Word of the day: pogrom

Recently, in a break from the norm, the Guardian newspaper here ran a whole series of features on the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, a megalopolis which is now nearing 30 million people! Jakarta’s a city I know pretty well as I’ve spent a fair amount of time there over the years. The article I found most gripping was one that explored the tensions between the city’s Muslim majority and ethnically Chinese minority. My wife is originally Chinese-Indonesian and through her family, I’ve come to know the Chinese districts of the city very well. I’ve also read up on the history of Chinese migrants into Indonesia and have a decent grasp of the present-day situation there.

One of the most shocking things I read in the Guardian article was a description of an anti-Chinese pogrom carried out as long ago as 1740! Over three bloody weeks, more than 10,000 people of Chinese origin were killed, leaving only a few hundred still alive. The massacres were sparked by Chinese workers in the sugar mills, which were controlled by the Dutch, then the colonial masters of the country, going on strike in protest against poor working conditions and pay. The strike turned violent, Dutch soldiers were attacked and the Dutch then retaliated. Other local groups were then encouraged to attack and soon the streets ran red.

A pogrom is a violent attack – or a series of violent attacks – that’s usually centrally controlled or encouraged in some way and that’s directed against a minority ethnic or religious group. The aim is usually nothing short of murder on a massive scale.  Historically, many pogroms were directed against Jewish communities, and the word is particularly associated with attacks on Jews living in Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th century. However, we also talk about other kinds of pogroms too: there have been pogroms directed at Tamils in Sri Lanka, ethnic Greeks in Istanbul, Sikhs in Delhi, Armenians in Baku and Muslims in Myanmar. Violence against minority communities is clearly not in any way exclusive to one particular group or religion and, depressingly, seems to be human nature. Given the blood that’s on so many hands, we all need to be aware of the evil we have done to each other over the years and do our best to ensure these things become a thing of the past.

Want to learn more about the many different ethnic and religious communities of London?

The free cultural programme we offer with all our summer school courses will help you do just that.

  • Do you know about any of the pogroms mentioned in this article?
  • Have you heard of any other pogroms? When? What happened?
  • What different ways can you think of to ensure these things don’t happen again?
  • Do you have a pretty good grasp of the political situation in many other countries? Which ones?
  • Have you heard of any workers going on strike recently? Why?
  • Do you agree that we all have blood on our hands?
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