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In the Name of the Father? Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon



Although armed groups and political violence referring to Islam have attracted increasing attention since the start of the global war against terror, one particular religion can hardly be described as the main source of inspiration of what is commonly referred to as “terrorist acts of violence.” Faith-based violence occurs in different parts of the world and its perpetrators adhere to all major world faiths including Christianity. As such, this article treats three cases of non-state armed actors that explain their actions as being motivated by Christian beliefs and aimed at the creation of a new local society that is guided by religion: the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the Lord's Resistance Army, and the Ambonese Christian militias. It analyzes the way by which they instrumentalized religion against respective backgrounds of conflict rooted in social change, the erosion of traditional identities, imbalances of power, and widening communautarian faultlines.
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Studies in Conflict & Terrorism
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In the Name of the Father? Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern
Uganda, and Ambon
Jeroen Adam
; Bruno De Cordier
; Kristof Titeca
; Koen Vlassenroot
Conflict Research Group, Department of Third World Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
To cite this Article Adam, Jeroen , De Cordier, Bruno , Titeca, Kristof and Vlassenroot, Koen(2007) 'In the Name of the
Father? Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon', Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30: 11, 963 —
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10576100701611288
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Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 30:963–983, 2007
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1057-610X print / 1521-0731 online
DOI: 10.1080/10576100701611288
In the Name of the Father? Christian Militantism
in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon
Conflict Research Group, Department of Third World Studies
Ghent University
Ghent, Belgium
Although armed groups and political violence referring to Islam have attracted
increasing attention since the start of the global war against terror, one particular
religion can hardly be described as the main source of inspiration of what is commonly
referred to as “terrorist acts of violence.” Faith-based violence occurs in different parts
of the world and its perpetrators adhere to all major world faiths including Christianity.
As such, this article treats three cases of non-state armed actors that explain their
actions as being motivated by Christian beliefs and aimed at the creation of a new
local society that is guided by religion: the National Liberation Front of Tripura, the
Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Ambonese Christian militias. It analyzes the way by
which they instrumentalized religion against respective backgrounds of conflict rooted
in social change, the erosion of traditional identities, imbalances of power, and widening
communautarian faultlines.
Since you cannot speak in words about the essence of God, best is to speak about nobody
at all.
—Kitab Ilahi
All too often, the recent rise of religiously inspired terrorism has been explained as proof
that religion has become the single most important dynamic of conflicts around the globe.
Even though in many regions, faith-based and faith-inspired armed groups have appeared
and Western political leaders have tried to prevent motivating their global war on terror as
a reaction against a particular expression of violence based on religious values, they could
not avert that this war has become increasingly interpreted as a global conflict between
Islam and the Western world. This view is partly the result of the different campaigns of
religious extremists themselves. In order to assure popular support for their cause, they have
increasingly portrayed their struggle as a sacred duty against the “infidel,” “evil,” West and
Received 8 June 2006; accepted 29 December 2006.
Address correspondence to Bruno De Cordier, Conflict Research Group, Universiteitstraat 8,
9000 Ghent, Belgium. E-mail:
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964 J. Adam et al.
vice-versa. But also some Western leaders have explained their campaigns against terrorism
as being a fight against evil and “helped” by God.
The explanations of scholars such as Samuel Huntington and Daniel Pipes, who have
portrayed the Muslim world as more prone to violence than the rest of the world, have
strengthened these views. Huntington asks himself why it are particularly Muslims that
seem to be involved in inter-group violence,
whereas Pipes has stated that “Muslim
countries have the most terrorists and the fewest democracies in the world.”
In a reaction,
Western politicians and Muslim leaders in the Western world have tried to claim that Islam
has been hijacked by extremist groups for political purposes. The popularity of these groups,
it is stated, is not the outcome of a popular desire to create a new social order based on
Islam but is caused by the grievances of a growingly marginalized population.
Limiting the role of religion to an instrument and mobilizing force in current conflicts,
however, would be as misleading as to single out religion as the sole perpetrator of terror
and violence or as a main explanation for a so-called clash of civilizations. What is lacking
in the second perspective, indeed, is an explanation for the belief of the so-called Jihadi
groups that they are on a sacred mission and fighting “evil” in order to establish and protect
the “good.” Juergensmeyer, who has examined the social dynamics of religiously inspired
violence, concludes that the perpetrators of this violence, among others, act in reaction
against what they perceive as a weakened version of the authentic fate and embrace a
form of religion that requires sacrifice. Even if religion or religious differences are no
direct dynamics of conflict, faith based activists carry out a divine mandate.
According to
McTernan, “their goal is to reshape society in accordance with their group’s creedal and
ethical beliefs. They reject ideas like relativism and individualism, which they see as threats
to their personal, social and religious identity.”
Even if armed groups and political violence inspired by Islamic values have attracted
increasing attention since the start of the global war against terrorism, one particular religion
can hardly be described as the main source of inspiration of what is commonly referred to
as “terrorist acts of violence.” Faith-based violence occurs in different parts of the world
and its perpetrators adhere all major world faiths, which can be illustrated by the examples
of Hindu nationalistic violence in India, clashes between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria
or the history of violence in Northern Ireland.
This article will analyze three armed groups—the National Liberation Front of Tripura,
the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Ambonese Christian militias—that explain their actions
as being motivated by Christian beliefs and aimed at the creation of a new local society
that is guided by religion. The reason why we have included these cases is, that they
represent non-state armed actors which have, each in different ways and circumstances,
instrumentalized religion at times of conflict that is, on its turn, rooted in social change and
the erosion of traditional identities, imbalances of power and widening communautarian
faultlines. This article, that is mainly based on field observations and interviews recently
carried out by the different authors, aims at analyzing the use of Christian beliefs by
these three armed groups. Even if the institution of these groups can partly be explained
by existing patterns of marginalization and social change, the analysis will start from
the assumption that these religious rituals and symbols are part of a larger process of
self-definition, a process that fuses global and local cultural referents in order to give
meaning to the rapidly changing outside world. Through the use of violence and the
mobilization of these religious rituals, members of these groups try to renegotiate their
status and to conquer within society a social space from which they are left out because of
existing political, social, and economic dynamics of exclusion. In this context, reference to
religious rituals can be seen as attempts to redefine one’s identity. Violence guided by rituals
and symbols often offers an alternative model of identification as well as an opportunity to
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 965
affirm one’s own subjectivity or self-assertion. These symbols, that are also mobilized to
strengthen the internal cohesion of the militia groups, offer the members of these armed
groups recognizable yet alternative models of identification in an environment of war that
has produced a deep sense of disorientation and lack of mechanisms to understand and
interpret this new context of violence and disorder.
The first section of this article will focus on the National Liberation Front of Tripura
in Northeast India, which since 1989 is faced with armed tribal insurgency. The National
Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) is the largest and most controversial armed group
because of its alleged militant-Christian discourse and agenda. The NLFT the main
organized political expression of a conflict rooted in a convergence of ethnic–racial
and social faultlines and a process of social mobility, itself anchored in changes in
land ownership. Although the group’s advertised goals are the establishment of an
independent Tripura, liberation from “Indian neo-colonialism,” curbing “exploitation” and
the promotion of the indigenous languages and culture, its agenda and choice of targets seem
increasingly influenced by militant Christianity. The latter factor gained prominence since
1998, after a series of incidents and raids where NLFT fighters targeted Hindu temples and
families of Hindu priests to intimidate local tribals into conversion to Christianity. At the
same time, internal splits and defections of cadres and fighters indicate increasing unease
with the NLFT’s leadership’s militant-Christian course.
The next section will deal with the use of religious rituals by the Lord’s Resistance
Army. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) started out of a reaction to the socioeconomic
marginalization and fear for the extermination of the Acholi community, but has been
terrorizing the same community through brutal attacks. The LRA explains its actions
through numerous references to Christian and Acholi traditions: the LRA sees its struggle
as a divine cause for the spiritual saviour of all the Acholi people. The leader of the LRA,
Joseph Kony, claims to be commanded by holy spirits, through which he is acting as a
mouthpiece of God. Just as the biblical prophets, he wants to “purify” the Acholi in order
to save them. Moreover, ex-rebels report about the numerous Christian and Acholi rituals
that are used within the movement; and on several occasions, the LRA has claimed to be
fighting for the installment of the Ten Commandments.
The final section will analyze the role of religion in the campaigns of Christian militias
on the island of Ambon, Indonesia where Christian militias fought a high-intensity war
with their Muslim counterparts from 1999 until 2002. The conflict in Ambon hastened a
deep break-up of society among religious lines and the prominence of visual religious
symbolism over the whole region. The Christian Ambonese militias came into being
as a sudden reaction on outbreaks of religiously inspired riots in the city of Ambon.
Although these different militias were often well organized, a real Christian militia with a
coherent and well-balanced religious doctrine that served as an umbrella organization was
never realized. Nevertheless, among these different militias, Christian religious symbolisms
played a fundamental role and served both as an enforcer of an inter-group cohesion and
as visual translations of a profound Christian conviction in which a cult of martyrdom had
a prominent role.
The National Liberation Front of Tripura
Context and Origins
Tripura is situated in the Northeast of India. At first glance, this small state, with its
smooth landscape and laid-back atmosphere, does not feel like a conflict area to the casual
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966 J. Adam et al.
visitor. The main indicator that Tripura, like all of India’s seven northeastern states, is being
confronted with separatist and tribal insurgencies over the last decades, is the presence of
paramiliary troops and road checkposts. A landlocked area of 10,491 square kilometers
(6,556 square miles), Tripura is about as large as Northern Ireland. Its population as per
2001 census is 3.1 million, of which 84 percent rural. Two-thirds of Tripura’s population
are Bengali Hindus, whereas the rest mainly consists of 19 officially recognized indigenous
hill tribes.
The tribal insurgency in Tripura is rooted in the effects of migration from Bangladesh,
land-related issues and social marginalization of the indigenous population. Although tribal
resistance movements in Tripura existed as far back as 1965, the insurgency’s present phase
started in 1989 with the emergence of armed groups of which the separatist National
Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) is the largest and most controversial because of its
alleged militant Christian agenda. The NLFT was founded in early 1989 and outlawed in
1997. About 800 fighters strong at its zenith, it is now believed to have some 450 to 500
fighters and 20 to 40 cadres. The NLFT controls some of the more isolated tribal areas
along the border with the state of Mizoram and Bangladesh where it is believed to have
some 25 safe havens.
Traditionally, the NLFT targets Bengali Hindu and fights some 9,000 paramilitary
troops that are to quell the insurgency. It is also engaged in inter-factional fighting
with rivaling rebel outfits. In addition to the more than 2,000 killed during ethnic riots
between tribals and non-tribals near the state capital Agartala in 1979 and 1980, the present
insurgency in Tripura claimed over 3,000 lives, 78 percent of whom are civilian casualties.
The number of internally displaced is estimated at some 100,000 for the period between
1980 and 2004.
