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Condemnation: Mysticism, violence and defeat

As Indonesia was slowly settling into being an internationally recognized independent nation-state, the Ministry of Information led the first attempt to produce a national historiography project, publishing a series of volumes illustrating the history of each province. The volume on West Java appeared in 1953. Here the Darul Islam’s activities are described as ‘rotat[ing] around the individual aspirations of Kartosuwiryo’, a man driven by feelings of political disappointment, fanaticism, religious dogmatism and adventurism.[1]

A pseudo-figurant (or ‘fake leader’) who used Islam as a tool to achieve governmental aspirations and who relied on political opportunism to rally popular support, Kartosuwiryo is an evil person, for whom it ‘is better to die than to face defeat’. Kartosuwiryo emerges as a man dedicated to increasing his personal power, and for whom Islam is merely an instrument for gathering support. On this foundation, the ministry initiated a parallel discourse to Karto- suwiryo’s motives: that of villagers’ resistance and opposition to the Darul Islam.[2]

This same position was also taken by Western scholar Karl D. Jackson in the 1970s. A behavioural political scientist, Jackson argued that villagers in West Java decided whether or not to join the Darul Islam according to patterns of traditional authority, mirroring their village leaders. Islam, Jackson argued, was integral to the Darul Islam only so far as ‘it supplie[d] groups that [we] re heterogeneous in their religious beliefs with a panoply of symbols that [could] be used to legitimize the leadership and ignite political action’.[3] I shall not dwell further on this piece of scholarship, as Ruth McVey has systematically deconstructed Jackson’s methodology and arguments, pointing to his inappropriate choice of applying a ‘laboratory-like experiment’ to a social movement. Jackson had rooted his study in a survey of more than 200 questions to a sample of villagers not really representative of the Priangan population, a choice that for McVey highlighted how Jackson did not have a comprehensive understanding of Islam or of Sundanese society.[4] Jackson was, however, not the only scholar who opted to ignore the importance of Islam in Kartosuwiryo’s activities and ideals on the basis of his ‘mystic hence unorthodox’ beliefs, as already discussed in the Preface and Chapter 1.

In the aftermath of Kartosuwiryo’s capture and execution in 1962, the army and the government conducted a campaign presenting the Darul Islam as a terrorist movement supported by antinationalist and anti-Republican forces, whose costs were borne most heavily by the civilian population. Its religious-political goals and Kartosuwiryo’s ideological depth were systematically flattened, and in combination with the absence of public debate on the subject, Kartosuwiryo slowly began to emerge as what I describe as a ‘sterile rebel’.

Unlike the Dutch authorities in the 1920s-40s and Islamist activists in the 2000s, who highlighted the religious quality of Karto- suwiryo’s actions, Indonesian commentators throughout the 1960s slowly erased religion from the picture. Earlier suggestions that Kar- tosuwiryo was a fanatic Muslim were quickly superseded by suggestions that he had markedly mystical tendencies. Amak Sjariffudin stressed how Kartosuwiryo was seen by his followers as a receiver of the wahyu Cakraningrat Sadar, bearer of the title of ‘Representative of God to the entire Islamic community’, and thus holder of traditional symbols of authority; this status was also demonstrated by him carrying a kens, a cundrik, and amulets.[5] Sjariffudin’s is the first description of Kartosuwiryo that unveils the underlying complexity, and perhaps even the internal contradictions, of his character as an Islamic leader.

The mixture of mysticism and religious fanaticism would become a recurrent theme; more importantly, it would become the foundation for arguing that Kartosuwiryo was not genuinely committed to an Islamic state. Because of his lack of formal religious education, his ignorance of Arabic and his own followers’ belief in supernatural forces (elements first brought to light in a 1964 army-sponsored biography written by Pinardi), Kees van Dijk and Deliar Noer have argued that Kartosuwiryo was ‘a dedicated sufist’. Because ‘Sufism is almost the direct opposite of modernism’, he ‘definitely does not seem to fit into [Sarekat Islam’s modernist] atmosphere’, Van Dijk sentenced in 1981.[6]

The various political and scholarly approaches were supplemented by visual representations constructed by the military for wider public consumption. These memorabilia, pictures and graphic dioramas were publicized in museums and publications, and were often dedicated to highlighting the struggle against the Darul Islam.

One such museum is the Siliwangi museum in Bandung, which was opened in 1966 by Kartosuwiryo’s captor, Ibrahim Ajie. The museum’s collection focuses on the rebellion in West Java, highlighting the destruction carried out by the militias and the social involvement of the army in the post-conflict period. The most interesting pieces held here are the personal belongings of Kartosuwiryo and his wife at the time of their capture: he was reportedly holding a kens and a golok, whilst she was wearing a baju-sarong outfit. A large drum is placed right at the entrance to the gallery with a caption stating that it was used to call Darul Islam soldiers to prayers. From this we can infer that the curators aimed to depict the couple and their followers as traditional Javanese and Sundanese characters, rather than as ‘orthodox’ or ‘fanatical’ Muslims.

