Just read a good piece from New Mandala about the authoritarian implications of a recent legal instrument issued requiring mass organisations to be in accordance with Pancasila, Indonesia’s vague state philosophy. So thought I would share the link.
Reading about the political turmoil of mid twentieth century Indonesia I have been thinking about broader theoretical issues in relation to revolutions and military governments. In my reading I happened across Edward Luttwak’s Coup d’État – A Practical Handbook.
The preface makes quite a change from the average book on the military in politics:
This is a handbook… It can be compared to a cookery book in the sense that it aims at enabling any layman equipped with enthusiasm – and the right ingredients – to carry out his own coup; only a knowledge of the rules is required. Two words of caution: in the first place in order to carry out a successful coup certain pre-conditions must be present, just as in cooking bouillabaisse one needs the right sort of fish to start with. Secondly, readers should be aware that the penalty of failure is far greater than having to eat out of a tin. (The rewards, too, are greater.)
For a PhD student, the viva can elicit strong emotions.
A quick scan of online forums gives a taster, with one postgraduate student posting ‘I have my viva… and I feel physically sick’ and another that ‘I’m experiencing a really quite overwhelming fear over my PhD viva’.
However, if you are getting tense about your viva, spare a thought for Ali Sastroamijoyo. The future two time Prime Minister of Indonesia was, in the late 1920s, studying for a law degree in the Netherlands. He was also a political prisoner, having been arrested for activities related to his involvement in the Indonesia Association (Perhimpunan Indonesia). Yet this did not stop him sitting his oral examination. He describes the occasion in his memoirs, Milestones on My Journey: The Memoirs of Ali Sastroamijoyo, Indonesian Patriot and Political Leader. The account is remarkable, bringing into stark relief the scholarly discussion of legal theory with the stark realities of colonial repression. Yet it is also remarkable for the impression that it gives, that the oral examination created an anxiety that seemed in some ways to exceed his concern about the prospect of a lengthy jail term:
On the morning of the examination I was taken to Leiden, accompanied by two members of the secret police, in a prison vehicle. When we arrived, the two guards and I went in through a back door into the basement of the university in Rapenburg, from where we went straight to the “sweating chamber”, a room near the examination room, where behind a green table the Faculty of Law professors who were concerned with “the Law of the Dutch East Indies” were already seated. All the professors who were at that time famous in Holland were there: Professor C. van Vollenhoven, Professor Hazeu, Professor Andre de la Porte, and Professor Scheltema. University examinations of this type were usually open to the interested public, who would be seated behind the candidate being examined. But in my case nobody was allowed to be present except for two secret police who were guarding me.
For approximately two hours I had to answer the questions put to me by the professors. I must explain here that from the questions and attitudes of the professors one could not even get the slightest indication that my status at that time was that of a political detainee. Their attitudes and actions were completely scholarly. This calmed me down a great deal and enabled me to concentrate completely on the examination. I forgot all about other things, I no longer felt even the watchful eyes of the two guards at my back. Without my being aware of it the examination passed quickly. I was asked to wait outside the examination room in order to give the professors an opportunity to make their decision. After a short wait, I was asked to come back in again, and the president of the faculty announced that I had passed and qualified for the degree of master of laws. I was filled with a feeling of relief, and full of sincerity I gave thanks to God. Now I would be able to concentrate more calmly on the accusations made against the four of us, and I felt as if I did not care whether I would be sentences to a number of years in prison as a result.
Indonotes provides a translation of a recent viral video from Ahok’s campaign for Jakarta Governor
Yet the words overlaying the video, from a speech by Djarot, Ahok’s running mate, bear repeating. There is little to be argued over here. Yet often the divisive election campaign has shown the importance, and the fragility of the sentiment they express:
My brothers and sisters
all the citizens of Jakarta.
The time is coming
to be part of history
and we will show that
the country of pancasila
is truly present in Jakarta.
We will also show
that ‘Though Many, We Are One’
is not just an empty phrase, but is grounded here in Jakarta.