Although it is hard to say how much support the NLFT actually has among
the tribal population, some estimates put up that about half of the tribal community of
Tripura either supports the NLFT or other separatist groups.
Officially, the NLFT’s goals are the establishment of an independent Tripura
(the “United State of Twipra”) through armed struggle; liberation from “Indian neo-
colonialism”; instilling consciousness against exploitation; and the promotion of the
indigenous languages and culture. To what extent its ideology and agenda are influenced
by militant Christianity—and Baptism in particular—is a question that gained prominence
since 1998. That year saw a series of raids where NLFT fighters specifically targeted
Hindu temples and families of Hindu priests to intimidate local tribals into conversion
to Christianity. Later, in early 2001, nearly 125 NLFT fighters and cadres left the group
because of what they claimed to be pervasive corruption among the senior NLFT-leadership
and the latter’s forcible conversion of NLFT cadres and tribal civilians to Christianity.
Yet, contrary to the Christian militias in Ambon, for example, neither the NLFT’s
name, flag and emblem contain any Christian symbols. The group’s 1991 constitution, for
its part, also has few references to Christianity or the establishment of any form of religious
rule. Article 4, section a. of the NLFT’s constitution even states that membership is open to
... any person irrespective of caste, sex or creed [stress added-aut.] who is dedicated (...)
and subscribing to the aims and objectives of the movement.” The only elements that do
have a religious connotation are the NLFT’s armed wing’s name—the National Holy Army,
seldom used in the literature about Tripura—and the obligation for cadres and fighters to
make an oath of allegiance “in the name of God” (art. 34).
The reason why the NLFT is included as a case for this article is, that in spite of
the absence of Christian references in both its symbols and its consitution, a militant
form of Chritianity nonetheless came to play an increasingly large role. One of the main
areas where the NLFT’s religious turn became visible over the last few years, was its
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military–political strategy and target choice. According to Subir Bhaumik, one of the few
scholars who closely monitors the situation in his home state Tripura since the beginning
of the insurgency, “contrary to older tribal opposition groups the NLFT increasingly has
a more overt evangelical-Christian angle in its discourse. NLFT leaders repeatedly stated
that village leaders should convert. Forced conversion of non-Christian tribals by NLFT
fighters using rape as a means of intimidation, have become an increasing concern.”
If one takes a closer look at the NLFT’s choice of targets, it becomes all the more
obvious that the movement is religiously inspired. Its raids and attacks focus on three
groups. First, Bengali Hindu settlements and civilians: they are prime targets for the NLFT
since the beginning of the conflict and account for more than two-thirds of the insurgency
fatalities over the last decade; this indicates an agenda of ethnic cleansing linked to the
immigration and land issue.
Second, Hindu clergy and religious institutions: attacks on
both Bengali and tribal Hindu symbols gained momentum after a raid in the village of Bajafa
in 1998 and the NLFT leadership’s statement of late 2000 urging tribals to abstain from
some popular Hindu festivals.
One observes an increasing number of forced conversions
preceded by warnings that those who do not will be considered “traitors” and “servants of
the Bengali and the Delhi government” and “bear the consequences.” And third, cadres and
members of the Bengali-dominated Communist Part of India (which ruled the Tripura state
government after the 1978 and 2003 elections) with a new wave of killings and kidnappings
of its members in mid-2004.
Tripura’s indigenous tribal population may be a minority in the state now, yet it
formed an absolute majority about four generations ago. Tripura’s history revolves around
interaction between Bengali from the plains and the hill tribes. Historically, three phases of
Bengali immigration into Tripura can be identified: the immigration occurring in the pre-
colonial and colonial era; immigration caused by the partition upon independence in 1947;
and immigration during and following the 1971 secession war in East Pakistan/Bangladesh.
There is still an on-going low-intensity immigration from Bangladesh due to economic
factors and occasional Muslim-Hindu tensions in that country.
From the late middle ages, Bengali cultivators were encouraged by Tripura’s tribal
dynasties to cultivate rice in the plains in order to collect greater revenue through wet-rice
cultivation. Later, towards the mid-nineteenth century, Bengali took up administrative
posts in Tripura to manage the land revenue system and the Bengali language became
a medium in culture and administration and a lingua franca between the different tribes.
Thus, for the tribal rulers, Bengali immigration was a means of economic and administrative
As long as the tribals had enough land, land alienation did not emerge as a major
problem. That changed when Bengali Hindus, fleeing the violence of the partition of India
in 1947 and the secession of East Pakistan—now Bangladesh—in 1971 migrated to Tripura,
causing a radical demographic change in the state. Between 1947 and 1971, 609,998 Bengali
displaced in East Pakistan came to Tripura for resettlement. The impact of the said migration
waves on the demographic map of Tripura is shown by the following figures: if according
to colonial census data, tribals formed 52 percent of Tripura’s population in 1901, the
figure was 36.85 in 1951 and 28.95 in 1971, to stabilize at 30.95 in 1991.
research has already been done on the loss of land suffered by tribals and the social impact
of immigration in Northeast India, especially regarding to land issues.
The changes in land ownership naturally has a significant social impact on the tribals,
resulting, among others, in an indentity crisis and social discontent that became fertile soil
for christianisation and political mobilization of the tribals. Even though the percentage
of tribals living below the poverty line along with Tripura’s general population has shown
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968 J. Adam et al.
decline since the nineties, the incidence of poverty continues to be high among tribals.
Although poverty affects both the majority Bengali and minority tribal communities,
according to Bhaumik, “(...) the Bengali who came to Tripura were used to sharp class
differences in Bangladesh, while the tribals were not. Moreover, at an individual level, they
lost lands mostly to Bengali, rich or poor.”
Religion and Identity
If one looks at the composition of the NLFT’s present leadership, it is apparent that close
to 90 percent of the NLFT’s cadres are Christian and almost all first-generation Baptist
converts through education channels established by early Baptist missionnary groups.
Besides that, almost three-quarters come from the Debarma Tripuri and Jamatiya tribes
with 57 percent of Tripura’s tribal population, the Tripuri (who gave the state its name)
from the main tribal group; the Debarma Tripuri are a clan that comes from the western
part of Tripura.
The first organized tribal resistance against land encroachment and social marginal-
ization came in mid-1967 with the emergence of the Tripura Upajati Juba Samity (TUJS,
Tripura tribal youth association). At that time, only a few thousand tribals in Tripura were
Christian, largely Baptist as a result of the missionary efforts by the New Zealand Baptist
Missionary Society that opened its Tripura mission in 1938. Although the TUJS had no
overt religious agenda, it was backed from the very beginning by the Baptist Church of
Tripura which hoped to push back Communist influence among tribals by promoting and
expand its role in tribal identity and emancipation. Feeling that its demands went unfulfilled
and that Bengali immigration and land encroachment continued, the TUJS formed an armed
wing, of which some cadres established contacts with Christian tribal rebel groups in the
neighboring state of Mizoram and in Bangladesh. In 1978, the initially 400 strong Tripura
National Volunteers (TNV) emerged as a more radical cell within the TUJS. Although
the TNV handed no Christian agenda or symbols, the bulk of its leadership consisted of
radical TUJS elements who were first-generation Christian converts. Later, in 1988, a peace
and power-sharing accord between the rebels and the state government in 1988 led to a
complicated factionalist process within the TNV and TUJS that would eventually result in
the formation of today’s main insurgent group: the National Liberation Front of Tripura.
It would be unfair to point to the Tripura Baptist Christian Union, or Christianity on
the whole, as the main culprit for the excesses of the NLFT. Although churches supported
tribal protests and emancipation movements as a way to expand their social base and
counter anti-Christian movements (Communist in the first place), tribal Baptist churches
also played a mediating role in the peace processes in other strife-torn states like Nagaland
and Mizoram. The Tripura Baptist Christian Union also officially distances itself from
the NLFT and its actions. On the other hand, it cannot prevent that part of the NLFT
leadership highjacked Baptism and uses it as an ideological framework for a separatist
agenda and ethnic cleansing. It could also not prevent that a number of individual members
and preachers have sympathies for the group and even participate in forced conversions, or
that NLFT fighters escorted Baptist preachers to villagers on proselitizing stints.
Religion and Political Mobilization
It has been observed elsewhere in Northeast India that Christian missionary activities
increase almost simultaneously with the decline of the indigenous people’s traditional
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 969
livelihoods and control over land and other natural resources. In his research on Baptism
and insurgents in Nagaland, Samir Kumar Das states: “Religious radicalism is a relatively
new political currency in the Northeast of India. It first of all underlines the importance of
religion in clustering a body of adherents around it and making them chart out a separatist
path. Religious radicalism serves as the principle of community formation, to set aside
internal differences.”
A key event in Tripura were the anti-Bengali riots of May 1979 and June 1980. The
riots—which remain a quasi-taboo subject in the streets, markets, and villages up to this
day—are believed to have been enigneered by TNV members. They resulted in an estimated
state-wide death toll of 2,000, with some 20,000 dwellings burned down. They did not only
consolidate the TNV as the main tribal militant group but also led to a communautarian
polarisation that enhanced the rapid christianization of the tribal population of Tripura.
The riots, of course, entrenched animosity and distrust between the tribal and Bengali
communities. At the same time, they created a more pertinent need to affirm separate tribal
identity vis-
a-vis the Bengali Hindu majority in the state. In turn, that led to a larger openness
towards Christianity and to Baptism—already present on the grounds—in particular.
According to Bhaumik, “the rapid growth of tribal Baptism
was especially visible
in areas where the state and federal government are almost absent, especially with social
services. The Baptist Herald, the main organ of the Tripura Baptist Christian Union,
describes plenty mass conversions during that period, sometimes involving up to 800 people
or entire villages in one day. (...) The Baptist missionaries would often use inducement
and superstition to stimulate people to convert, for instance spreading rumors that Christian
tribals become more prosperous and would never be affected by disease any longer. Later,
a number of young tribal Christians obtained church stipends to study at Christian schools,
learn English and advance in life. People started to associate Christianity with access to a
better life and modernity.”
In Tripura also, the void caused by the erosion of traditional tribal culture and the
loss over traditional livelihoods is easy to fill with organized religion, whereas health and
education programs of church charities play a role in the rise of an educated tribal elite.
As anthropologist R. K. Ranjit Singh observes: “There is a close interconnectness between
the spread of Christianity and modern forms of education among the tribals in Northeast
India. That way, the new religion creates ground for regular contacts with different groups
of people and establish ties between them and laid the foundation for a bond between the
different tribal groups.”
Although not necessarily in the form of religious radicalism and not necessarily linear,
Baptist Christianity serves the twin purpose of political mobilization and nation-building
among hill tribes and their sub-clans that share a common predicament: the gradual loss
of traditional livelihoods and control over land and other natural resources by the hand
of groups perceived invaders, and by rural–urban migration.
