Indonesian nationalism: A western invention to contain Islam in the East Indies

Ensuring Socio-economic Justice

Hasan M di Tiro

Dhu al-Qa'dah 13, 1405 1985-07-31

Occasional Paper

by Hasan M di Tiro

The idea of secularization led naturally to the idea of an Indonesian 'nationalism'. But how can one inclusive 'nationalism' be created in a multi-national empire, covering an area as large as western and eastern Europe put together?

The problems of 'Indonesian nationalism' cannot be understood without knowing the geographic setting that governs it. The former Dutch colonial empire of the East Indies, whose territorial 'integrity' is still kept intact, i.e., un-decolonized, and has got away with only its name changed from the 'Dutch East Indies' to 'Indonesia', is not a natural geopolitical entity.

The entire region has been brought under one single super-colonial administration by the bloody sword of Dutch colonialism that held sway over the vast region from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the present time, although since December 27, 1949, the super-colony has been administered by the Javanese on behalf of the Dutch and other western interests under the name of the pseudo-nation of 'Indonesia'.

Henry Kissinger had aptly observed long ago that Indonesia was nothing but a 'geographic expression' until the Dutch found it more efficient to unite the islands of the Indies under a single administration. This was indeed the genesis of the present-day 'Indonesian nation' and 'Indonesian nationalism', created solely to justify the unified administration of the huge colony as a preserve of western imperialism.

As there is no sense in talking about the existence of one European nationalism today, so there is equally no sense in talking about the existence of an 'Indonesian nationalism', although western media and scholars have naively propagated this concept.

Islam and the Dutch East Indies

There is only one common denominator among the various peoples at-the Dutch East Indies, namely Islam: the religion of 95 percent of these peoples.

However, the Dutch could hardly build anything on the basis of Islam which had been their number one enemy to begin with. Had they not in fact wrested control over these huge territories from half-a-dozen Muslim States that had existed before their arrival, such as Banten, Demak and Mataram on the island of Java; Bandjar on the island of Borneo (Kalimantan); Bone and Macassar on the island of Celebes (Sulawesi); Temate' on the islands of the Moluccas; and finally Aceh on the island of Sumatra, against which the Dutch had to fight the biggest war in all their history?

As the Dutch historian, Paul Van't Veer commented:

The Netherlands had never fought a war greater than the one against Aceh. In terms of its duration, this war can be called the eighty years war. In terms of casualties--more than 100,000 dead--it was a military event that has no equal in the history of our land.

But the Acehnese are simple Muslims. They are the living proof of the strength of Islam in the East Indies. General Van Swieten, who was the commander of the Dutch second invasion of Aceh in 1873- 1874 (the commander of the first Dutch invasion, General Kohier, was executed by the Acehnese forces) and who was hailed, somewhat prematurely, as 'the conqueror of Aceh', finally came to the conclusion that 'there was no way to defeat the Acehnese in war', and he recommended withdrawal and a negotiated peace. The Dutch government rejected his proposal and so the war went on.

It was the continuous defeat of the Dutch that finally brought the orientalist and 'Islamicist' Christian Snouck Huurgronje to the forefront. He was considered a genius by his people and was described by Multatuli, a famous Dutch writer, as the second most important man in the history of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia during the nineteenth century.

In orientalist circles he was regarded as one of the two foremost European authorities on Islam (the other one was Ignaz Goldziher of Hungary). Huurgronje was asked to use his knowledge of Islam to find ways to defeat the Acehnese Muslims. His official instructions from the Dutch government read, in part, as follows:

"To study the conditions of the religious party in Aceh after the death of Tengku Tjhik di Tiro, and to find out their new disposition and to make recommendations."

The Dutch had entertained high hopes that the martyrdom of the Acehnese leader, Al-Malik Tengku Tjhik Muharnmad Saman, on January 25, 1891, would bring the Acehnese resistance to an end.

That, however, did not happen; the resistance continued. This was why Huurgronje was dispatched to Aceh. Ultimately, he failed to achieve his objectives in Aceh because the Acehnese Muslims refused to co-operate with him; he could not influence them.