Whoever you are
whatever your religion
whatever your ethnicity
wherever you come from
you are all
our brothers and sisters, of one people and one one homeland
and have the same rights and responsibilities.
Don’t ask where you come from.
Don’t ask what’s your religion.
But ask what have you done for Jakarta.
seluruh warga Jakarta.
Waktu sudah mulai mendekat.
dari pelaku sejarah ini
dan akan kita tunjukkan bahwa
negara Pancasila benar-benar hadir di Jakarta.
Kita juga akan tunjukkan
bahwah Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, benar-benar
bukan hanya jargon, tapi sudah membumi di Jakarta.
apa agama kalian
apa suku kalian
dari mana asal usul kalian
saudara saudara semua adalah
saudara kita sebangsa dan setanah air
dan mempunyai hak dan kewajiban yang sama.
Jangan tanyakan dari mana kau barasal.
Jangan tanyakan apa agamamu
tapi tanyakan apa yang telah kau perbuat untuk Jakarta.
A former senior security official’s account of a visit to Indonesia elides dark episodes in the past of Indonesia and the United States
This year’s prestigious Richard Dimbleby Lecture was given by former CIA Director John O. Brennan. He used the lecture to argue for (amongst other things) the benefits of international co-operation and a globally-engaged United States.
However, it is not Brennan’s broad arguments that I want to look at here, but rather a specific vignette which he used to set up his case. During the lecture he gave a a brief biographical sketch, in which he suggested a visit to Indonesia during his time at university proved a turning point in his life – one that would ultimately set him on a path to his role at the CIA. The trip brought him into contact with a range of beliefs and worldviews and was struck by ‘the tolerance evident in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population’ in a country recovering from the ‘authoritarian and bloody rule of President Sukarno’.
There are a couple of grains of truth here. Indonesia is certainly characterised by religious diversity and this is officially recognised (within certain limits) by the state. Moreover, Indonesia had taken an authoritarian turn in the latter part of Sukarno’s presidency (though in the earlier period Indonesia was a remarkable, if fragile, constitutional democracy).
Yet from Brennan’s account, one would have no idea that, less than ten years before Brennan’s visit, Indonesia had witnessed one of the great mass murders of the twentieth century, carried out under the auspices of the military regime that sidelined Sukarno, and with the support of the US government (among others). Moreover, in some areas religion played a significant role in the killings.
And this is not to mention Indonesia’s bloody invasion of East Timor that would occur the year after Brennan’s visit, with the blessing of the US and several close allies.
With this knowledge, the elisions evident in Brennan’s account (an excerpt from the speech is provided below) become quite chilling, and provide an ironic slant on the lecture’s title: ‘Staying Safe in a Dangerous World’.
‘The journey that led me to become the director of the CIA began in June 1974, when I set off on a trip that would fundamentally alter my life’s course. I had just finished my first year at college… a cousin of mine invited me to visit him in Indonesia. At the time my cousin was a diplomat at the US embassy in Jakarta, serving as the Food for Peace Officer at the US Agency for International Development. So, at the tender age of 18, I set of for Indonesia, after I pillaged my modest bank account, and bought a round-trip, but multiple-stop plane ticket to Jakarta. To help defray the cost of my trip, I convinced one of my political science professors at Fordham to grant me credit toward my degree if I wrote a paper on oil and politics in Indonesia. And most important, for two glorious months I had a brief, but oh so enlightening initial glimpse, into the wonders, the contours and the dynamics of our beautiful world. Indonesia was just emerging from the economic devastation wrought by nearly twenty years of the authoritarian and bloody rule of President Sukarno. Squalor was widespread and beyond anything I could have imagined. Splendour was a rarity, and there was almost nothing in between, and population pressures were overwhelming. But I was also struck by the tolerance evident in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. I rode motorcycles across the island of Java with an Indonesian Christian, I marvelled at the world’s largest Buddhist temple, the Borobodur, and I surfed on the beaches of the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. And it was in these latter excursions that I interacted with and talked to people with entirely different life experiences, different cultural norms, different religious beliefs and different world views. It was an intense two month seminar in just how special, how thrilling, and how diverse life is on our planet. It was in that summer of 1974 that my wanderlust and my deep fascination with the diversity, the scope and the dynamism of the world’s riches, challenges and opportunities were born.’