Even though rural-urban
migration among the tribals remains limited compared to other parts of the subcontinent,
decreasing availibility of land, improvements of transport and road networks and tribal IDP
movements of some 2,000 families due to the insurgency have all contributed to the erosion
of traditional tribal identities.
At the same time, there is a need to differentiate from the dominant culture and this is
quite obvious in areas that are situated on the “frontline.” In 2004, for example, the authors
visited a tribal village near the market town of Udaipur in western Tripura that converted to
Christianity in 2001 and had two churches for a village of about 30 families or 170 to 200
inhabitants. The village was situated in an area where the river valley had only been affected
by Bengali Hindu settlement in the mid-nineties. The authors asked a local doctor, himself
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970 J. Adam et al.
of tribal origin, why hill tribes in Northeast India, and Bangladesh too, seem much more
prone to convert to Christianity than people from the plains: “Because of migration, land
seizure and the roads we are increasingly confronted with the massive cultures from the
plains. Our identity and survival are threatened. So our people want to resist assimilation
into the Hindu culture. The church is helping us to do that.”
All of the aforementioned factors—migration, land alienation, social marginalization,
identity crisis—created a social vacuum that is being filled by religion, in this case
Baptism although not necessarily in its militant–fundamentalist form. Religion does not
only answer a need to increasingly differentiate itself from the dominant—in this case
Hindu Bengali—culture to counter assimilation, but also to try to make sense of the process
social mobility Tripura’s tribal communities are going through. It is along the same lines
that religion became instrumental for more radical tribal movements like the National
Liberation Front of Tripura, at least for its leadership and hardcore following.
The Lord’s Resistance Army
Context and Origins
The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been notoriously active in Northern Uganda since
1986. The conflict is characterized by brutal attacks of the LRA on the civilian population
and the enslavement and kidnapping of children. The LRA today is estimated to have only
between 500 and 5,000 fighters, but seems strong enough to fight the government army of
40,000 to 60,000 army and militia troops, battle the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army
(SPLA) in southern Sudan, have fighters in Eastern Congo and terrorize the population in
Northern Uganda.
The LRA-affected area of Northern Uganda is about 30,000 square kilometers (18,750
square miles) large and has about 700,000 inhabitants, which is about 4 percent of Uganda’s
overall population. About 90 percent of the population in that area is displaced in so-called
protected villages. The dominant ethnic group in the region are the Acholi, which is why
this area is sometimes dubbed “Acholiland.”
The origin of the conflict in Northern Uganda can be traced back to the British colonial
when a divide was created between Northern and Southern Uganda: northerners were
generally recruited for the colonial army, whereas southerners were granted employment in
the civil service. Because of their military position, the northern Acholi (who were no group
with fixed ethnic boundaries) started identifying themselves as a “military ethnocracy.”
Moreover, industries and cash-crop production were introduced in the south, whereas the
north became a reservoir of cheap labor. In this process, the south became economically
developed, whereas the north lagged behind.
The actual beginning of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a rebel movement
can be traced back to July 1985, when a group of Acholi soldiers, led by Lieutenant-
General Basilio Olara-Okello and General Tito Okello Lutwa, overthrew the Obote II-
regime. The Acholi, who had always been politically and socioeconomically marginalized,
were suddenly holding both political and military top-positions. This Acholi-dominated
regime, however, was short-lived. In January 1986, the current President Yoweri Museveni’s
National Resistance Army (NRA) captured Kampala. Suddenly, the Acholi had lost power
in all domains, and fled north fearing reprisals. Several incidents contributed to the fear that
the NRA was going to eliminate all Acholi. Since then, several rebel groups have emerged
in Northern Uganda to fight the government of Museveni. The main ones are the Holy
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 971
Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF) led by Alice Lakwena, which was active from January up
to September 1987, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, a cousin of the
HSMF’s Alice Lakwena.
The LRA, which is the focus of this case-study, was started in 1987 by Joseph Kony.
As the legend goes, Kony had been praying on Mount Odek for two weeks when the Holy
Spirit told him to start a rebel movement. After gathering six boys and a girl around him,
the Lord’s Resistance Army (initially under a different name) was a fact.
Although it had
little impact and visibility in the beginning, this drastically changed after the governmental
armed forces launched Operation North in 1991. At this point, the LRA increased its attacks
on the civilian population, which they accused of collaborating with the government. In
these attacks, thousands of children were abducted to be “re-socialized” in LRA-camps.
Not surprisingly, popular support for the LRA virtually collapsed.
From 1994 onward, the LRA became embedded in broader regional dynamics. It started
receiving full-scale support from the military-Islamist regime in neighboring Sudan, which
was supplying the LRA with weapons and safe havens in Southern Sudan because Uganda
was supporting the SPLA rebels against the regime. Within the new geopolitical context
of the war on terror, Sudan came under strong pressure for its support to the LRA, and in
March 2002 a protocol was signed with Uganda that allowed Ugandan troops into Southern
Sudan. The LRA was pushed back in Northern Uganda and started attacking the civil
population and abducting children on an unprecedented scale. A major breakthrough were
the July 2006 peace negotiations in Juba, mediated by southern Sudanese Vice President
Riek Machar. So far, a conclusive agreement, however, has not been signed.
Little is known about the ultimate agenda of the LRA. The LRA hardly issues public
statements, and Joseph Kony barely speaks in public. The rationale of the LRA therefore
has to be put together from reports of ex-rebels, claims for peace-negotiations, and the
visible characteristics of the LRA-practices. Many of these highlight the strongly religious
character of the LRA: it wants to bring the Ten Commandments to the people; Kony likens
himself to Moses and Jesus, leading his people to the Promised Land; and former LRA
rebels report about the numerous biblical rituals within the movement, such as baptisms or
Religion and Identity
Central to the LRA’s agenda is the fact that Kony claims to be possessed by different spirits.
Kony sees himself as the person who has to convoy the message (the “laoo”) of the spirit.
Through the spirits, Kony is in direct contact with God, acting as his mouthpiece. The LRA
therefore sees its struggle as a divine cause directed by God and for the spiritual saviour of
all the Acholi-people.
This divine and religious dimension is foremost manifested by an extensive set of
religious rules and rituals, which all have been revealed by the spirits (and therefore God)
to Kony. Most of these spiritual regulations directly relate with Christianity and local Acholi
practices. The best known are the highly mediatized “Ten Commandments,” as the LRA
has claimed it is fighting for a government based on the Ten Commandments. Apart from
the Ten Commandments, the LRA has an extensive set of rules that are introduced by the
spirits through Jospeh Kony, and have to be obeyed strictly. Many of these rules are only
temporary, such as orders not to eat, drink, or have sex, whereas other rules are permanent,
informing and explaining the LRA actions for its members, for example: “You are not
soldiers but rather teachers to teach God’s message. (...) Don’t fear human beings, but fear
the Lord”
or “It has been agreed by the Lord of Heaven that he has been sent to rescue
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the Acholi or finish them because the Lord has revealed himself to them.”
This last rule
highlights two crucial elements of the LRA’s spiritual struggle. First, Kony (“he”) is sent
by God to install God’s word. Second, Kony is here to save the Acholi through purification.
If the Acholi believe Kony’s spirit is from God, and therefore accept Kony as their only
leader, they will be rescued. This saviour can only take place through strict obedience to
God’s word, and its representative on earth, Joseph Kony.
However, the LRA argues most Acholi do not obey God, as their culture has become
“impure”: they use witchcraft practices and collaborate with the government through fleeing
the LRA, participating in governmental self-defence units and living in the “protected
villages” (where the government forces protect the internally displaced population).
Because of their misbehavior, Kony has to kill all the Acholi, in order to save them
and their culture.
Within the LRA, this “purification” of the Acholi population is explained through
references to biblical prophets as Moses and Noah who were willing to purge the sinful
people, bringing curse upon curse on them, in order to save a small minority considered
to be the pure at heart. (“Jahweh gave Jeremiah the power ‘to extract on to overturn, to
exterminate and to demolish.’”—Jeremiah 1:10). As a former right hand of Kony told the
authors: “We of the LRA are teachers. The spirit told us to go and teach. He who will listen
will be saved. He who don’t will not be saved. (...) Through the killing of the Acholi, Kony
wants to re-invent the Acholi-culture. Even kill all of them if they do not follow him.”
As a result, the LRA does not directs its main violence against the government army, but
against the Acholi people. The LRA, and especially the abducted children, form the seed
of a new “pure” generation of Acholis, following to the word of God. In order to highlight
this purification, the LRA has elaborated initiation- and cleansing-rituals, which again are
inspired by both Christian and Acholi traditions. Within the LRA, there are several agents
responsible for these religious affairs: “controllers” and “technicians,” who mostly perform
their duties in a so-called yard, a marked worship area that can take different forms and
that is described by ex-LRA commanders as the “the tent of the Lord’s presence, and God
takes immediate action there.”
There is a person overall responsible for religious affairs,
chief priest “Papa Abonga Jenaro,” who leads religious ceremonies and teaches the Bible
but who was captured by the UPDF in August 2005.
Religion and Political Mobilization
This use of many Christian symbols and rituals, combined with reports from ex-rebels
about the excessive praying within the LRA (three times three hours a day),
led many to
characterize the LRA as a “Christian fundamentalist movement.”
One has to be careful with this analysis. First, these regulations and rituals are all
theoretical ideal forms. In practice, and certainly with the current fragmentation of the
all these rules and structures tend to be far more flexible. Although the religious
factor remains important,
much seems to depend on the individual character of the
different units—something that is confirmed by the many reports of returned child soldiers.
Moreover, these are clearly the motives of a few LRA leaders, or even only Kony. The LRA
is also not very consistent in its religious character, in that the importance of its religious
character in its outside communications seems to wax and wane: for example, during the
2006 Juba peace negotiations, the religious aspect is hardly mentioned.
Second, the Sudanese support made the LRA’s ritual and spiritual outlook even more
complicated. From 1994 onward, Islamic practices were incorporated into the LRA. Rules
were introduced such as a prohibition to work on Fridays, extended periods of fasting (in
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the same period as the Ramadan), the bowing of the heads during the prayers, and so on.
All these practices were a concession to the LRA’s main sponsor, Sudan.
Third, the Christian rhetoric cannot be seen an sich. The LRA is not only referring
to the Christian tradition, but also to the traditions of the Acholi. An example of this are
the Ten Commandments: on the one hand, they refer to the biblical ten commandments,
but on the other hand, they are a reference to the Acholi tradition of conveying a list of
proscriptions in times of crisis, which should heal a crisis-situation and its disturbed moral
Through referring to both traditions, the LRA wants to take both traditions to
another “purified” level, in order to create a new Acholi identity. The chosen few, who form
the seed of a new Acholi generation, will save the Acholi through their actions. In turn, the
Acholi will be saved from genocide and will no longer be marginalized within Uganda.