However, despite his failure in Aceh, Huurgronje did emerge as the architect of the Dutch government's 'Islamic policy' in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. His recommendations were accepted as official policy to the very end of the formal Dutch control of the East Indies, until the time of the illegal transfer of 'sovereignty' to their marionette, Javanese Indonesia, created in their own image, on December 27, 1949.

The Dutch 'Islamic Policy'

Christian Snouck Huurgronje formulated, in no uncertain terms, the objectives the Dutch colonialist regime must attain: namely, that Islam be destroyed as a politico-religious faith, albeit slowly and very subtly, Indonesia must he secularized and westernized, preparing the way for an eventual lasting union with the Netherlands that would be made possible on the grounds of a 'common' culture obtained through the success of his policy.

This end, among others, was to be achieved by isolating the Muslims of the Dutch East Indies from any contact with the Ummah outside the Dutch East Indies.

For this purpose, pilgrimage to Makkah and Hajj was to be very strictly controlled. Huurgronje was for using violent tactics, if necessary, to depoliticize Islam; for the Acehnese he even prescribed torture to destroy their 'over-confidence' and 'superiority complex' viz-a-viz the Dutch. In Huurgronje's own words, "Acehnese must be hit in the most sensitive painful manner so that their superiority complex can he destroyed."

This was strange advice from a student of theology. But it was to no avail because it merely strengthened the Acehnese resolve to achieve martyrdom. Huurgronje had mistaken the proper Acehnese Muslims' attitude towards the invading infidels for a 'superiority complex'.

In short, the Islam that was to be allowed in Indonesia, under Huurgronje's scheme of things, was in the form of rituals only. Meanwhile, the educational system for Muslim children was to be secularized. Finally, the overall supervision and leadership to implement these policies was to be entrusted to the Javanese aristocracy, the group that Huurgronje trusted would be willing and able to secularize and westernize Indonesian Muslim society according to Dutch prescriptions."

However, when Huurgronje permitted that a ritual Islam be allowed to continue, he had, in fact, conceded practically the whole thing, because Islamic rituals are in a different category from the rituals of other religions. Islamic rituals are in themselves the fount, the living, vibrant roots of the faith. This escaped Huurgronje's comprehension because he was not a Muslim. Islamic rituals are yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, nightly, even hourly 'rites of passage' that renew the Muslims' commitment to Islam anywhere, any time and under any situation.

In the event, Huurgronje's advice was fully adopted and enforced as the official 'Islamic policy' of the Dutch colonial government towards the Ummah in the Dutch East Indies until the outbreak of World War II, and again when the Dutch returned from 1945-1949.

The Dutch wanted to keep every inch of their conquered territories united under a single administration in Jakarta for maximum profit, economy and ease of control, but they recognized the need to create a new common denominator to replace Islam among the peoples. This new common denominator was to be a secular, westernized culture in common with the Dutch culture to facilitate the eventual political union between Indonesia and Holland. So the Dutch search for an alternative to Islam as a base for Indonesian 'unity' was a principled and most serious pursuit.

The idea of secularization led naturally to the idea of an Indonesian 'nationalism'. But how can one inclusive 'nationalism' be created in a multi-national empire, covering an area as large as western and eastern Europe put together?

If one European nationalism could not be created until now, with all the background unity of a European civilization, a European culture and an integrated system of communication, and a contiguous territory to boot, how could the creation of an 'Indonesian nationalism even be contemplated in a vast non-contiguous region, composed of myriads of archipelagoes, with one part separated by thousands of kilometres from others, without either a common language, culture, economy, or history?

A unity under the banner of Islam would have been the most natural and desired by the overwhelming majority of the peoples of all nationalities, but that was against everything the Dutch stood for and wanted. A unity based solely on the force of the sword would have been fragile and illusory: that was admitted by all Dutchmen. So, a secular Indonesian 'nationalism', purged of any association with Islam, was accorded a consensus among Dutchmen of all persuasions, left, right, centre, liberal and conservatives alike, except for the most obtuse.

Achenese Women for Freedom

Acehnese do not identify themselves with the Javanese Despite all the contradictions an "Indonesian nationalism" was promulgated and made a key part of Indonesia's State ideology, the pancasila. But for all intents and purposes, "Indonesian nationalism" became, in fact, a cover-up for the nascent Javanese nationalism, that of the real new ruling class, whose aims, purposes and symbolisms were projected to represent "Indonesian nationalism", that is the projection of a sectional, partial, local interest as the national, general interest. This fact can be easily observed.