Calling other politicians ‘the Donald Trump of…’ obscures more than it clarifies
Since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a tendency in certain parts of the media to label anyone with the most superficial similarity with the US President as ‘the Donald Trump of…’. It has been used in the context of Europe, the Philippines, and Guatamala, to name but a few cases. Yesterday the BBC ran with a story Meet the Donald Trump of Indonesia about Indonesian businessman and politician Hary Tanoesoedibjo (often known in Indonesia as Hary Tanoe). This kind of analysis is really not helpful.
The point I am trying to make is not that Hary Tanoe has no connection to Trump. The BBC story details Hary Tanoe’s dealings with Trump, as a business partner and guest at Trump’s inauguration. A more nuanced story for the Financial Times points out certain parallels between the two men:
Both are aggressive dealmakers who express admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin; have run beauty pageants alongside their glamorous wives; and seek to marry business acumen with political power.
Yet this by no means makes Hary Tanoe ‘the Donald Trump of Indonesia’. An obvious difference is that Hary Tanoe is from an ethnic and religious minority, being Chinese-Indonesian and a Christian. There is a certain irony in likening him to Donald Trump given this given Trump’s history of discrimination against minority groups.
This points to another flaw in the BBC analysis, which describes Hary Tanoe as ‘known for his forthright and straightforward views’. Although outspoken in some regards, being a public figure from a minority background involves a challenging balancing act. Hary Tanoe’s visits to Islamic religious sites and establishments are well publicised, as are his links to the family of the late Abdurrahman Wahid, former President and leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation. He has also backed Anies Baswedan in the race for Jakarta governor. Anies Baswedan, formerly seen as a proponent of religious tolerance, has cosied up to the hardline Islamic group that has been at the forefront of an attempt to press blasphemy charges against the current governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (often known as Ahok), who is Chinese-Indonesian and Christian. Earlier Hari Tanoe had expressed support for the police announcing Ahok was a suspect in the blasphemy case.
The above goes to show that Hary Tanoe must be understood on his own terms, in a particular context. It is over 60 years since the historian (and former colonial official) DGE Hall argued for seeing Southeast Asia as ‘worthy of consideration in its own right’ (though as has been argued, Hall did not necessarily follow his own advice). It is a shame that the argument still needs to be made.
All this is not to say that the comparative study of populism is not valuable, if one fully engages with the methodological and conceptual challenges such an enquiry poses. But to just call someone else ‘the Donald Trump of…’ is lazy and unhelpful.
An esteemed Muslim academic warns that Trump’s attitude towards Islam may prove counterproductive
Professor Azyumardi Azra is the former rector of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta, a prolific author, and in 2010 was awarded a CBE by the British government for services to interfaith dialogue (to list just a few of his many achievements). So when he raises concerns about interfaith relations, it is wise to pay attention.
The below is a brief translated excerpt from his recent article in Republika, a major Islamic news website in Indonesia. This was written before Trump signed his executive order restricting entry to the US for refugees and citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries, but that order adds yet greater force to the argument:
The statements of President Trump from the campaigning period through to his inauguration speech seem to have rejected diversity…
It seems that Trump has not changed much since he was chosen as president. In his inauguration speech, it’s true Trump did not again mention ‘banning Muslims entering the US’. But he did put out statements that were no less confrontational, among others ‘[we] will unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.’
There is a big question mark over how Trump can unite the ‘civilised world’ with a confrontational manner and a hard approach. Various academic studies about eradicating terrorism have shown that a hard approach is not always effective in overcoming radicalism and terrorism – not only among Muslims, but also among followers of other religions.
But besides the above-mentioned problem, Trump’s confrontational and Islamophobic tone received condemnation from many moderate Islamic figures, both leaders and academics. Condemning Trump does not meaning that they ‘approve of’, let alone support, radicalism or terrorism. Simply put, Trump’s statements and approach may be very counter-productive in their efforts to overcome the problems of radicalism and terrorism. Conversely, tension, conflict and violence may find a new raison d’etre and momentum on a scale that is difficult to imagine.
