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


Kartosuwiryo’s vision of the anti-colonial movement was framed within the understanding that only through religion - ‘with Allah and for Allah’ - could the Indonesian people be freed from the physical and ideological oppression of the West, and that the future of Indonesia as an independent nation-state could only be ensured if based on Islam and on sharia law. Islamic groups in Indonesia, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, were influenced by political and theological developments in the Middle East, especially Egyptian modernism. But the movement’s activities were dictated by local circumstances, as shown by the alternating fortunes of pan-Islamism and religious nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s, the relation between religious and secularist parties, and Kartosuwiryo’s changing approach toward the Dutch in the 1930s and toward Japan in the 1940s.

The first chapter contextualizes Kartosuwiryo’s intellectual development in the dynamic landscape of Java during the 1920s, following his move from his native village in the eastern part of the island to Surabaya, Batavia and the rural Priangan in West Java. In this chapter I argue that Kartosuwiryo’s reaction to socio-economic injustice and colonial authority in religious terms was the outcome of a Dutch education, Tjokroaminoto and Haji Agus Salim’s influence, as well as his involvement with a Sundanese menak.

Chapter 2 is set in the 1930s, and here I address the fragmentation and re-shaping of the anti-colonial movement along well- defined ideological lines: communism, secular nationalism and Islamism. Kartosuwiryo has by now smoothly risen to the highest echelon of Sarekat Islam’s hierarchy, strengthening his support base in West Java and putting political weight on the promotion of political Islam and non-cooperation with the Dutch. Amidst the shrinking of political space led by the new Governor General Bonifacius Cornelis de Jonge, commitment to the hijrah policy will cause Sarekat Islam’s isolation and Kartosuwiryo’s expulsion. The Japanese occupation, also covered in this chapter, marks the return of Kartosuwiryo on the political stage as well as the rise and fall of Islamic groups as the dominant force in the political sphere.

The end of War World II, and the subsequent turmoil and power contest in Java between Japanese, Allied Forces, Dutch and emerging Indonesian forces, are key to understanding the establishment of the Indonesian state. Chapters 3 and 4 follow the events that took place between Soekarno’s proclamation of the Pancasila-based republic in June 1945 and the transfer of sovereignty in December 1949.

I analyse the emergence of Indonesia as a non-confessional state. Soekarno’s diplomatic approach towards the Dutch during the revolution years is thus placed in relation with Masyumi’s role in Islamizing the struggle by calling for a holy war and making propaganda in favour of an Islamic state of Indonesia. Kartosuwiryo is still a major actor on the stage of formal politics, but the Dutch invasion of West Java in July 1947 instigates radical changes. As Islamic, Republican and Dutch troops confront each other and form loose alliances at the local level, the West Java branch of Masyumi is gradually transformed into a resistance movement aimed at establishing an Islamic state.

Chapter 4 focuses on Kartosuwiryo’s initiative to re-organize this regional branch of Masyumi into the Darul Islam group and the party’s armed wings into the Islamic Army of Indonesia; the expansion of this group across and beyond West Java; and its relationship with Soekarno’s Republic in Yogyakarta. This chapter covers the events that occurred until the proclamation of an independent Islamic state in August 1949, stressing how at this stage the Negara

Islam Indonesia saw itself as a separate state, in no ways competing or challenging the authority of the Republic of Indonesia. This attitude did not prevent opposing sides from engaging in episodes of armed confrontation. The chapter also includes an analysis of the Islamic state’s declaration of independence, its constitution and criminal code.

The core argument of Chapter 5, supported by a wide range of archival sources, is that while on the ground republican and Islamic troops often clashed, the republican government held an ambiguous approach to the NII for almost a decade. It was only in 1953 that Soekarno’s republic labelled the Darul Islam as an ‘enemy of the state’ and called for the military repression of the movement; and the Republican Army did not begin organized and systematic operations until 1958-1959.

The political instability of the federal state (and the unitary state since August 1950) emerged in the frequent changes of ministerial cabinets, the antagonism between Masyumi and Partai Nasi- onal Indonesia (PNI, National Party of Indonesia), the continuous power-struggle between the civilian government and the army, and the rebellions that dotted the archipelago. This context led to the lack of a coherent policy towards the Darul Islam-Negara Islam Indonesia. The Islamic groups, spearheaded by Muhammad Natsir and Masyumi in general, were committed to a political solution to ‘the Darul Islam problem’, but the secular nationalist faction, fearing for the unity of the country, invoked ‘the duty to restore peace’. Masyumi’s political capital withered: it lost the elections in 1955 and it was dissolved in 1960. Kartosuwiryo was captured, tried and executed in 1962, and by 1965 the army had quashed the Darul Islam from Aceh to Sulawesi.

The last chapter, ‘From rebellion to martyrdom’, reflects on the changing debates about Kartosuwiryo’s motivations and leadership, from the 1950s until the 2010s, and on the legacy of Kartosuwiryo. This second point is also addressed by comparing the different impact of the NII’s legal texts in the early 1950s and in the 2000s. I have identified four approaches to Kartosuwiryo’s motivations in his struggle for an Islamic state of Indonesia, and I suggest that these portrayals are useful in examining public attitudes towards political Islam in Indonesia in the past sixty years.

The first phase spans from the 1950s to the 1970s, and reflects the Republic’s interest in keeping Islam thoroughly separated from politics. In this context, the Soekarno and Suharto governments promoted an official image of Kartosuwiryo as a rebel with no ideological commitment beyond the desire to achieve power for himself - this is what I call the creation of a ‘sterile rebel’. The second approach is that of reconciliation, developed amidst the New Order co-optation of Islamic groups and Suharto’s gradual embrace of Islamic symbols. This new phase begins in the 1990s, with Suharto’s attempt to separate the condemnation of Darul Islam’s violent means from expressing sympathy for Kartosuwiryo’s desire to establish an Islamic state. After the fall of the regime in 1998 and the reopening of the public and political spheres to Islam, a wide range of literature has emerged ‘glorifying’ Kartosuwiryo’s struggle and framing him as a martyr of Islam. It is only since 2010 that non- politicized authors have made substantial efforts to assess Kartosuwiryo’s memory and legacy in contemporary Indonesia, initiating a fourth trend.

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