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At a time where religious violence seems to draw more media attention than ever, Which Way to the War? is a unique and exciting documentary that exposes the truth behind a conflict that lies and fear have fueled, with devastating consequences. American filmmaker Sue Useem, along with a crew of courageous Indonesian journalists and activists, went to great risks to collect the footage, interviews, and stories that make up the first ever documentary feature film on the Poso conflict in Indonesia during the decade from 1998 to 2008.
Instead of just taking one angle on the conflict, Which Way to the War? examines and analyzes the whole story behind the story of Poso, an extremely complex conflict, told by the people who lived through it. Generally cast as a "religious war" between militant groups of Protestants and Muslims that started by fighting between two drunken youths, one Protestant, one Muslim, this documentary identifies the causes and the conspirators who encouraged and armed groups of young men, readily mobilized by calls for religious solidarity at a time when political, economic, and religious stability in the Poso area was under threat.
A cycle of revenge led to the brutal massacre of Muslims in May, 2000, resulting in widespread riots, the deaths or disappearances of hundreds, the displacement of tens of thousands more, and the almost complete abandonment of Poso City. The deaths and displacements barely made the news, overshadowed by Indonesia's bloodier civil conflicts at the time in Aceh, East Timor, and Ambon. Three uneducated Catholic men were arrested by the police for supposedly masterminding the riots, though real evidence against them was virtually nil. Used as scapegoats to cover up the real actors behind the violence, they were sentenced to death and sent to a firing squad. The true masterminds remained at large, and everyone knew it.
While other communal conflicts in Indonesia began to subside by 2002, a new development would bring the agony of Poso to international attention: the arrival of violent jihadist groups eager to spread their own religious message in Poso. They found ready recruits among the victimized and impoverished Poso people, and one of the outside groups, Jemaah Islamiya, was already well know for its religious terrorism, boasting ties with Al-Qaeda.
As Poso became further divided by religious distrust and fear of more violence, Jemaah Islamiya and other groups set up bases to wage their own version of jihad against the local Protestant, Catholic, and Hindu populations. Boys that had grown up playing Nirvana in rock bands were now murdering their neighbors under the guidance of Islamic teachers and their radical ideology. While international headlines filled with reports of bombing attacks by Jemaah Islamiya on western targets in Bali, Jakarta, other parts of Indonesia, Poso remained a backwater of revenge, ravaged by mysterious slayings and terrorist bombings.
It was the horrific and well publicized story of the beheadings of three Protestant school girls in 2005 that finally brought the central government in Jakarta to take action, eventually leading to public identification of those who had been terrorizing Poso. The government pointed to a sophisticated local network of men associated with radical movements across the globe, ready to fight and die for their religious cause.
But Which Way to the War? reveals that jihadist violence was only one of the forces that was fueling the conflict in Poso. Corrupt officials stole much of the money allocated to victims and those displaced by the conflict, police officials were frequent human-rights abusers, and the Indonesian army was helping enrich the local elite and further impoverish the many.
After a decade of religious terror and near anarchy, Poso is finally emerging from the conflict and is the process of rehabilitating itself. Most residents have joined a remarkable grassroots community reconciliation initiative, guided by the diverse faiths that had earlier torn the area apart. Poso is proving itself to be much stronger than the hatred and fear that fueled the decade of conflict, and is now striving to transcend its terrible past and become a new beacon for religious tolerance in Indonesia.
Which Way to the War? takes viewers into the lives of those who were most heroic during the dark times, those who stood unswervingly for truth, justice, and reconciliation, often at great personal risk. A documentary that takes only the side of truth, Which Way to the War? encourages viewers to understand the dynamics of power struggles in fueling of violence, the abuse and manipulation of religion in violent times, and the ways in which people can be transformed by others into murderers - or saints.