This brings one back to the roots of the organization: the rebellion in Northern Uganda
resulted out of the deep fear of extermination of the Acholi. As explained in the introduction,
this had deeper historical and structural roots, and became quite real when Museveni came
to power. In this dark hour of despair, Joseph Kony came up as a millenarian prophet,
guided by the (Acholi) spirits, sent by the (Christian) God, and using purification as the
only manner to save the Acholi. In order to save the Acholi, Kony also formed a new
ethno-religious identity, not by choice (hardly anyone joins the LRA voluntarily), but by
force. Only this purified identity can save the Acholi. He does this on the one hand through
the abduction of the many children,
and on the other hand through the purification of
the Acholi and the Catholic Church. According to the LRA, not only have the Acholi
diverted too much from their original traditions, also the Catholic religion needs a drastic
re-orientation, because the Catholic leaders have allowed satanic practices as witchcraft
and homosexuality, which are destroying Catholic religion. On top of this, Kony accuses
the Catholic Church of organizing prayers against the LRA.
Therefore, the LRA turned
against the Catholic establishment (which played a significant role in the peace process)
for it is upon the LRA to “purify” the Catholic religion. On several occasions, the LRA
threatened to kill the Archbishop of the diocese of Gulu. And in 2003, the LRA issued an
order to kill all Catholic priests. In June 2003, the LRA killed 19 people in an attack on a
Catholic mission, and in May 2003, 45 seminarians were abducted.
Fourth, the religious practices and rules serve very important strategic functions for the
LRA. The fact that the LRA embeds its violence—its “purification by the sword”—within
a mixture of Acholi and Christian traditions means that the LRA employs a belief system
that is fairly coherent for the people that are part of the rebellion. A major strategic function
of the religious practices is therefore in-group cohesion: it legitimates the struggle for the
LRA members; it disciplines misbehavior and prevents the escape of abducted children, who
constitute about 80 percent of the LRA. There are several reports of children who did not
escape on the first opportunity, out of fear of spiritual revenge. As the rules are continuously
changing, they also create a climate of constant fear, in which absolute obedience to the
rules of the enlightened leader Joseph Kony is the only way to survive in the bush. The
religious practices also act as a mobilizing force: it creates a belief in a new purified
minority, reflecting an awareness that “it is rituals that create beliefs and not the other way
The reference to Christian and Acholi traditions also serves a strategic function in
the relationship with the outside world: in the highly religious society of Northern Uganda,
these practices are well understood. Violence that is embedded in religious practices has
added to the intimidating character of the LRA’s actions: not only is the LRA violent and
ruthless, the LRA also has spiritual powers, making them even more dangerous.
It is not important if the spiritual powers are real or not. What is important is that
people believe in it, not only within the rebel movement, but also outside of it. Among
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974 J. Adam et al.
all actors related to the conflict, there is a general consensus that Kony has “some special
spiritual powers,” not only among (former) rebels but also among the general population
in Acholiland, the governmental actors, and media who cover the conflict. In July 2003,
the Minister of State for Defence, Ruth Nankabirwa, declared on the weekly cabinet press
briefing that “(...) this spirit factor cannot be ignored (...) the people believe in it and we
cannot ignore it.” She called on “everybody, including spiritual leaders” to come forward:
Anybody who thinks he can be helpful to end this rebellion is welcome.”
Responding to
her call, the National Council for Traditional Healers and Herbalists Association (Nacotha)
announced they would deploy bees and horrible diseases to confront the LRA. This brings
one back to the beginning of the conflict: Kony (and the HSMF before him) started waging
a spiritual war—and creating a new spiritual identity—because “worldly” politics and
warfare failed to solve the increasing problems of the Acholi. This strategy is no longer
limited to the rebels: also other actors, even governmental, start referring to metaphysical
phenomena in order to solve the Acholi crisis.
Summarizing, the conflict in Northern Uganda started out of a marginalization of
the Northern Ugandan region in general and the Acholi people in particular. In the
process of the LRA’s armed rebellion, which was a reaction against this marginalisation,
religion—Christian rituals—came to play a crucial role in the process of the creation of
an alternative ethno-religious identity. This identity creation process happens both through
the use of religious rituals and the use of violence against the “out-group,” and produces
effects at different levels. First, this renewed spiritual identity is important for the in-group
cohesion: it creates internal discipline and prevents rebels from escaping. Second, the
ethno-religious identity created by the LRA should save the Acholi “spiritually,” but on
a worldly level only leads to their destruction: the “outsiders,” including the non-LRA
Acholi, are seen as non-believers, which should be killed by the “insiders,” that is the
LRA. Third, a combination of religious and Acholi traditions are in its rituals and outward
violence, not only re-defining the Acholi identity, but also ensuring that the “outward”
Acholi community understands the LRA violence.
Christian Militias on Ambon
Context and Origins
From 1999 to 2002, the island of Ambon in the Moluccan archipelago of Eastern
Indonesia was the theater of a high-intensity conflict between Christians and Muslims. It is
estimated that Muslims account for little more than half of the total Moluccan population,
whereas 35 percent are Protestants and 5 percent are Roman Catholics
; the 763 square
kilometers–large island of Ambon itself has a population of half a million, of which the
major part live in Ambon city. From the start, references to religion played a crucial role in
this conflict: on the Christian side of the population, religious symbols were widely used
to distinct themselves mentally and spatially from the Ambonese Muslim community. For
the different Christian militias, these symbols had to help identifying themselves against
the Muslim enemy and to strengthen their internal cohesion. Militia fighters, however, also
saw their actions increasingly guided by religion: their fight was a legitimate cause for the
defense of the Christian population against the evil forces of their Muslim enemies.
Three phases can be discerned in the Ambonese conflict. The first phase, which lasted
from January 1999 until May 2000, was characterized by armed confrontations between
locally based Muslim and Christian bands. Although the number of casualties remained
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relatively low in this first phase of the conflict, Ambon became a divided city, symbolically
segregated by a road that was nicknamed “the Gaza strip.” The second phase, lasting
roughly from May 2000 until January 2002, started with the arrival of the Laskar Jihad and
other Java-based Islamist paramilitary groups that gave a new push to the armed activities.
Heavier weaponry entered the island and security forces of different origins started aligning
themselves with the religious communities. This ultimately led to the intensification of the
acts of violence and a consequent increase in the number of casualties. The second phase
officially ended with the signing of the Malino II Peace Declaration of February 2002.
Since then, Muslim–Christian relations in Ambon stabilized although the region remains
vulnerable for low-intensity fighting between the two communities as well as between the
different security forces. This was demonstrated in April 2004, when new riots broke out
in Ambon city, killing dozens and ravaging different parts of the city.
It is very hard to give exact figures on the number of casualties caused by the conflict,
yet it is generally estimated that the 1999–2002 Christian–Muslim conflict caused the death
of some 5,000 to 10,000 people in both of Molucca’s provinces with a particularly large
number of these on the island and city of Ambon. At the zenith of the conflict around 2002,
one third of the whole population of the Moluccan archipelago was internally displaced.
Religion and Identity
In explaining the Ambon crisis, several authors have pointed at the manipulating role of
the army and military Jakarta-based elites whereas others have highlighted the role of
local elites and their strategies to preserve their power within processes of political and
administrative decentralization. Still others see issues related to migration as the defining
factor for the eruption of violence in Ambon. In this wide range of explanations, one central,
ever-returning question concerns the specific role and place of religion, which is the deep
religious rift that traditionally exists between the Muslim and the Christian side of the
population in the Ambonese society.
The roots of these social–religious faultlines can be traced back to the Dutch colonial
occupation of the island, during which an artificial sociopolitical distinction was created
between Christians and Muslims. In the Dutch colonial period, which started in the early
seventeenth century, the trading post of Amboina became a major center in the Dutch
colonial constellation for the “Spice Islands” in the Moluccas. In order to guarantee the
functioning and sustainability of the growing colonial bureaucracy in Amboina and the
whole of the Moluccas, local people had to be co-opted into colonial rule. As such,
the strategy of the Dutch was to grant Ambonese Christians the lion’s share of jobs in
the colonial administration and the colonial army.
Ambon’s Muslims, for their part, were largely excluded from access to the colonial
administration and tried to make a living from commercial activities. Consequently,
religious identity became the defining principle to get access to the state-bureaucracy
and religion was turned into a sociopolitical and economic identity,
whereas in Northern
Uganda and Tripura this polarization was translated along ethnic lines.
After the end of Dutch colonial rule in 1949, this historically privileged position of
Christians in the colonial state-bureaucracy, both on the regional Ambonese-Mollucan as
well as on the general Indonesian level, to a large extent was maintained until the nineties.
From this period onward, the traditional hegemonic position of the Christians in Ambon
eroded because of three factors. First, a strong immigration of mainly poorer Muslim
migrants from Southern Sulawesi and Java to Ambon intensified competition for access to
local economic assets.
Second, Suharto’s move, from the end of the eighties onward, to
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976 J. Adam et al.
anchor his popularity among Indonesian Muslims by privileging Muslims in access to senior
positions within the state-bureaucracy,
led to the emergence of an alternative Muslim
state elite network that started competing with the traditional Christian elite network.
And third, the Asian financial-economic crisis of 1997–98 caused overall impoverishment
of the Moluccan region and intensified competition for access to political and economic
As a result of the aforementioned factors and dynamics, religion, and the identity
attached to it, became increasingly politicized. A growing number of Ambonese were
emphasizing their religious identity to get access to religiously defined patrimonial lineages.
The demise of Suharto’s authoritarian New Order in May 1998, which led to a complete
institutional breakdown and uncertainty about the political future of the country, was
the final spark to turn simmering communal tensions into open conflict. Armed groups,
composed by local youngsters and referring to religious symbols, played a central role in
this cycle of violence that disrupted the local order of Ambon.
Religion and Political Mobilization
One of the protagonists were the rather loosely structured Christian militias. Recruiting on
a day-to-day and ad hoc basis, they lacked a real long-term strategy. Unlike the Ugandan
LRA and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, in the case of Ambon, a unified
Christian militia under a charismatic leader never came into being.
In contrast with,
for instance, their Muslim counterparts of the Laskar Jihad, which had regional offices all
over Indonesia and had many contacts among the elites in Jakarta, these Christian militias
were hardly formally institutionalized. Christians referred to these small and mobile units
as the “grass-roots.” It is estimated that on the island of Ambon, there were 25 of these
units, each consisting of about 100 to 200 fighters.
These militias mainly got into action
to defend Christian neighborhoods in Ambon city when attacked by Muslim fighters, but
also conducted attacks and vindictive actions on Muslim neighborhoods and villages.
Important sources of recruitment for the Christian militias were existing youth gangs
in Ambon city but also non-affiliated individuals, especially from poorer families in more
backward quarters and regions of the city and the island.