It is not exactly a cheery note to end the year with, but during my holiday I was listening to some back episodes of the podcast Talking Indonesia and was particularly struck by a statistic quoted by Dr Matthew Wai-Poi from the World Bank, in an episode about inequality in Indonesia. Based on a 2014 study it was estimated that the richest 1% of households owned 50% of wealth in Indonesia, one of the highest rates for any country where data was available. The report is available here and the relevant chart is on page 18 (using the report’s pagination).
A divisive campaign against the Jakarta Governor misappropriates the language of peace and unity
The ongoing efforts to have Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok), the Christian Governor of Jakarta, prosecuted under Indonesia’s blasphemy law have a noticeable element of doublespeak to them.
Without going into the ins and outs of the case and the social and political dynamics behind it (these have been explored in a series of articles on New Mandala, for example), in this post I want to zoom in on one aspect, the inherent contradictions of mobilising the language of peace and unity whilst using divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. To take a specific instance, I have in mind the sermon of Muhammad Rizieq Shihab (also known as Habib Rizieq) at the mass rally held on 2nd December in Jakarta in support of the prosecution of Ahok.
It is a remarkable speech, both for the contradictions raised above and the fiery manner of delivery. It is available on Youtube (the below section starts at 31 minutes 45 seconds into the clip, and it is well worth hearing that section of the clip to get a sense of the tone). In it he calls for the whole country to submit to the Quran, and calls for the upholding of Surah Al-Maidah 51. It was Ahok’s statement about the alleged misuse of this Surah (he complained that some people were misleadingly saying that it meant that Muslims should not vote for him as a Christian) that is at the centre of the controversy. What’s more, whilst calling for peace and unity Habib Rizieq inveighs against liberals, sinners, ‘deviant sects’ (aliran sesat) and the LGBT community. So much for peace and unity.
‘…our struggle is not only to have Ahok detained or imprisoned, but must be more than that. Surah al-Maidah must be upheld in Indonesia, must be enacted in Indonesia. A country where the majority are Muslims, must submit to the noble Quran. There must not obstruction to the application of Surah Al-Maidah 51, brothers and sisters. We ask Allah that our steps in the future will be more steadfast, our unity will be stronger in upholding Allah’s law in Indonesia, this mother land of ours that we love. So let us defend religion, let us defend the country, let us protect Islam, let us protect the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. Let us, brothers and sisters, let us respect all religious groups, it can’t be allowed that there is mutual insulting or abuse. Brothers and sisters, Indonesia is peaceful without the insulting of religion, Indonesia is peaceful without deviant sects, Indonesia is peaceful without liberalism, Indonesia is peaceful, brothers and sisters, without LGBT, Indonesia is peaceful without disobedience to God and sin.’
A transcription of the relevant section in Indonesian can be found below:
‘…perjuangan kita tidak hanya sampai kepada Ahok ditahan atau dipenjara tetapi harus lebih dari itu. Surat al-Maidah 51 harus diteggakan di bumi Indonesia, harus diperlakukan di bumi Indonesia. Bumi yang berpenduduk mayoritas Muslim harus tunduk kepada al-Quran al-Karim. Nggak boleh ada lagi yang halangi untuk menerapkan surat al-Maida 51, saudara. Kita mohon kepada Allah semoga ke depan langkah kita makin mantap, persatuan kita makin kuat untuk menegakkan hukum Allah di bumi Indonesia, bumi pertiwi yang kita cinta ini. Mari kita bela agama, mari kita bela negara, mari kita jaga Islam, mari kita jaga NKRI. Mari, saudara, kita hormati semua umat beragama. Tidak boleh kita saling mencaci atau mencerca. Saudara, Indonesia damai tanpa penistaan agama, Indonesia damai tanpa liberalism, Indonesia damai tanpa aliran sesat, Indonesia damai saudara, tanpa LGBT, Indonesia damai tanpa kemungkaran dan kemaksiatan…’