Embarking on a new journey of learning – Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship

I will be spending time in the United States during the fall and winter as International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF)’s 2013-2014 Elizabeth Neuffer fellow. I plan to research on the phenomenon of increasing religious intolerance and violence in Indonesia at the MIT’s Center for International Studies.

There are burning questions that I’m sure a lot of us who are sickened by the endless news about religious violence would like to find answers to. What are people so afraid of? Why do people feel threatened by those who are different? Is it important to differentiate between the sacred and profane? How do political and economical factors play in acts of religious intolerance and violence?

I will also have the opportunity to intern at The Boston Globe and The New York Times.

The fellowship will start in September and I will be posting thoughts about the experience here. In the mean time before my departure I will be posting my reports for The Jakarta Post.

The fellowship is named after Elizabeth Neuffer, The Boston Globe reporter and winner of the 1998 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award. Neuffer who reported on human rights and social justice issues was killed on assignment in Iraq in 2003.

Elizabeth Neuffer - IWMF
Elizabeth Neuffer – IWMF

Sampang revisited – where’s compassion?

Nearly seven  months ago, I went to Sampang, a small town in Madura Island off the northeastern tip of Java. Around 200 Shiites were taking refuge in a indoor tennis court. Their houses razed to the ground by an angry Sunni mob. I went there and talked to the people: the stories can be read here, here and here.

I’ve worked on different stories since and however disheartening what happened in Sampang, it slowly slipped my mind. Until a few days ago, I thought of them, and wondered about how they were doing. When I was there, the Sampang regent was adamant that he would not let them return to their houses, even though they were forcibly displaced by religious vigilantes. Has he changed his mind?

Apparently not. Andy Irfan, from East Java Commision of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said they were still in the same tennis indoor court.

Worse still as their fate is in limbo, the court ruled the only person the police arrested over the attack as not guilty. No one from the thousand of people who burned down people’s houses is held accountable.

Madura is famous for the many Islamic boarding schools in the island. They call it the land of ulemas. But, why is there no compassion and justice in that island?

*Human Rights Watch released last month a report on religious intolerance and violence. See HRW’s report here and the government’s response here.