For example, all symbols of "Indonesian nationalism" are expressed in Javanese language idioms: the State ideology is called pancasila, Javanese for "five principles"; the Indonesian "national" motto is Bhinneka tunggal ika, Javanese for "unity in diversity"; the names of all Indonesian State decorations are in Javanese; the status of first-class national hero is reserved for Javanese and all positions of power and prestige in Indonesia are reserved for the Javanese.

Colonialism and militarism are inseparable; one cannot exist without the other. Since 1949, the time of the illegal transfer of sovereignty, hardly any island has not been used as a battlefield, and there is hardly any non-Javanese nationality whose blood had not been shed by Javanese troops. There have been revolts against Javanese colonialism on every island, just as there were revolts against Dutch colonialism before. In addition the names of the State's administrative divisions and the titles of functionaries are expressed in Javanese: desa for a village and lurah for a village head; kecamatan for sub-district and camat for head of sub-district; kabupaten for district, and bupati for its head, and so on. The supposed official language may not be Javanese yet, but this is only because nobody would understand Javanese in 95.4 percent of Indonesia's territory; therefore Malay has to be used.

The Javanese are in a favourable position to expropriate "Indonesian nationalism" for themselves for a number of reasons: first, they are the favoured groups by the deliberate choice of the Dutch. Second, although not the majority, they represent the largest single group among the inhabitants. Third, their homeland happened to be on the island of Java that was chosen by the Dutch to be the centre of the colonial administration because it was the first to he colonized and because of the "reliability" of its population from the Dutch point of view, thus facilitating Javanese control over it. Finally, it was indeed to them that the Dutch had officially transferred their "sovereignty" over all of Indonesia on December 27, 1949, to the exclusion of all other nationalities.

Even Aceh Sumatra was given to the Javanese instead of being returned to the Acehnese who have more claim to the territory because the Dutch had taken it from them and not from the Javanese.

Nor could this fact have been forgotten easily, because the Dutch had to fight the Acehnese for almost a century. Yet instead of returning the country to the people of Aceh Sumatra, the Dutch gave it to the Javanese. In doing so, the Dutch violated all the known rules of international law and decolonization procedures of the United Nations which prohibited any transfer of sovereignty over any colonial territory by a colonial power and stipulated that sovereignty over each colonial territory belongs to the indigenous people of that territory.

The real reason, however, went even further than the mere calculation of economic interests: if the Dutch had turned Aceh Sumatra over to the Acehnese, it would have become the first Islamic State to re-emerge in Southeast Asia.

All these, however, did not alter the fact that Java represents only 7 percent of Indonesia's territory. The other 93 per cent of Indonesia's territories are overseas from Java; some are two to three thousand kilometres away and inhabited by peoples of different nationalities, races, languages, and cultures totally alien to the Javanese, making the 93 percent of Indonesia's territories in fact overseas colonies of Java, as it were.

Thus, to make a sham "nationalism" look real, a geographic expression has been called a "country" and a "nation". Malay, a language of Sumatra, was commandeered to become "Indonesian", although the Javanese do not speak (let alone write or understand) it. So today they have ruined it - they have made it the equivalent of Pidgin English to the English language. This so called "Bahasa Indonesia", alias Javanese Malay, is a kind of "Pidgin Malay" where the grammar of the classic Malay - a Muslim tongue - has been violated and its syntax disregarded. Further, it has been mixed up indiscriminately with unassimilated and unnecessary foreign words of assorted European languages, making it no longer intelligible to the Malay people themselves.

Javanese Malay has become a grotesque language that is no longer fit for literature, poetry or serious discourse as far as the Malay peoples are concerned. The name of Indonesia itself is Greek to the peoples of the East Indies, a foreign nomenclature that bears no relation whatever to their history, language, culture and literature.

