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In the decades between 1950 and the mid 1990s, the Soekarno regime, the army and the New Order - with the tacit complicity of Islamic organizations - pursued a campaign aimed to portray the Darul Islam as a group of bandits who had attacked Dutch and Republican soldiers in equal measure, terrorizing the civilian population and destabilizing the country. Whether the Darul Islam was a channel for extended Dutch infiltration, communist activities or local grievances mattered little to the propagandists, and their explanations did not touch upon the movement’s Islamic nature. In this environment, public discourse focused on the rhetoric of national betrayal. Indonesian commentators depicted Kartosu- wiryo as driven by self-interest and personal ambitions for political power, and his religiosity was labelled as ‘mystical’. Kartosuwiryo’s character was entirely sterilized of its ideological motivations, while the Darul Islam became associated with violence and, ultimately, with defeat.

Before outlining this second phase, however, I first turn to the Darul Islam’s initial appearance in Western academic discourse and, arguably, to the last instance of Kartosuwiryo’s being defined as a politician rather than a rebel or a martyr. In 1950 Van Nieu- wehuijze described the Darul Islam as a movement that ignored calls for unity in the anti-colonial struggle in favour of outright confrontation in striving to establish an independent state of Indonesia solely based on Islam.

For Van Nieuwehuijze, ‘the dar ul-Islam ideal is fulfilling the same function in Javanese society that is performed by revivalist movements in primitive societies [...] Amidst a socio-spiritual life that has been experiencing a deep shock, [the common man] is groping for values that possess certainty and permanence’, while the ‘supernatural authority’ - a pattern of pre-Islamic societies - is embodied by the Islamic customary authority of the ulama.[1] Here Kartosuwiryo was described as a Muslim politician dedicated to the anti-Dutch struggle, the leader of a terrorist movement and possibly a crypto-communist, for whom Islam is the common referent for an alternative paradigm to Western domination.

  • [1] C.A.O. van Nieuwenhuijze, ‘The Darul Islam movement in Western Java’, Pacific Affairs 23-2(1950): pp. 181-2.
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