The complexities of historical memory and contemporary West
Pak Ohan is a peaceful-looking old man who lives near Jakarta. The view from his verandah overlooks the large tract of land where he raises fish and cultivates rice as well as fruit. He receives many visitors at his house, where he serves delicious fried fish and passionfruit syrup. Most of these guests are associated with the cause to which Pak Ohan has dedicated his life, the PSII-1905.
The PSII-1905 is the social branch of the PSII (Islamic Union Party of Indonesia), created after the party split into social and political divisions in 1973. At that time, Indonesia’s political parties were compelled by the Indonesian government to accept the five national principles of Pancasila as their official ideology. For some members of the Islamist PSII, including Pak Ohan, to do so would have conflicted with their Islamic convictions. So instead they abandoned politics and formed PSII-1905 as a vehicle to improve the welfare of the Islamic community. They chose to refer to 1905 in the organisation’s title because it was the year in which the nucleus of the Islamic Union was created.
Although Pak Ohan’s efforts have been concentrated outside the political arena, he has not abandoned his wider political agenda, the implementation of syariah. To achieve this goal, Pak Ohan cooperates with hardline Islamic groups such as the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI). MMI officials and the editors of Islamist media such as Majalah Sabili and Majalah Darul Islam are regular guests at his house.
For Pak Ohan, the implementation of syariah law is the only way to eradicate corruption from Indonesian politics and ensure a bright future for his country
For Pak Ohan, the implementation of syariah law is the only way to eradicate corruption from Indonesian politics and ensure a bright future for his country. He is aware of several possible models for this implementation, but he prefers a specifically Indonesian conceptualisation of the Islamic state, namely the version proposed by Kartosuwiryo.
Kartosuwiryo was born in East Java in 1905. His father was a civil servant and, as a member of the indigenous elite, Kartosuwiryo gained access to Dutch schools. After moving to the Surabaya Medical School in 1923 he began his political activity, participating first at the famous Youth Pledge in 1928, and then joining the Islamic Union Party (Partai Sarekat Islam, or PSI, the precursor to the PSII). Led by the Islamic nationalist Tjokroaminoto, this political organisation counted over two million members. By the mid-1920s, however, the party had been shaken by a deep fracture between its communist and Islamist wings, which caused a reduction in its membership. As political Islam was at that time becoming a growing phenomenon in the wider world, the PSI reaffirmed and radicalised its position, promoting Islam as the foundation of a future independent state of Indonesia.
Kartosuwiryo had attained a high rank in the PSI by the mid-1930s. But while his outlook on political Islam was becoming increasingly radicalised, the political space in which to express this view was being reduced, especially when Sukarno’s republic formally became the official government of Indonesia. He kept fighting for the Islamic state, known as Darul Islam (the Abode of Islam), which he had proclaimed in West Java in 1948, until 1962, when he was captured by the army and executed.
In contemporary West Java, the area deeply affected by Kartosuwiryo’s movement, questions about the man provoke varying reactions and emotions
Pak Ohan’s memories of Kartosuwiryo emphasise his career in the service of political Islam, commencing from his formative period as a student of Tjokroaminoto in the 1920s. After this, as PSI leader, Kartosuwiryo consistently advocated for an Islamic state through the 1930s and 1940s. The final stage of his career was his fatal struggle to implement Tjokroaminoto’s teaching that Islamic principles should be implemented in the widest possible way, without regard for the conflict this would create with Sukarno’s Republican army. He points out with great regret and disappointment that although Kartosuwiryo is taken in Saudi universities to be an example of truly Islamic leadership, together with Abu Ala Maududi and Hasan al-Banna, Indonesian text books only mention him as the arch-enemy of the Pancasila state.
In contemporary West Java, the area deeply affected by Kartosuwiryo’s movement, questions about Kartosuwiryo provoke varying reactions and emotions. Some people describe him as a martyr of Islam, while others follow the government line that he was a rebel against the fledgling republic. But it is not only in Islamist circles that he is remembered positively: Some army officers, otherwise obliged to recognise him as a rebel, nevertheless admit that Kartosuwiryo’s actions were led by genuinely good intentions, their consequences notwithstanding. They admire him for his Islamic commitment. Intellectuals originating from the areas occupied by Darul Islam are often ambivalent: They lived through the terror of the rebellion, but also remember the Republican army taking advantage of the situation to abuse their power over the villagers.
Between mysticism and ‘Wahhabism’
The orthodoxy of Kartosuwiryo’s own religious convictions is a frequent point of divergence in recollections of him. People often refer to a well-known photograph of him taken in 1962 by Republican soldiers of the Siliwangi Division. This was the division that had fought beside Darul Islam troops against the Dutch in the 1940s, but which subsequently conducted military operations against Kartosuwiryo. The photograph shows a pale and emaciated man sitting under a tree with a jimat (amulet) hanging from his neck and a ceremonial keris dagger strapped around his waist. These two objects can be understood as symbols of an Islam strongly inflected by Javanese spirituality.
The orthodoxy of Kartosuwiryo’s religious convictions is a frequent point of divergence in recollections of him
Some observers describe Kartosuwiryo as a mystic whose roots in East Java, the land of ‘mysticism’ and ‘witchcraft’, contributed to his leadership qualities and charisma. But members of the PSI and Kartosuwiryo’s own kin, sensitive to the suggestion that their forebear practiced a syncretised Islam, see it differently, claiming that the Siliwangi soldiers supplied these objects to discredit him as an Islamic leader. His youngest daughter, Ibu Kokom, discards the allegations of mysticism as mere gossip. She calls him a Wahhabi, saying he would not even wear clothes that had been sewn. One of Kartosuwiryo’s grandsons says that his grandfather would have treated all the amulets given to him for protection as signs of polytheism, and would have thrown them away.
