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Home arrow Religion arrow Islam and the making of the nation: Kartosuwiryo and Political Islam in 20th Century Indonesia

Preface New perspectives on political Islam in twentieth- century Indonesia

No understanding of jihadism in Indonesia is possible without understanding Darul Islam and its very extended family[1]

The idea for this book came from an interest in understanding recent developments in Indonesian Islamism as well as some advice given by my doctoral supervisor, who convinced me that there was little use in analysing the 1970s-1980s jihadist phenomenon without first looking into its roots in the late colonial period. Following this wise advice, in this study I assert the crucial importance of the historical method in understanding the contemporary world.

I do so by treating Islam not as an unchanging theological truth but rather as an element of broader social and political realities that has been influenced by geographical and historical factors. I have made this decision with full awareness of the struggle that scholars face over how much weight to give to the statement that Islam represents the union of din wa-dawla, or religion and government, and over whether or not to differentiate between Islam as primarily a set of religious beliefs and Islam as a source of inspiration for politics. The fact that some Muslims consider it a religious duty to pursue the establishment of a government based on Qur’anic precepts makes Islam not so different from communism or secularism, in which followers strive to achieve political victory in order to implement their vision of a ‘just’ society. This study refers to Islam in its ideological manifestation as Islamism, an ideology that has been just as powerful and politically viable in the process of establishing and consolidating the independent state of Indonesia as secular nationalism or communism.[2] In 1926 Soekamo identifies Islam, nationalism and Marxism as the three streams of the Indonesian anti-colonial movement.[3] With the benefit of hindsight

1 choose the terms secular nationalism and communism instead. On the one hand I argue that ‘nationalism’ should not be seen only as prerogative of Soekarno’s group, and on the other hand left-leaning politicians were more varied in their approaches than dogmatic ‘Marxism’.

These premises have encouraged me to see Indonesia’s Islamism, including its radical and jihadist branches, as a homegrown phenomenon. Sekarmaji Marjan Kartosuwiryo (1905-1962), a prominent member of the anti-colonial Sarekat Islam party, formed the Darul Islam group in West Java in 1947-1948 with the goal of fighting the Dutch and eventually establishing the Islamic State of Indonesia. Although Kartosuwiryo’s motivations lay in domestic politics, these events cannot be analysed in isolation from contemporary developments in the wider Muslim world, from Cairo to India, and his vocabulary and strategies of legitimization found parallels outside of Southeast Asia.

The territorial unity of the ummah has been fragmented at least since Genghis Khan’s conquest of Baghdad in 1258. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when Muslim lands were ruled by European powers, theologians theorized about the adaptation of Islam to modernity, as well as ideas of ‘Islamic nationalism’. In 1924 Mustafa Kemal erased the last vestiges of a transnational Islamic authority by abolishing the Ottoman Caliphate and creating a secular Republic of Turkey. But the ideal of a global caliphate has not disappeared from the Islamist discourse, and it is still the object of much political debate both in the Middle East and in Indonesia (see the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, for example).

Religiously inspired anti-colonial movements repeatedly swung between pan-Islamism and Islamic nationalism, a fact of history that emphasizes we cannot look at Indonesian Islamism in isolation from the wider Muslim world. Sarekat Islam archival documentation and Kartosuwiryo’s own writings from the late 1920s-1930s highlight both this tension and the gradual transformation of pan- Islamism from a goal of the anti-colonial struggle to a tool with which to achieve national freedom. In the 1950s we witness one further development, as the goal of the Darul Islam’s armed struggle against the Republic became articulated as the creation of an Islamic federation encompassing some regions of the archipelago and other Muslim nations.[4]

The Darul Islam movement was terminated only in the mid 1960s, by which time it had turned into a rebellion that challenged the Indonesian Republic and had reached Aceh, South Sulawesi and South Kalimantan. For reasons that will become apparent below, I am here primarily concerned with the Darul Islam in West Java, specifically its ideological foundations as developed by Karto- suwiryo, and the movement’s eventual transformation into a rebellion. Despite its name and goals, the group’s allegiance to Islam was not evident to an entire generation of colonial administrators and Western scholars. Most works produced between 1949 and the 1980s downplayed the role of religion in Darul Islam’s motives for action, highlighting instead its violent turn in later years and its opposition to the established political authority.

This failure to take seriously the importance of Islam in the Darul Islam movement has gone hand-in-hand with a more general marginalization of Indonesia in discussions of political Islam until very recently. Comparative analyses of political Islam and Islamic rebellions, which flourished in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution of 1979, tended to exclude the Indonesian case. It was only with the second wave of interest in political Islam in the early 2000s that Indonesia was brought to centre stage, and in this context the Bali bombings of 12 October 2002 are often interpreted as an aftershock of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

  • [1] Sidney Jones, ‘Recycling militants in Indonesia: Darul Islam and the Australian embassybombing’, Asia Report (Singapore/Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2005), p. 31.
  • [2] Although ‘Indonesia’ as a political entity was only formed in 1945, Robert E. Elson has amplydemonstrated that ‘the idea of Indonesia’ was already well established in the early 1920s, and itis in this sense that I use the term. See Elson, The idea of Indonesia: A history (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
  • [3] Sukarno, ‘Nasionalisme, Islamisme dan Marxisme’, in Dibawah bendera revolusi (Jakarta: Pani-tia Penerbit Dibawah bendera revolusi, [1926] 1960).
  • [4] Chiara Formichi, ‘Pan-Islam and religious nationalism: The case of S.M. Kartosuwiryo andNegara Islam Indonesia’, Indonesia 90 (October 2010): pp. 125-46.
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