To complete the paraphernalia of the "new" nation and the brand new "nationalism", an upside-down Polish flag was adopted as the "Indonesian flag" - a flag without history and without glory as far as the peoples are concerned. The plagiarized Yale Boola-Boola song was adopted as the "Indonesian national anthem". And to top it all, a two sentence "declaration of independence", devoid of any idea, much less a philosophy or a programme, was issued. Among civilized nations, a declaration of independence is a symbol, next to the flag, a statement of moral excellence and legitimacy, a brief for that nation's raison d'etre. Indonesia's "declaration of independence", however, was but a brief news bulletin.

The whole affair would be a farce if it were not for the river of blood that it has been spilled and which still continues to flow to this day. The farce inaugurated forty years of continuous bloodshed, of anarchy of the State. Forty years of officially condoned massacres, resistances and repressions that finally brought the military back to the helm - that is back to the stark reality of colonialism, and the exercise of its illegitimate and illegal power.

The Dutch sword has merely been replaced by Javanese guns to keep the "unity" of the "Indonesian nation" for no other purpose than western exploitation as the cheapest source of raw materials for the west's industries. Western journalists and scholars have found it agreeable to call this "stability" and "economic progress".

Indonesian nationalism and the Javanese military state

The emergence of the Javanese colonialist State is patent proof of the death - in fact of the non-existence - of "Indonesian nationalism". Since the sixteenth century, Indonesia has always been (with the exception of Aceh Sumatra) a colonial empire and a colonial empire can only be ruled by force of arms.

Colonialism and militarism are inseparable; one cannot exist without the other. The Dutch had created and preserved this colonial empire by force for 350 years, from 1599-1949, when they transferred it to the Javanese. Since then, the Javanese mercenaries have carried out the "white man's burden" with catastrophic consequences for all colonized non-Javanese peoples of the East Indies, from Aceh Sumatra to West Papua and from the Moluccas to Timor.

Since 1949, the time of the illegal transfer of sovereignty, hardly any island has not been used as a battlefield, and there is hardly any non-Javanese nationality whose blood had not been shed by Javanese troops. There have been revolts against Javanese colonialism on every island, just as there were revolts against Dutch colonialism before.

The Dutch East Indies were never decolonized, in contrast to all colonial territories in the rest of the world. The Dutch merely transferred their colonies to the Javanese, lock, stock and barrel, without returning even one inch of territory to the rightful people of that territory as prescribed by the Decolonization Law of the United Nations. The Dutch simply made the Javanese - for an agreed price - the heir of their colonial empire, disregarding the rights of the non-Javanese peoples to self-determination and independence.

The Dutch and Javanese conspiracy against the International Law and Decolonization principles of the United Nations was justified by the fiction of "Indonesian nationalism" and an "Indonesian nation". Yet the massive and desperate struggles for self-determination, waged by the Muslim majority and even by non-Muslim minority groups, were and have never been truthfully reported in the western media, which insisted on calling the freedom-fighters "separatists", "fanatics", or "insurgents".

One book written by a western journalist is even called Rebels Without a Cause, as if there are people on earth eager to die for no cause. All this resistance against the Indonesian State proves that the peoples concerned knew that "Indonesian nationalism" and "nationhood" were merely a hoax to disenfranchise and colonize them.

The ink of the Dutch and Javanese signatures had barely dried on the Treaty transferring Dutch "sovereignty" to the Javanese, when the Muslims in Pasundan (West Java) declared an Islamic State there under the leadership of Imam Kartosuwirjo. In April 1950, the people of the South Moluccas declared their independence from Javanese Indonesia, under the leadership of Dr Soumokil. In 1952, the Muslims of the Celebes (Sulawesi), under the leadership of Abdul-Qahar Muzakkar, declared the establishment of an Islamic State there and severed all relations with the Javanese regime of Indonesia. The Muslims of Borneo (Kalimantan) followed suit under the leadership of Ibnu Hadjar. In 1953, the Muslims of Aceh (Sumatra) also announced the re-establishment of the Islamic State there and severed all relations with Javanese Indonesia.

These armed resistances against the Javanese republic of Indonesia, in 93 percent of the territory claimed by the Javanese republic, should have been enough evidence for all thinking men and women about the non-existence of the so-called "Indonesian nationalism". Instead, the Western press chose to call these wars of liberation and self-determination of the non-Javanese peoples the "growing pains" of the Indonesian republic.