At the same time that mysticism was being used to undermine Kartosuwiryo’s dedication to the Islamic state ideal, the more general propaganda campaign continued to focus on the Darul Islam’s betrayal of nationalist aspirations, as well as on its indiscriminate violence against civilians and on the defeat of a weak local movement by a strong unitary army.

After 1968 several publications commemorated the struggle of the Siliwangi troops in West Java against external and internal enemies, and attempted to belittle the Darul Islam movement’s religious motivations, while emphasizing its violent overtones. With hardly an exception, Kartosuwiryo’s character and personal dimension were absent from these books, as the focus shifted to the negative impact of the rebellion on the civilian population.

Yet, his name and face have remained omnipresent. The cover of Album peristiwa pemberontakan DI-TII di Indonesia summarized the numerous tales of the Darul Islam’s terror that for years had been fed to the public: trains are derailed, villages ransacked and burnt down, peasants are running away with their newborns, while the TNI is bravely fighting the rebels. Kartosuwiryo’s face is printed at the top of the page together with Daud Beureueh’s, representing their similar leading role in such destruction.

These books show readers how dangerous the Darul Islam was, how violent and immoral their actions had been and how dedicated the Republican TNI was to reconstructing the affected areas in the 1960s. They also show how weak the movement had become, as the rebels’ headquarters are pictured as shacks in the jungle and their leaders as either dead, defeated or captured. Since the mid 1950s, pictures of bloody militias have been shown next to healthy Republican soldiers. When Kartosuwiryo was included in the picture, he was usually portrayed as either bed-ridden or next to Colonel Ibrahim Ajie, invariably looking sick and emaciated from fighting, starvation and illness.[7]

In its first decade, the New Order regime dedicated considerable attention to separating the social and political dimensions of Islam. Throughout the 1970s political Islam became the bete noire of the regime, whilst at the same time Suharto pushed individual piety as an anti-communism policy. The building of mosques and the encouragement to attend sermons under repressive rule transformed these places of worship into the only available spaces for youths’ and dissidents’ gatherings and discussion. When these local manifestations of Islamic piety met with the ongoing international Islamic revival, the radicalization of Islam - whether political or spiritual - was almost inevitable.

On the other hand, the government merged all Islamic parties into the Partai Persatuan dan Pembangunan (PPP, Unity and Development Party) to ensure that religious groups would not benefit from the elimination of communism and to capitalize on the different souls of the religious movement. The senior leadership of Masyumi still advocated some combination of state and religion, whilst the younger generation called for a renewal of Islam, arguing that the Islamic state was now a mirage.[8]

The results of the elections of 1977 were not appreciably different from those of 1971 in number: the Golkar government party maintained its 62% majority; the nationalists, rearranged into the Partai Demokrat Indonesia, or PDI, slid from 10% to 8.6%, and the PPP Islamic party was stilljust under 30%. Yet, in the time between the two elections, Golkar’s approach to Islam had changed dramatically. As R. William Liddle has pointed out, ‘In 1971 Golkar had had a strongly anti-Islamic image and had actively cultivated the support of the aban- gan [nominal Muslims], who fear a theistic state should political Islam come to power. By 1977 Golkar had many local Islamic teachers in its camp [...] and used them to counter PPP arguments that Muslims were obliged to choose the Ka’abah,’ meaning voting for the PPP.[9]

In the long term, the New Order’s support for Islamic piety and its repression of its political expressions backfired, much as similar Dutch efforts had in the late colonial period.

  • [1] Kementerian Penerangan, Republik Indonesia, p. 232. In the same year volumes alsoappeared on Sumatra (North, South and Central), Sulawesi, Sunda Kecil and East Java.
  • [2] Kementerian Penerangan, Republik Indonesia, pp. 218, 234-5. On p. 262 the picture of avillage gathering bears the following caption: ‘The Islamic community of Ciparay, under theleadership of its religious scholars, gathers in large numbers to cleanse the area of elements ofthe Darul Islam group that stir trouble.’
  • [3] Jackson, Traditional authority and national integration, p. 126.
  • [4] Ruth Thomas Mcvey, ‘Reviewed work: Traditional authority, Islam, and rebellion: A study ofIndonesian political behavior by Karl D. Jackson,’ Pacific Affairs 54-2 (1981).
  • [5] Amak Sjariffudin, Kisah Kartosuwirjo, pp. 7, 20-1.
  • [6] Van Dijk, Rebellion under the banner of Islam, pp. 8, 27-8, 391-6; Noer, The modernist Muslimmovement, p. 148.
  • [7] The peak of TNI propaganda was reached with an exhibit of pictures showing Siliwangisoldiers rebuilding roads, schools and mosques all over the Priangan region, the heartland ofthe rebellion. Interestingly, these images of the army’s role in rebuilding the region are notpresent in the army’s own publications, but instead dominate the scene in army museums.Other symbolic images include those of Kartosuwiryo being ‘returned to civilization’ as hishair is cut, and those of him facing the reading of his death sentence. Madewa, Esa hilang duaterbilang.
  • [8] Hefner, Civil Islam, pp. 100, 126.
  • [9] R. William Liddle, ‘Indonesia 1977: The New Order’s second parliamentary election’, AsianSurvey 18-2 (February 1978): pp. 175-85; quote on p. 181.
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