Another important source of
recruitment were Christian Ambonese gangs that were traditionally employed as security
guards in the casinos of the Ketapang district in Jakarta. After clashes with Muslim
Ambonese rivals in Jakarta in November 1998 and the subsequent burning of several
casinos, hundreds of members of this group returned to Ambon and carried their feuds
The two most notorious militia groups in Ambon were “Laskar Kristus” and “Coker.”
Coker is an abbreviation of “Cowok Keren” —which is local slang and means “handsome
dudes”—and was under the command of Berty Loupatty. It was essentially this militia that
absorbed the Jakarta-based Christian Ambonese youngsters. The notoriety of the Coker
gang is also caused by the fact that many of the attacks Coker organized on Muslim villages
were conducted in cooperation with Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces.
The Laskar
Kristus was under the command of Agus Wattimena who was killed in battle on 20 March
Very often, these Christian militias also recruited very young children up to the
age of twelve to actively engage in battle. These kids were called “agas” after a small sand
mosquito with a nasty bite. Less well known is that the word “agas” is also used as the
abbreviation for Anak Gereja Allah Sayang (“children who love the Church of God”).
It is noted that 60 percent of these Christian fighters were between 12 and 25 years old.
The fact that schools were closed because of the conflict and that the children and students
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were free all day has definitely increased the number of minor-aged that became involved
in the militias.
In the early phase of the conflict, the Christian militias and their support base had
a number of tactical and organizational advantages over the Ambonese Muslim side, the
latter being initially confined to the seafront parts and harbor of Ambon city. With the
coming of the Laskar Jihad militias to the island in May 2000, the power balance altered,
with Christians suffering heavy losses. Already in May 2000, several Christian villages
came under heavy attack and the Christian militias proved incapable of defending them
successfully. This can be explained by the influx of new fighters on the Muslim side that
not only came from Java but came from worldwide networks that even went as far as
Another important factor that changed the balance in favor of the Muslim side
was that, through the arrival of the Laskar Jihad, Muslim fighters obtained access to much
more sophisticated weaponry. On the other hand, Christian militias like Laskar Kristus
remained poorly armed with homemade guns and explosives and even bows and arrows.
This imbalance was further aggravated when the Laskar Jihad plundered a police post in
Tantui on Ambon Island in mid-May 2000 and seized a substantial amount of modern
weaponry during the raid.
The importance of religious symbolism and the visual outlook among the Christian
militias should be seen as an extension and confirmation of what was already happening on
an overall societal level in the Moluccan region. As for the total Christian community, these
symbols served to distinct Christian militia members vis-
a-vis their Muslim opponents and
to enforce the internal cohesion of the group. This is very clear by the visual outlook of
these individual Christian militia members. Christian crosses appeared under various forms
on bodies and clothes. Very striking in this regard were tattoos with clear references to
Christian symbols such as the Holy Cross, the Virgin Mary, or Jesus Christ. Also, the use of
a red bandana, or red clothing in general, seemed something typical for Ambon’s Christian
militias, because of which the latter were therefore often nicknamed “Tentara Merah” (“red
Besides these visual expressions, massive collective prayer sessions before and
after attacks served to strengthen the internal cohesion of the militias.
Apart from this role as an enforcer of internal cohesion, religion also served as a strong
motivation to engage into communal fighting. Collective prayers by the militia members, for
instance, must also be seen as an indicator of an intense religious conviction. In this regard,
a religious discourse probably has a stronger mobilizing effect than an ethnic discourse.
A religious discourse has the capacity to refer to very strong historical symbols and to
translate a local conflict into a historic and worldwide battle. The latter also happened in
Ambon, where Christians motivated their fight against the Muslims as a worldwide crusade
against “Islamic terrorism.” For their part, Ambon’s Muslims often translated the hostilities
with the Ambonese Christians as a war against the “imperialist and immoral Christian West
and its allies.” This motivational aspect of religion can also be discerned by the fact that
certain religious practices were used for the physical protection of the militia-members
during the actual fighting. Examples of this are the small bibles hanging around the neck
of the fighter that are supposed to protect the fighter from bullets or injuries. For the same
purpose, the carrying of small bibles in the back pocket of the fighter was commonplace
when going to battle.
Such religious symbols helped the fighters to overcome their initial
fears by giving them a feeling of protection and, therefore, served as an extra motivation
to engage into violence. Another typical feature that proves that religion in itself also
involved a motivational aspect among the Christian militias was the development of a cult
of martyrdom in which the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was seen as the inspiring example.
The idea behind this is that God would reward them in Heaven for fighting their religious
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978 J. Adam et al.
enemy and dying in the battlefield, an idea that is strikingly parallel with the concept of
Jihad as it was developed by the Laskar Jihad.
This can be discerned by their battle motto
“Martir Kristus” (Martyr of Christ) as well as by the song “Maju, Laskar Kristus” (“onward,
Christian soldiers”), the adopted battle anthem for the Christian militias whose chorus goes
as known: “Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, looking unto Jesus, who has
gone before.”
At the end, the conflict in Ambon not only divided the population and severely
weakened existing social cohesion, but it also reinforced the reference to religion in local
processes of identity formation. During the initial phase of the religiously inspired violence
in Maluku, the fighting was mainly limited to clashes between Muslim migrants and
Protestant Moluccans.
These initial riots, nevertheless, soon spread into full-scale and
open conflict between the entire Christian and Muslim communities. A first result was
massive displacement and the creation of so-called mono-religious zones, which limited
inter-ethnic discourse and weakened traditional, cross-religious bonds of friendship. Ambon
city’s Batu Merah neighborhood, for instance, was traditionally a mixed area but became
an exclusively Muslim neighborhood during the conflict. Today, this area is more and more
perceived as a Muslim neighborhood, and Christians once living in this part see it as a
hostile place that is no longer theirs. An important dimension in this mental and spatial
process was the destruction of churches. As one Christian refugee of the Batuh Merah
neighborhood said: “Since they burnt our church there, I have the feeling that place is no
longer mine.”
Another consequence of the conflict was the massive turn to religious practices and
the emphasis on religious identity in order to deal with the increasing insecurity and stress.
In Ambon, a religious narrative, which often made a simple diagnosis of the different
transformations caused by the conflict, proved to be a very convincing discourse. The
outcome of these different dynamics was the deepening of an existing religious cleavage.
The latter was, certainly on the Christian side, apparent in a boom of religious symbolism
in Ambon city and on the rest of the island. Openly shown Christian symbols, such as
paintings of Jesus Christ, graffiti, clothes, red crosses hanging on the front door, tattoos and
necklaces, today clearly mark which “religious part” of town you are entering.
Using the cases of Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon, this article has tried to put the
rather little-known phenomenon of militant Christian groups on the map at times when
research on militant faith-based groups, for obvious reasons, focuses on Islamist outfits.
More importantly, this article wanted to shed light on the context in which the said Christian
militant groups operate, as well as on the role of religion—in this case Christianity—and
religious symbolism in local processes of political mobilization.
From these three cases, several factors and trends become visible. First, various forms of
Christianity prove instrumental in filling the sociocultural vacuum left by the thorough social
changes of local societies. They offer an alternative reading of the changing environment
in the absence of structures that can offer prospects for development and security. In the
case of Tripura, Christianity has become a true “exit-strategy,” as it is often associated with
access to the “progress” that is associated with “the West.” In this sense, religion can give
meaning to the context of deeper processes of socioeconomic crisis and marginalization
and can therefore offer new tools to understand this context. In the three cases, the said
processes of social change were caused by different factors, such as migration and land
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 979
seizures (most obvious in Tripura, also Ambon), the loss of social-economic status inherited
from colonial times (the Acholi, the Ambonese Christians), and subsequent marginalization
and exclusion to the advantage of dominant out-groups.
Even though the process of “christianization” and references to religion do not
necessarily lead to religious radicalization, the different case-studies reveal that the potential
for this radicalization is higher in situations where socioeconomic differences are also
translated into religious terms. In this context, social or economic shocks are often
explained as being caused by other religious groups, which are considered as threats to
the position of one’s own group. This explains why in Ambon and Tripura, Christian com-
munities feel increasingly threatened by competing or numerically superior non-Christian
Second, the cases also prove how Christianity also serves other strategic functions,
apart from coping with processes of marginalization and change: it is a central mechanism
in processes of self-definition, informing both the in-group cohesion and the relationship
with the “out-group.” Important in these processes are the use of collective symbols, rules,
and rituals that in turn lead to a further polarization of the relation with the out-groups,
that is, the Muslim population for the Ambonese Christian militias, the non-Acholi for the
LRA, and the Bengali Hindus for the NLFT. The more the internal religious identity is
being strenghtened, the more the rift with the out-group deepens.
Third, in the cases discussed in this article, processes of religious radicalization have
been hastened by so-called trigger events that have widened already existing communitarian
rifts: the Agartala riots in Tripura in 1979 and 1980; the failed Acholi coup” and subsequent
crackdown in Uganda in mid-1985; and the Christian–Muslim riots in Ambon and other
Moluccan islands in 1999 and 2000. In all the case-studies, religion has become the main
mobilization force, even though the content of the religious message differs. The same can
be said about the impact of religious mobilization of local society. In the case of Ambon,
processes of religious mobilization and violence have widened and almost physically
institutionalised religious-communitarian divisions, for example in the form of formerly
mixed neighborhoods in Ambon city that are now either “purely” Christian or Muslim.
A similar situation exists in the town of Agartala in Tripura. However, in Tripura and
Northern Uganda, Christian radicalism and unpopular methods such as forced conversions
and kidnapping young recruits has also created internal splits in the in-group, for example
between non-LRA Acholi and LRA members and between Christian and non-Christian
tribals and NLFT members in Tripura.
And fourth, the question remains to what extent outside influence and manipulation
have, ideologically as well as logistically, facilitated the rise of religious radicalism. If
one talks of safe havens and arms supplies, then it is clear that the LRA could, at least
temporarily, benefit from facilities in and supply routes from southern Sudan; the same goes
for the NLFT in Bangladesh and the neighboring state of Mizoram. Ideologically, native
Christian groups from Mizoram played a key role in the rise of Christianity among the
tribals in Tripura. In Ambon, the arrival of the Islamist Lashkar Jihad group, the perceived
Western support for Ambon’s Christians as references by some of them to their fight being
“a crusade against Islamic terrorism”—and similar sloganeering by the Muslim side about
“fighting stooges of the depraved and immoral West”—have strengthened perceptions of a
global civilizational frontline on the island. Because of the strong mobilizing capacity of
religion, the increasing use of and reference to religious symbols and the integration of a
local conflict as part of what is perceived to be a global struggle, the situation in Ambon is
certainly more typical and instrumental for the new global context as it is since 2001 than
that in Tripura and Northern Uganda.
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980 J. Adam et al.
1. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civlizations and the Remaking of World Order (New
York, Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 211.
2. Quoted in D. Tuastad, “Neo-Orientalism and the New Barbarism Thesis: Aspects of
Symbolic Violence in the Middle East Conflict(s).” Third World Quarterly 24(4), p. 594.