The Javanese colonialists called these freedom-fighters "traitors" but on their own homelands they were called heroes of the peoples - mujahideen. Could this sort of thing have happened if there were a real Indonesian nationalism that really united these peoples?

Clearly, there was no shared "collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret" between the Javanese and the rest of the peoples of the East Indies. These are sentiments which, according to John Stuart Mill, are key indicators of the existence of a nationality. Apparently none existed in Indonesia.

By 1965, all the leaders of Islamic liberation movements, such as Imam Kartosuwirjo of West Java, Abdul-Qahar Muzakkar of Sulawesi, and Ibnu Hadjar of Kalimantan, were murdered by the Javanese regime. Dr. Soumokil of the South Moluccas, who was a Christian, was also murdered by the Javanese Indonesian forces.

There is still more proof of the counterfeit nature of Indonesian nationalism: the atrocities committed by the Indonesian "National" Army against fellow Indonesians. Mass murders and massacres have been the order of the day from the issuance of "the bulletin", i.e. the declaration of independence, of Javanese Indonesia, in August 1945.

To date, approximately 5 million people have met their death through the State's inflicted wounds all over the "Indonesian" archipelago. 2 million were recorded in the six month period at the end of 1964 and the beginning of 1965 when the Javanese military seized power.

Before and after that, over a much longer period of time, the victims were less carefully tabulated. There was, for example, the massacre of Putot Tjot Djeumpa in Aceh in 1956, where the Indonesia National Army lined up 200 men, women and children as well as the elderly, and machine-gunned them to death. This was not a rare occurrence in Javanese Indonesia.

After decades of atrocities, the Javanese dominated Indonesian military is viewed with contempt by the Acehnese.

Indonesian security forces return from Aceh in body bags

Other such massacres took place in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, West Papua and East Timor. Atrocities and tortures of the most bestial kinds are perpetrated daily by the Indonesian National Army against fellow "Indonesians". Any human being imbued with the most rudimentary sentiments of 'national' feeling would not be capable of behaving thus against his own kind. This indicates that a true Indonesian national consciousness does not exist.

The sociologist Franz Oppenheimer probably put his finger on the problem when he stated that, "we must not conclude the existence of a national consciousness from the existence of a nation, but on the contrary, the existence of a nation from the existence of a national consciousness."

Although the Indonesian army is called Tentera "Nasional" Indonesia, most of its rank and file are Javanese gunmen who look down upon the non-Javanese peoples as foreign and so subject to the Javanese "masters".

The army is also organized according to ethnic categories for more effective use in suppressing ethnic rebellions that have become the real reason for its existence. Thus, if the Moluccan people were rebelling, then the Javanese regime would send non-Moluccans, say Sundanese troops, to suppress them. If the Acehnese were rebelling, then the Moluccan troops would be sent to suppress it. And so on, following the old familiar practice of the Habsburg empire of sending Czech batallions to crush Slovak rebellions, or Hungarian regiments to suppress Croatian uprisings, to make sure that no emotional ties exist between the people to be crushed and the troops.

In the short run, this policy will ensure the effectiveness of the repression; in the long run, it serves the policy of divide and rule, by enhancing antagonisms among the ethnic groups and thus guaranteeing the perpetuation of the authority of the central regime.

During the Habsburg empire, this policy ensured the perpetual power of Vienna, in today's Indonesia it guarantees Jakarta's control of the outlying colonies, called "provinces". In such a situation, it is ludicrous to imply the existence of an "Indonesian nationalism", just as it would have been naive to imagine the existence of an Austro-Hungarian "nationalism" under the Habsburgs.

Another proof the non-existence of a true "Indonesian nationalism" was provided by the experimentation with the party system before the emergence of the Javanese military colonial State. The last fairly free elections held in Indonesia were in 1955 and 1957. The results elections showed that the PNI (Partai Nasionalis Indonesia), i.e. the "Nationalist" Party of Indonesia) got the bulk of its votes only in Central and East Java, the homeland of the Javanese ethnic group. The party got either few or no votes at all in non-Javanese territories, except from Javanese immigrants called "transmigrants" there.

