Kartosuwiryo’s memory - and its management - are emblematic of Indonesia’s Islamic identity. Whether we look at family connections, territorial expansion or historical and ideological references, Kartosuwiryo and the Darul Islam are constant elements in the Islamist as much as the secular discourse. Yet the dominant image of Kartosuwiryo and the Darul Islam is a magnified one, of Kartosuwiryo as imam of the Negara Islam Indonesia, commander of the Tentara Islam Indonesia and crafter of an anti-Pancasila unitary Republic movement. But this is a picture only representative of a part of his political life. Those who hail him as a martyr and a hero differ from those who call him an enemy of the state or a terrorist only in perspective; both sides see Kartosuwiryo through their own self-interested filters. But Kartosuwiryo’s historical relevance lies in his advocacy of non-cooperation with the Dutch, his dedication to an unshakably nationalist movement committed to absolute and uncompromising freedom from colonization and his framing the struggle for independence in Islamic terms. His legacy, however, is inextricably linked with the violent turn of his movement, because of which Islam lost its chance to become a prominent factor in national politics.
The violent evolution of the Darul Islam tainted the image of Islam as a political ideology, further pushing away the chance to realize an Islamic state. The portrayals of Kartosuwiryo and his movement need to be analysed amidst the changing context of Indonesian politics, from the revolution and Soekarno’s subsequent consolidation of the Pancasila state, through the army’s rising power and co-optation policies and Suharto’s rapprochement with Islam and eventual fall, to the emergence of a new wave of Islamization of Indonesia’s society.
The political development of Indonesia as an autocratic, non-confessional state, in which the army held control over the government and society for most of its existence, led to such a crystallization of understandings of Kartosuwiryo’s actions and goals that his complexities were eventually reduced to an over-simplified dichotomy that could only be challenged after the passing of several decades and dramatic political transformations.