3. M. Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).
4. O. McTernan, “From Violence to Conciliation.” CCTS Newsletter, No. 20, available at
5. Both groups are physically easy to distinguish on the streets and countryside: the Bengali
generally look “typically South Asian,” whereas the tribal population generally has Burmese-
Mongoloid features.
6. The National Liberation Front of Tripura chapter on the South Asian Terrorism Portal,
available at (, A. Sahni, “Tripura: The Politics of Ethnic Terror.” South Asia Intelligence
Review 1(6) (26 August 2002), and CRG conversations with NGO leader and church cadre in Agartala,
10 and 11 May 2004.
7. The online South Asian Intelligence Review of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict
Management keeps detailed accounts of the casualties with breakdown in civilians, rebels, and
security forces on its website at ( and puts the number of casualties in Tripura at 2,762
for the 1992–2002 period.
8. S. Bhaumik, “72 Tripura Rebels Surrender.” BBC News World Online, 6 May 2004, available
at (
9. Inter Press Service, 13 February 2003.
10. The NLFT’s constitution can be found on the website of the South Asian Terrorism Portal at
const.htm). In fact, the
text stresses an ethnic-emancipatory social agenda much more than a religious one.
11. CRG telephone interview, 31 August 2004.
12. A. Sahni, op. cit. (see note 6).
13. BBC News World, “Separatist Group Bans Hindu Festivities,” 2 October 2000, available at
asia/953200.stm); “Hindu Preacher Killed by Tripura Rebels,” 28 August
2000, (
asia/899422.stm); “Tripura Tribal Leader Killed,” 27 December
2000, (
14. P. Kumar, “Tripura: Beyond the Insurgency-Politics Nexus,” Faultlines, vol. 14 (Institute
for Conflict Management, Delhi, 2003), p. 32. The territory of the administrative entity of Tripura in
1901 and 1921 was substantially larger than that of the state of Tripura today. It also contained the
Bengali-inhabited plains of what is now Comilla district in neighboring Bangladesh. But if one takes
the 10,491 sq. km–large territory that is present Tripura (called “hill Tripura” on 1909 colonial maps)
then the percentage of tribals in 1921 was well over 85 percent.
15. For example, according to a 1990 study on the land transfer pattern in seven scheduled
and seven non-scheduled villages in southern and western Tripura by the Law Research Institute
in Guwahati, Assam “in the seven non-scheduled villages, out of the total 240 plots transferred,
145 plots were transferred by tribals to non-tribals, 76 by tribals to tribals, and 19 by non-tribals
to non-tribals. (...) In settled agricultural areas within one hundred kilometers of the state’s capital
Agartala, between 20 to 40 percent of the tribal lands had been alienated [transferred in one way or
another to non-tribals-aut.] by 1979, when tribal insurgency gathered momentum. In some parts of
southern Tripura, as much as 60 percent of tribal lands were alienated, sold in distress conditions as
a sequel to an unequal economic competition with the Bengali settlers (quoted in S. Bhaumik, “The
Dam and the Tribal,” Himal South Asian [May 2004]).
16. In 1994, for instance, 51.14 percent of tribals lived below the poverty line compared ot the
state average of 35.97 percent; likewise, 40.6 percent of the tribals had no access to safe drinking
water and electricity compared to 28.65 percent among Bengali Hindus.
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 981
17. CRG telephone interview, 31 August 2004. The social-geographic effect of land
encroachment itself is, of course, best visible in the countryside, where Bengali Hindu settlements are
generally concentrated in the plains or close to the roads, and tribal villages are situated on top of the
hills or more “inland,” away from the main roads. The main places where the two quasi-segregated
communities meet, but not necessarily interact, are the markets in Agartala, Udaipur, or other district
centers on market days, and the state capital of Agartala, with its communities of tribal IDP and
socially mobile tribals who are in town for education and business.
18. Institute for Conflict Management and the South Asian Intelligence Review online at
(, Tripura State Police Department and A. Dasgupta: “Tripura’s brutal cul de sac,”
Himal South Asian (December 2001).
19. The total number of tribal rebel groups in Tripura number well over a dozen, most of them
parochial and more engaged in infighting that anything else.
20. S. K. Das, “Ethnicity and the Rise of Religious Radicalism: The Security Scenarion in
Contemporary Northeastern India,” in Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, edited by S.
P. Limaye, R. Wirsing and M. Malik (Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies (APCSS), 2004).
21. According to sources in the Tripura Baptist Christian Union—Tripura’s Baptist umbrella
organization—the number of Christians of all denominations in the state numbered 24,872 in 1981
(other sources indicate 16,000) and 46,472 in 1991. In 2003, the Christian population in Tripura
was estimated at some 90,000, two-thirds Baptist and the rest Roman Catholic. Bhaumik, in a
CRG telephone interview on 31 August 2004, said: “This was not the work of foreign missionaries
from outside of the country. In fact, after the expulsion of the missionaries of the New Zealand
Baptist Missionary Society in 1960, Baptist proselytizing largely became an indigenous affair tribal
missionaries from Mizoram, an almost entirely Christian state. (...) The Baptist Church of Tripura
got directly funded by the Southern Baptist Convention from the US. Also, in 1980 the Baptist World
Alliance, the global Baptist umbrella organization, changes its funding style to direct funding of local
Baptist churches who work in areas with room for expansion.”
22. CRG telephone interview, 19 August 2004.
23. M. N. Karna, “Social-Economic Aspects of Ethnic Identity in North-Eastern India,”
in Liberalisation and India’s North East, edited by G. Das and R.K. Purkayastah (New Delhi:
Commonwealth Publishers, 1988), pp. 228–229. Along the same lines, European Christian
missionaries were also among the first to codify tribal languages, as has been the case in the
neighboring state of Meghalaya for instance.
24. R. K. Ranjit Singh, “Ethnicity Among the Small Tribal Groups of Manipur. An
Anthropological Analysis,” in Ethnic Groups, Cultural Continuities and Social Change in North
East India, edited by I. Barua, S. Sengupta, and D. D. Das (New Dehli: Mittal Publications, 2002),
pp. 80–81.
25. According to the 1991 census, 98.35 percent of the total tribal population of Tripura lived
in hilly, rural areas compared to the state’s average of 84.72 percent. The authors’ own observations
and conversations in and around Agartala and Udaipur in March 2004 suggest, however, that after
almost 15 years of NLFT insurgency, this does no longer reflects reality, especially among younger
26. On the bases of the authors’ observations, “urban” is a relative notion in Tripura. The only
town of any size is the administrative center of Agartala, which was founded as a municipality in
1871. The 1991 census put the town’s population at 157,636, whereas the figure for 2004 is estimated
at 200,600, or a 21 percent increase. The number of tribals residing in Agartala in the 1991 census
was 3,363 or 2.1 percent.
27. CRG conversation in Udaipur, 11 May 2004.
28. These numbers fluctuate over time, and are from the International Institute of Strategic
Studies’ Armed Conflict Database, quoted in: A. Vinci, “The Strategic Use of Fear by the Lord’s
Resistance Army.” Small Wars and Insurgencies, 16(3)(2005), p. 361. See also International
Crisis Group Africa Briefing No. 23, Shock Therapy for Northern Uganda’s Peace Process,
Kampala/Brussels, 2005.
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982 J. Adam et al.
29. For an in-depth analysis of these factors, see R. Doom and K. Vlassenroot, “Kony’s
Message.” African Affairs 98(390) (1999), pp. 5–36.
30. A.A. Mazrui, Soldiers and Kingsmen in Uganda. The Making of a Military Ethnocracy
(London: Sage Publications, 1975).
31. CRG interview data, December 2005–October 2006.
32. CRG interview with former LRA commanders, Gulu, October 2006.
33. CRG interviews with former LRA rebels, Gulu, Uganda, 11 December 2005. Due to the
precarious situation for the ex-rebels, and the nature of the information, total anonimity was guaranteed
for all interviewees.
34. CRG interview data, December 2005–October 2006.
35. CRG interviews with former LRA rebels, Gulu, Uganda, 18 December 2005.
36. CRG interview with former LRA commanders, Gulu, October 2006.
37. Some priests report about LRA soldiers who came to pray at their churches before the
intensification of the conflict. One priest comments on this: “(...) they pray sincerely, ardently, that
God should save them from harm and let them succeed in their war. They seemed to draw their
strength from their strong belief in God and in the military genius of the Acholi.” Quoted in: Human
Rights and Peace Centre, The Hidden War, the Forgotten People (Kampala, 2003), p. 83, available at
38. After several high-placed commanders defected under the amnesty law, and with no more
official safe haven in Southern Sudan, the LRA is breaking up into smaller units. Nevertheless, the
LRA has never been active on a bigger territory. A group led by Kony’s right-hand man Vincent Otti has
entered the Democratic Republic of Congo in September 2005. Other groups are in Southern Sudan
and yet others are active in Uganda, not only in the northern districts but as far as Kaboramaido-district,
which is in the eastern part of the country.
39. For example, most units seem to pray, but far less frequently (e.g. once a week instead of
three times a day).
40. Interview at People’s Voice for Peace, Gulu, 14 December 2005. See also: F. Van Acker,
Uganda and the Lord’s Resistance Army: The New Order No-One Ordered (Institute of Development
Policy and Management, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, IDPM Discussion Paper No. 6, 2003), p.
33. Apart from these basic regulations, the LRA also has many temporary ad hoc regulations, such
as sudden orders to pray and refrain from eating and drinking.
41. Some 20,000 children are estimated to have been abducted by the LRA. See also
Human Rights Watch’s, Stolen Children: Abduction and Recruitment in Northern Uganda (March
42. Kony allegedly mistook a non-partisan mass-prayer for peace as a mass-prayer to stop the
LRA. CRG interview at the Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative, Gulu, 14 December 2005.
43. B. Diken and B. Carsten, “Zones of Indistinction: Security, Terror and Bare Life,”
Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, 2002, quoted in: F. Van Acker, op. cit. (see note
40), pp. 33–34.
44. New Vision, 18 July 2003.
45. Another expression of this are the numerous prayer-rallies in order to engage “spiritual
warfare” against the evil practices of the LRA.
46. These figures are based on a report of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention (ECCP),
which used the data of the official census figures of Survei Penduduk Antar Sensus for 1991, 1985,
and 1990. This report states that the Moluccan province consists of 59 percent Muslims, 35.3 percent
Protestants, and 5.2 percent Roman Catholics, S.R. Panggabean, “Maluku: The Challenge of Peace,”
in Searching for Peace in Asia Pacific. An Overview of Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding
Activities, edited by A. Heijmans et al. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publications, 2004).
47. For an detailed description of these events in April 2004 in Ambon city, see: ICG Asia
Briefing No. 32, Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon , Jakarta/Brussels, 17 May 2004.
48. International Crisis Group Asia Report No. 31, Indonesia: The Search for Peace in Maluku,
Jakarta/Brussels, 8 February 2002, p. 1.