One day, whilst walking in a forest, Kartosuwiryo was presented with a gift from one of his soldiers, a ring adorned with a stone said to be able to stop bullets. After hearing this claim, Kartosuwiryo took a hammer and smashed the stone. According to the legend, he said to the astonished soldiers, ‘How could this stone save my life from a bullet, if it cannot save itself from a hammer?’
In contrast to his relatives, Kartosuwiryo’s youngest son Sarjono claims that his ‘Javaneseness’ was strong, as this is something one cannot simply ‘shrug off one’s shoulders’. Sarjono suggests mysticism was an accessory to Kartosuwiryo’s religiosity and says that the daggers and amulets donated by his followers were never thrown away, but ended up hanging on the walls of his home.
This conviction is not shared by Pak Ohan and his PSII colleagues. They claim that Kartosuwiryo had set aside the Javanese legacy. He was no sufi, they claim, but a ‘modernist’. That is to say, his ritual practice and belief were pure and unadulterated by syncretism. One of the tales often told in this circle goes as follows: One day, whilst walking in a forest, Kartosuwiryo was presented with a gift from one of his soldiers, a ring adorned with a stone said to be able to stop bullets. After hearing this claim, Kartosuwiryo took a hammer and smashed the stone. According to the legend, he said to the astonished soldiers, ‘How could this stone save my life from a bullet, if it cannot save itself from a hammer?’
The accounts by his contemporary supporters and surviving family members present a different character at every turn. While Pak Ohan recalls him as a fighter for an Islamic state, Sarjono defines Kartosuwiryo as a modernist in the field of education, as a follower of Nahdlatul Ulama in his religious observances, and as a person whose strongest motivation was the struggle for Indonesia’s freedom. One of his grandsons vaguely defines Kartosuwiryo as an ‘intellectual Muslim’, and mentions that he had refused to be labelled as a devout Muslim (santri) or a supporter of any one of the Islamic organisations into which the Indonesian Islamic community was and still is divided so to avoid alienating supporters. In his view, Kartosuwiryo was above all a skilful politician.
Justifications and melancholy
The ‘passive participants’ in the Darul Islam struggle, namely those villagers living in Garut and Tasikmalaya during the 1950s, provide another group of perspectives of the conflict. Amongst these people, one generally hears neither blanket condemnation of the movement nor fulsome support for the military operations leading to the militants’ capture.
Abdullah Mustappa, a journalist for the Bandung-based newspaper Pikiran Rakyat, grew up near Salwi in Garut. He recalls the regular raids, the fear of being taken away and his house being ransacked. But as he tells the story, it is not clear whether he is talking about the Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic Army soldiers who would come during the night, or the regular army troops who would arrive the following day, or indeed both. He vividly remembers his grandfather telling him that he once saw a regular army soldier showing off goods that had belonged to a house allegedly ransacked by the Islamic Army. This memory softens his feelings towards Kartosuwiryo and his followers.
In his book entitled Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (Soul of the Motherland), the well-known Indonesian writer from Purwokerto, Ahmad Tohari, explores the motivations inspiring the Darul Islam followers, describing a debate among three friends who, in the aftermath of the Dutch departure in December 1949, have a decision to make. They must choose whether to join the Republican troops, and hence end their militancy, or join Kartosuwiryo in his battle for the establishment of an Islamic state. Their arguments express resentment towards the Republican government that had abandoned West Java in 1948, the righteousness they identified in Kartosuwiryo’s struggle and the psychological difficulty of re-integrating into the life of a non-combatant.
A large portion of the population faced similar choices. Even though many opted to return to their villages, they nevertheless understood and were sympathetic towards the rationales of those who remained in the armed militia.
In contemporary times, people are frequently reminded of the sufferings of members of the Darul Islam movement during their daily activities. West Java’s landscape bears traces of their struggle. One of the groups belonging to Kartosuwiryo’s force had moved eastward, reaching the Pekalongan area in 1955, where they hid on Slamet Mountain. These men were suffering from starvation after surviving prolonged fighting. When they were eventually captured, they were executed and buried on the outskirts of the jungle. This land is now used as a tea plantation, and most of the local labourers do not pass the burial site without offering up a short prayer for the buried militants. Although the area suffered from ransacking and attacks by Darul Islam troops, the atrocity of their deaths brings them sympathy and compassion from people now living in the area.
The accounts of Kartosuwiryo by his contemporaries and surviving family members present a different character at every turn
The memory of violence performed by Darul Islam soldiers also takes various forms. Although media reports of the time presented Kartosuwiryo as an enemy of the Republic and his group as a terrorist movement, Sundanese villagers of the affected areas have mixed feelings on this issue. While sympathising with the rebels’ suffering, at the same time Darul Islam’s strategy of attacking villagers alienated the villagers from the movement. The violence is explained in a different way by members of Kartosuwiryo’s family and Darul Islam sympathisers. They shift responsibility away from the movement by retelling stories of infiltrations within the rank and file. From one side, they say, communists were trying to gain control of the organisation, while from the other side, the army was conducting a campaign to discredit the movement.
Kartosuwiryo has generally been viewed through the lens of the hero/rebel dichotomy and his human side has been ignored. But the memories held by those directly or indirectly involved in the Darul Islam struggle reveal nuances that remind us of the human interest often overlooked in the conflict. The many and different ways in which Kartosuwiryo and Darul Islam are perceived warn us against flattening out the man and the movement under the clichéd banners of rebellion and holy war. Both the struggle and its commemorations are too complex for such a simple understanding. ii
Chiara Formichi (email@example.com) is a PhD Candidate in History at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She is researching Islamic political leaders in pre-independence West Java.