By contrast, the Muslim party (Mashumi), although winning very few votes in Javanese ethnic territories, received most of the votes cast outside Java. The Muslim party was the only "nationwide" party. Clearly these results demonstrate the widespread appeal of Islam to the population of Indonesia, irrespective of their national origins in contrast to the limited, sectional, almost local appeal of "Indonesian nationalism" to the Javanese ethnic areas, where secularism and nationalism have been propagated.

Javanese Nationalism and Imperialism

Under the cloak of an impossible "Indonesian nationalism" a Javanese nationalism has been given an opportunity to emerge triumphant. Although "Indonesian nationalism" is itself a fake, it has become an effective mask for a real Javanese nationalism and its will to project its exclusive special and sectional interest as the "national" one over the heads of the non-Javanese peoples and their homelands, while mediating with foreign powers for recognition of Javanese primacy and hegemony over this vast region (which constitutes approximately 80 per cent of the territory of Southeast Asia).

This Javanese primacy and hegemony, however, can never be maintained without the tacit approval of neighbouring States. This is the strategic vulnerability inherited by Javanese Indonesia from the Dutch East Indies because even the Dutch colonial empire could never have existed for even a single day without British diplomatic and even (at times) military support and protection. This is so, primarily because Indonesia is not a natural geopolitical entity.

The Dutch East Indies existed by courtesy of the British when the British lost patience with the Dutch, as they did during the Napoleonic Wars. Stamford Raffles moved easily from Singapore to Java, and sent the Dutch packing. The fact that the British decided to give the East Indies back to the Dutch is yet another demonstration that the then Dutch East Indies - like the now Javanese Indonesia - existed only by courtesy of the neighbouring States singly, as was the case with the British then, or collectively, as is the case with ASEAN now.

If another proof is needed, then here it is. During World War II, the Dutch empire of the East Indies, already called Indonesia, collapsed simply by the mere presence of the Japanese army in Singapore! Today, the existence of Javanese Indonesia depends on the courtesy of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and, by extension, the United States and the Soviet Union. This is advisedly said, because even the superpowers cannot protect Javanese Indonesia from its tiniest neighbour. That is why Indonesia needs ASEAN as no one else does.

Javanese Indonesia is a State that cannot antagonize any State. It cannot confront any other State because any confrontation with anyone means the end of Javanese Indonesia as we know it today. Last time they were lucky to have ended the confrontation with Malaysia just in time. Otherwise there would be no Javanese Indonesia today. Consequently, Javanese Indonesia cannot have a foreign policy unless it be that of getting along with everybody.

Java, like Holland before it, has unreasonably tried to hold on to so vast a territory that it is absolutely impossible for it to do so let alone defend it. No country the size of either Holland or Java - especially Java without any industrial base and among the most backward of the backward countries - can defend an empire with coastlines in excess of 25,000 kilometres with a hostile population.

The much bragged about Javanese defence plan for "territorial war" (perang wilajah) by waging a guerrilla war against any invader was just that: braggadocio!

You cannot wage a guerrilla war when the local peoples are against you. This situation has obviously escaped the observation of the powers that are now so busy arming the Javanese Indonesian army, or else they are just interested in relieving the Javanese of his ill-gotten cash while they can and while he still has it.

James Soudon, the cautious Dutch Minister of Colonial Affairs, wrote the following words at the time of the mounting Dutch conflict with Aceh, reflecting his worries about the consequences of acquiring more territory: "I see each further spreading of our authority in the East Indian Archipelago as a step further toward our overthrow, and the more so as we are already now grown far above our own strength."

When a few years later, on March 26, 1873, the Dutch attacked Aceh and were roundly defeated at the Battle of Bandar Aceh, a member of the Dutch parliament in The Hague stated that, "the repulse in Aceh and the enterprise taken altogether, will prove the last blow to the authority of Holland in the Eastern World." This was no exaggeration, as history has subsequently shown.

"Great empires die of indigestion", Napoleon observed. That had been the fate of the Roman Empire and of the Dutch East Indies. It is also the inevitable fate of Javanese Indonesia, although it survives for the time being by the courtesy of its neighbouring States.

Javanese Indonesia, which is held up in the west as a paragon of "stability", is in reality the sick man of Southeast Asia.

[Hasan Di Tiro is the president of National Liberation Front of Acheh, now exiled in Sweden]

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