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Christian Militantism in Tripura, Northern Uganda, and Ambon 983
49. For in-depth information on this history, see R. Chauvel, Nationalists, Soldiers and
Separatists. The Ambonese Islands from Colonialism to Revolt (1880–1950) (Leiden: KITLV Press,
1990). Chapters 2 and 3 in particular are of interest.
50. J. Betrand, “Legacies of the Authoritarian Past: Religious Violence in Indonesia’s Moluccan
Islands,” Pacific Affairs, 75 (1) (April 2002), p. 63.
51. G. Van Klinken, “The Maluku Wars: Bringing Society Back In.” Indonesia, 71 (April 2001),
p. 10.
52. J. Bertrand, op.cit. (see note 50), p. 75.
53. J. Bertrand, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004), p. 118.
54. In most of the analysis on the conflict in Ambon, full attention is given to the Muslim side
of the fighting while the Christian part in the violence is often underexposed. In the case of Ambon,
attention was strongly reinforced by the fact that certain individuals of the Muslim militias in Ambon
were related to international terrorist organizations. For more detailed information on this issue,
see: International Crisis Group Asia Report No. 103, Weakening Indonesia’s Mujahidin Networks:
Lessons from Maluku and Poso, Jakarta/Brussels, 13 October 2005.
55. K. E. Schulze, “Laskar Jihad and the Conflict in Ambon.” The Brown Journal of World
Affairs IX(1) (spring 2002), p. 63.
56. Ibid.
57. CRG interview conducted in Infodoc Maluku, Ambon, 23 February 2006.
58. Human Rights Watch, Indonesia: The Violence in Ambon, Human Rights Watch, March
1999, p. 7, report available at (
59. M. N. Azca, Security Sector Reform, Democratic Transition, and Social Violence, Berghof
Research Center for Constructive Management, Dialogue Series No. 2, August 2004, p. 8, available
at (
60. S. Mulyadi, “Violence under the Banner of Religion: The Case of Laskar Jihad and Laskar
Kristus.” Studia Islamika10(2) (2003), p. 95.
61. CRG interview conducted in Infodoc Maluku, Ambon, 23 February 2006.
62. K. E. Schulze, op. cit., p. 64.
63. Noorhaidi, Laskar Jihad. Islam, Militancy and the Quest for Identity in Post-New Order
Indonesia, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Utrecht, 2005, p. 208.
64. Ibid., p. 206.
65. It is unclear what the specific meaning of the color red was for the Christians. According
to some, this was a clear reference to the blood of Christ, yet to others it was rather coincidence that
this particular color became affiliated to everything Christian during and after the conflict.
66. CRG interview conducted at hotel Manise, Ambon, 8 February 2006.
67. S. Mulyadi, op. Cit., p. 100.
68. Kathleen Turner, “Myths and Moral Authority in Maluku: The Case of Ambon,” Asian
Ethnicity, 4(2) (June 2003), pp. 225–239.
69. Fieldwork conducted in January–February 2006 among IDP’s in the city of Ambon.
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... In contrast to the previously mentioned studies, Adam, De Cordier, Titeca and Vlassenroot (2007) qualitatively investigated violence motivated by Christian beliefs. The authors point out that previous research has increasingly focused on armed groups and violence referring to Islam, even though faith-based violence occurs across the globe, with perpetrators adhering to all of the major world religions. ...
... Previous research studies have highlighted the importance of group processes in understanding religiously motivated violence, particularly in relation to a social identity (Adam et al, 2007;Aly and Striegher, 2012;Moyano & Trujillo, 2012;Muluk, Sumaktoyo & Ruth, 2013). They have also stressed the significance of a perceived injustice and vicarious humiliation as a precondition for conflicts (Adam et al, 2007;Milla, Faturochman & Ancok, 2013;Moyano & Trujillo, 2012;Putra & Sukabdi, 2013), and the moral justifications for violence (Milla, Faturochman & Ancok, 2013;Putra & Sukabdi, 2013), especially in relation to religious fundamentalism (Muluk, Sumaktoyo & Ruth;. ...
... Previous research studies have highlighted the importance of group processes in understanding religiously motivated violence, particularly in relation to a social identity (Adam et al, 2007;Aly and Striegher, 2012;Moyano & Trujillo, 2012;Muluk, Sumaktoyo & Ruth, 2013). They have also stressed the significance of a perceived injustice and vicarious humiliation as a precondition for conflicts (Adam et al, 2007;Milla, Faturochman & Ancok, 2013;Moyano & Trujillo, 2012;Putra & Sukabdi, 2013), and the moral justifications for violence (Milla, Faturochman & Ancok, 2013;Putra & Sukabdi, 2013), especially in relation to religious fundamentalism (Muluk, Sumaktoyo & Ruth;. In addition, sacred values appear to be an important factor, as indicated in Neuberg et al (2014). ...
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine psychological processes that can contribute to religiously motivated violence from a psychology of religion perspective in relation to the collective meaning-system of the Christian militant anti-abortion movement the Army of God. The study applied a single-case design and the data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 3 prominent figures within Army of God, as well as through 43 qualitative documents and 4 autobiographical books. The collected data was analyzed through a deductive approach, implementing the concept of sanctification, social identity theory, selective moral disengagement, and the Staircase to Terrorism model. The results show that the collective meaning-system of the Army of God can be understood as a form of religious fundamentalism that acts as a frame that binds the members together, and from which social categorization and group identification can induce acts of violence. The results also demonstrate that abortion is perceived as a grave injustice and destruction of something sacred, and how it leads to a moral outrage and aggression by constituting a threat towards one’s social identity. This threat moves the individuals towards a ‘black-and-white’ and ‘the ends justify the means’ mentality. The act of violence is further prompted by a perceived duty from God and facilitated by a dehumanization of the perceived enemy. The findings of the study address the need of primary empirical data in the psychological research of violent extremism. Furthermore, it brings further knowledge regarding religiously motivated violence and leaderless resistance by taking into account the search for significance and sacred values. In contrast to previous research the current study also demonstrates that a leader or a well-structured group is not necessarily a key factor when explaining religiously motivated violence from a social psychological perspective. This can contribute to the theoretical understanding regarding social identity and a collective meaning-making in relation to violent extremism and lone-wolf terrorism.
... The third category focuses on case studies of violent Christian movements, such as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) (Adam et al. 2007;Taylor 2019), the anti-balaka movement in the Central African Republic (CAR) (Kah 2016;Lombard 2016), and the rebellions that used Christian jihad in southern Nigeria (Omenka 2011;Pérouse de Montclos 2021). ...
... This evidence sheds light on the Christian religious character of the LRA: it wants to fulfill the Ten Commandments of the people, and Kony likens himself to Moses and Jesus Christ as he leads his people to the Promised Land. Former LRA rebels speak of many religious rituals within the movement such as baptisms or sacrifices (Adam et al. 2007). The fighters of the LRA group also wear long beads on their chests and recite verses from the Bible before battle. ...
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Religious extremism presents an ideological perspective found in most major religions and is currently associated with various forms of religiously motivated acts of violence. A conceptual framework is adopted to study the warning features of religious extremism and apply it to case studies of Nigeria, Uganda, and the Central African Republic ( CAR ). The application of a religious jihadism model to Christianity provides a comparative basis for assessing Islamic radical jihadism, helping to understand religion as a security threat, with particular reference to Christian contexts and examples. Using extremist rhetoric and the mobilization of Christian rituals, members of religious groups attempt to renegotiate their position in the public space within a society from which they are excluded due to political, social, and economic dynamics based on their exclusion. This study finds no significant difference between Islamic jihad and Christian jihad, as each seeks to politically exploit religion for political ends.
... The LRA emerged in 1987 in northern Uganda in response to marginalisation and alleged abuses experienced by the LRA violence reduced to survival attacks for food and short-term abductions. This continues today in an area covering the DRC, the CAR (Central African Republic), Sudan, and South Sudan (Adam et al. 2007;Titeca and Costeur 2015: 99-100). ...
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There have been widespread reports of elephant poaching by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Garamba National Park (GNP) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), presenting a narrative that ivory poaching funds terror and that both can be solved by the same (military) intervention. This narrative distorts the complex dynamics. It identifies clear villains, edits out other poaching actors, and legitimises particular interventions. Poaching is portrayed as a moral, non-political issue and military intervention is portrayed as a logical outcome. The wider history and current context are neglected. The LRA's poaching threat, relative to other actors, is overemphasised. It ignores how the LRA poaching—real as it was—fits into a history of poaching caused by problems with state capacity and territorial control, including incursions by armed actors. The situation demands solutions that are more complex than merely defeating the LRA. More so, military intervention against the LRA has worsened poaching, due to state military implications in poaching. The article shows how the 'LRA ivory–terrorism' narrative is a discursive tool for particular agendas, which primarily allow particular interventions, legitimisation of resources, or wider readership. In this way, the actors involved create their own echo-chamber, which is less concerned with local dynamics and which does not include practical conservation actors in Garamba. The narrative has also begun to shift.
... They feel they are being suppressed by the government and denied the necessary investments for development and access to key positions in government and the civil service. 9 They have traditionally voted with the opposition, and a range of rebel movements have been founded during the Museveni regime such as the Lord's Resistance Army in Acholiland (Adam et al. 2007 ), the West Nile Bank Front, and the Uganda National Rescue Front II in West Nile (see Gersony 1997 ). The people in Panyimur share these sentiments of marginalization and exclusion, believing that the central government either neglects them or actively punishes them for the region's association with Amin's discredited regime. ...
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By looking at a number of different commodities and how they are traded, this article shows how informal cross-border trade in West Nile and Panyimur, Uganda, is governed by a locally negotiated system of hybrid governance, in which neither state nor nonstate actors have a regulatory monopoly. Notions such as legality and illegality are secondary to the functioning of these hybrid institutions, which instead are the outcome of perceptions of the legitimacy of regulatory actions and trading practices and the power configurations of the actors involved. There are different “registers” at play about what constitutes legitimate economic action among different moral communities, but the actual impact of this system depends on the power of the strategic groups involved. En regardant un certain nombre de produits différents et la faç;on dont ils sont négociés, cet article montre comment le commerce informel transfrontalier dans la région du Nil occidental et le Panyimur est régi par un système négocié localement de gouvernance hybride, dans lequel les acteurs qui ont un monopole réglementaire ne proviennent ni de l’intérieur ni de l’extérieur du pouvoir d’Etat. Des notions telles que la légalité et l’illégalité sont secondaires pour le fonctionnement de ces institutions hybrides, qui sont plutôt le résultat de la perception de légitimité des mesures de réglementation, des pratiques commerciales et des configurations de puissance des acteurs impliqués. Il existe différents “registres” en jeu parmi les différentes communautés morales sur ce qui constitue la légitimité d’une action économique, mais l’impact réel de ce système dépend de la puissance des groupes stratégiques impliqués.
