South China Morning Post, Monday, January 28, 2002
Bin Laden image spurs faithful in troubled islands
CHRIS MCCALL in Ternate, North Maluku, Indonesia
Osama bin Laden's snow-white turban and robes melt into the clouds against a yellow
sky, ablaze with the finest colours oil painting can depict.
The painter is clearly talented, but he has gone now and the "canvas" is unusual.
This painting is on a sheet of wood upstairs in a disco turned refugee shelter. Behind
bin Laden's image, atop a white cloud, sits a beautiful mosque, like an image of
Behind the wood on which the image is painted lives a family of Muslim refugees,
cheek by jowl with their former neighbours.
They all fled to Muslim-held Ternate in Indonesia's North Maluku, part of the Maluku
Islands, when religious violence hit neighbouring Halmahera two years ago.
All come from Tobelo, the main town of Halmahera, which turned into a Christian
stronghold as the fighting progressed.
Local Muslims recall that many of the most ardent volunteers for the jihad that was
waged two years ago were the relatives of people who had been killed earlier in
A state of civil emergency imposed since then has calmed things down somewhat,
but many fear a new round of inter-religious bloodletting.
The image of bin Laden is not the only one the artist has painted in the Laguna disco.
At the back in a makeshift musholla, or small mosque, is another large portrait of bin
Laden, looking down on the faithful.
At the front of the building, looking down on passers-by, is a huge portrait of the
United States' most wanted man.
Alongside it is a message, written in Indonesian with a smattering of Arabic: "Oh ye
the army of Allah, shoulder your weapons. Go forward to fight. Make firm your hearts.
Unite the Muslims of the world and work together to uphold the purity of Islam beneath
the banner 'There is no God but Allah'."
Underneath the picture are painted the words "al-Qaeda".
The painter's name was Ai Madu, said Bima Azis, 38, who still lives in the disco with
his family. Bima said he was Ai's uncle and explained that both of Ai's parents were
killed by Christian forces in fighting two years ago around Tobelo.
Tobelo remains a Christian area, although Muslims have started to return. But about
100 people camping out at the disco, and thousands of others like them in Ternate,
do not dare return there. Likewise, few Christians have dared venture back to Ternate.
Mr Bima said he had seven children. They lived off irregular rice handouts in squalid
Every now and then the refugees have to stage mass protests to encourage the
Government to give them their rice.
Mr Bima said Ai was aged about 21. He painted the images late last year and then
Mr Bima said he went to Jakarta to "gain experience", but did not elaborate and
claimed he did not know exactly where Ai was now.
Was Osama bin Laden popular among the refugees?
Oh yes, Mr Bima said, adding that he was respected as a Muslim who had stood up
to defend other Muslims. He would not go into details.
The Laguna disco is far from the only place in Ternate displaying bin Laden's picture.
It is painted on the side of street kiosks and sometimes hangs in a respected position
Around the once tolerant town are signs exhorting Muslims to remember that
spreading their faith is the duty of every Muslim. Also, painted over but still legible, are
pieces of graffiti spelling out what some here would like to do to Christians.
"Kill Obed, cut off his head," said one, using a local nickname for Christians.
Elsewhere graffiti declared that the location belonged to "Acan", the Muslim
Copyright © 2001. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.