining the historical context is giving Indonesians a means to negotiate a once untouchable past. Through this process they are coming to realize that both the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and members of the NU were victims of a militarized state that survived by pitting citizen against citizen. After compiling local histories of the violent era, Imam and his group facilitate meetings between Islamic organizations that took part in the massacre and surviving victims as well as families of the deceased. Once reconciliation is underway, they look to the future and help set the stage for cooperative community activities. Advocating for the elimination of discriminatory policies is also an integral part of this movement, as is the rehabilitation of the civil, political, and economic rights of the victims.

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