... Successive leaders of rebel movements in the North frequently gave meaning to the longstanding grievances by adding mystical and religious overtones to support their peculiar claims to leadership. While many observers have used the frequent biblical references as a reason to dismiss it as fundamentalist (Adam et al. 2007) or " millenarian " (Chabal and Daloz 1999: 86) the logic of this frame actually " echoes more than one century of missionary teaching " (Finnström 2008: 108) and confirms the importance of transnational processes of relational diffusion which help understand in what ways " this kind of terror […] might prove to be linked to the logic of the world system and, as such, to be less exceptional than hoped " (Doom and Vlassenroot 1999: 7). ...
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This essay explores the transnational mechanisms affecting the violent struggle of the Lord's Resistance Army. In order to understand better new forms of post-Cold War violent conflict, a growing body of research focuses on the transnational dimensions of these struggles. Many of the recent quantitative studies addressing such questions have highlighted the role of diaspora support or the ability of rebel groups to retreat across state borders. But most of these studies are content with claims that such factors matter for outbreak and perpetuation of violence without showing how they specifically play into the mobilization of resources, changes in framing the violence, and choices of targets and strategies. Such analyses also largely fail to look at the interactions between transnational mechanisms and other, more locally driven factors that may mediate or even render external influences ineffective. Finally, rarely do studies explore the interaction between transnational mechanisms sustaining the violence and countervailing transnational efforts designed to end it. While greater attention to local grievances debunks persistent myths framing LRA violence as 'irrational,' a focus on transnational mechanisms sheds light on shifts in a rebel movement’s environment that are equally relevant to developing more effective interventions. The continued international preference for a military response reflects a limited grasp of both the local and the transnational dimensions of this conflict. As a result, the international community time and again fails to develop effective strategies to protect civilians. President Obama’s October 2011 decision to deploy an additional 100 U.S. forces to eliminate the LRA represents a continuation of such failed external efforts.
A framework for understanding ISIS's apocalyptic theology as an internal strategy to “coercively radicalise” its captive subjects is presented, by comparison to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), which shares key stages of captive indoctrination with ISIS. A violent experience of “entry”, religious rules learned in an “assimilation” process, and millenarian “grand narratives” framing violence as purification, are examined. These stages construct an image of group leaders as divinely endowed with spiritual knowledge and access, i.e. charismatic authority. This can create a sense of dependency on the leaders and their instructions, potentially motivating violent and altruistic behaviour from initially unwilling subjects.
The Lord’s Resistance Army/Movement (LRA/M) in Uganda is now world infamous for its violence. As most observers, including academics, have dismissed the LRA/M on moral grounds, they have disqualified the movement as non-political, rebels without a cause other than their allegedly bizarre syncretic beliefs. This article indicates an alternative or perhaps complementary direction. In presenting something of a rarity in the academic literature on the war in Northern Uganda, the article examines actual LRA/M documents, arguing that there is a continuity in the claims and political grievances put forward by the LRA/M throughout the years.
Civil wars are the dominant form of violence in the contemporary international system, yet they are anything but local affairs. This book explores the border-crossing features of such wars by bringing together insights from international relations theory, sociology, and transnational politics with a rich comparative-quantitative literature. It highlights the causal mechanisms - framing, resource mobilization, socialization, among others - that link the international and transnational to the local, emphasizing the methods required to measure them. Contributors examine specific mechanisms leading to particular outcomes in civil conflicts ranging from Chechnya, to Afghanistan, to Sudan, to Turkey. Transnational Dynamics of Civil War thus provides a significant contribution to debates motivating the broader move to mechanism-based forms of explanation, and will engage students and researchers of international relations, comparative politics, and conflict processes.
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Interreligious disharmony between Christians and Muslims seems prevalent in the world. Indonesia, one of the democratic nations in the globe, offers no exception. In the last two decades, disharmonious encounters have been escalating in the country to a point where people commit violence towards adherents of other religions. Despite this phenomenon, few studies have addressed the issue. The literature suggests that the problems are related to three distinct areas: the history of the country, the method of evangelizing and socio-economic and political issues. The current study was conducted in the framework of the theory of multiculturalism – a contemporary social theory which has been developed by Amitai Etzioni and Bikhu Parekh – not only to address the issue of interreligious disharmony but also to promote interreligious encounters when a society is divided. The participants in this study were Batak married people in Medan City, North Sumatera – Indonesia. The value of the kinship system among the Bataks in Medan, called Dalihan na tolu was regarded as their social capital and the impact of this culture on interreligious encounters was investigated, along with the values of religion. Using concurrent mixed methods, a model of interreligious encounter in Medan City was created and analyzed based on the quantitative data from 1,539 respondents. From the quantitative analysis, the study has found cultural influences to be stronger than religious influences in promoting interreligious encounters among the Christian and Muslim Bataks in Medan. This finding suggests that the social capital of Dalihan na tolu plays a greater role than religious influences in promoting harmony. The qualitative analysis affirmed this finding. Dalihan na tolu promotes harmonious relationships between those of different religions indirectly by reminding the Bataks of the cultural values which put respect, love and harmony first in the kinship system. While some religious teachings could be a barrier to interactions, the value of the kinship system appears to transcend the values of a particular religion. Overall, this study proposes the use of communal values to promote interreligious encounters in Indonesia or in particular in Medan and thus, to create a more harmonious society which pulls together otherwise disengaged members through shared values.
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Youths (N = 57; mean age = 13.83 years) residing near Tororo, Uganda, were interviewed to obtain quantitative and qualitative data pertaining to negative life events, adjustment problems, coping, social support, self-worth, and hope. On average, they experienced nearly half of the 22 negative life events assessed. The experience of negative life events related positively to internalizing problems and negatively to social support and self-worth. Coping strategies (problem-focused, positive reframing, avoidance, and support-seeking) were positively associated with hope. Problem-focused coping was negatively related to externalizing problems. Furthermore, social support was positively associated with coping strategies, self-worth, and hope and was negatively related to adjustment problems. The qualitative data shed light on the difficult events the youths endured and what types of coping strategies they used. Ultimately, interviews suggested that youths experienced many negative events, but they remained optimistic.
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In the course of its history, religion has had a dual function in plural societies. Many scholars and religious leaders agree that religion has had a role in fostering peace, harmony and civility. However, other scholars see religion as a source of conflict and violence. The latter view is supported by numerous incidents of religious violence around the world. The work of Juergensmeyer for example, clearly shows how violence has occurred and spread under the banners of all religions.Copyright (c) 2014 by SDI. All right reserved.DOI: 10.15408/sdi.v10i2.631
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Since the late 1970s, the focus on the “urban question” has shifted from the question of social movements to the question of social control and violence, from political struggle to “postpolitical” risk management. In this context, the city is increasingly transformed into a “network city”: fragmented space held together by technologies of mobility and flexible forms of power. The transition from “disciplinary society” to “societies of control” is decisive. It is increasingly evident that post-politics, based on technologies of control, is not a peaceful social order and brings with it new forms of violence: terror. The article elaborates on the relationship between these three successive forms of power (discipline, control, and terror) by focusing on their common denominator, that is, the creation of spaces of “indistinction.” With Agamben, it is argued that the “camp,” the logic that combines discipline, control, and terror, is becoming the biopolitical paradigm of today's societies.
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Frenzied slaughter, savage mutilations, forced conversions, and the wanton destruction of property characterized the conflict in Ambon following its eruption on 19 January 1999. Driven by the festering wounds of past colonial injustices against Muslims and present Christian fears, as well as by rumors of a Christian conspiracy to wipe out Islam, on the one hand, and of Islamization policies on the other, it claimed an estimated 9,000 lives and produced more than 400,000 refugees. Yet it was not until the emergence of Laskar Jihad and the group’s determination to wage jihad in Ambon that Jakarta politicians started to take note, albeit without doing much to address the situation. The call for jihad also attracted international attention, again without significant action. In fact, only after the events of 11 September did Laskar Jihad’s interpretation of Islam, paramilitary presence, and above all its international links to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines come under closer scrutiny. This brought pressure on the Indonesian government to find a solution to the Ambon conflict, which resulted in the February 2002 Malino II Declaration.
Since 1998, which marked the end of the thirty-three-year New Order regime under President Suharto, there has been a dramatic increase in ethnic conflict and violence in Indonesia. In his innovative and persuasive account, Jacques Bertrand argues that conflicts in Maluku, Kalimantan, Aceh, Papua, and East Timur were a result of the New Order's narrow and constraining reinterpretation of Indonesia's 'national model'. The author shows how, at the end of the 1990s, this national model came under intense pressure at the prospect of institutional transformation, a reconfiguration of ethnic relations, and an increase in the role of Islam in Indonesia's political institutions. It was within the context of these challenges, that the very definition of the Indonesian nation and what it meant to be Indonesian came under scrutiny. The book sheds light on the roots of religious and ethnic conflict at a turning point in Indonesia's history.
Preface and Acknowledgments Introduction 1. Terror and God CULTURES OF VIOLENCE 2. Soldiers for Christ 3. Zion Betrayed 4. Islam's "Neglected Duty" 5. The Sword of Sikhism 6. Armageddon in a Tokyo Subway THE LOGIC OF RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE 7. Theater of Terror 8. Cosmic War 9. Martyrs and Demons 10. Warriors' Power 11. The Mind of God Notes Interviews and Correspondence Bibliography Index
Since January 1999, the island of Ambon, located in the province of Maluku (Moluccas) in Eastern Indonesia, has been the scene of a virtual war between Christians and Muslims. Amid its religious underpinnings, two competing nationalistic ideologies have developed, one based on allegiance to an ethnic Moluccan nation and the other to a civic nation of common residence. Attempts to rationalise the underlying sentiment of the masses in these movements have purported rational explanations of the pursuit of common material interests, while others have focused on innate emotions of individual loyalty to their community. The other explanation suggests that identity is constructed as an ideological myth that convinces the individual of the simplicity of otherwise complex situations. In this respect, this paper has focused on the psychological and political appeal of myths of kinship as strengthening ideas of national consciousness and individual loyalty. It is asserted that the construction of new 'us' and 'them' visions of imagined community occur in the context of social, economic and political processes. These disruptive forces place individuals in stress situations and make them susceptible to these ideologies which offer simplistic diagnoses of complex social and political changes.
Imaginaries of 'terrorism' and 'Arab mind' backwardness can be seen as closely connected: the latter explains the former as irrational--violence thus becomes the product of backward cultures. I regard this way of representing the violence of peripheralised peoples as a specific expression of symbolic violence: new barbarism. The 'new barbarism' thesis implies explanations of political violence that omit political and economic interests and contexts when describing violence, and presents violence as a result of traits embedded in local cultures. New barbarism and neo-Orientalist imaginaries may serve as hegemonic strategies when the production of enemy imaginaries contributes to legitimise continuous colonial economic or political projects, as can be witnessed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.