Indonesian hardliners fail to muzzle book discussion

Join the debate, don't try to block it, organisers urge.

By Aditya Surya for Khabar Southeast Asia in Semarang

March 04, 2014
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Indonesians are pushing back against hardliners seeking to prevent public discussion of certain historical events and individuals they consider bad for society.

  • Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) supporters rally in Jakarta outside the Burmese embassy in July 2013. On February 17th last year, FPI activists protested against a Semarang discussion on a book about controversial Indonesian historical figure Tan Malaka. [Romeo Gacad/AFP]

    Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) supporters rally in Jakarta outside the Burmese embassy in July 2013. On February 17th last year, FPI activists protested against a Semarang discussion on a book about controversial Indonesian historical figure Tan Malaka. [Romeo Gacad/AFP]

Protestors from the Central Java branch of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Laskar Merah Putih and other groups recently tried to stop a discussion in Semarang about a book on Tan Malaka, a controversial figure in Indonesian history.

"This discussion will not be good for our society because the figure in the book is not a good example, especially with the Marxist ideology in the book," said Sibahudin, Central Java FPI chairman. "This discussion will only bring insecurity in our society."

Still, the February 17th event sponsored by local groups including Semarang's Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), was moved to Diponegoro University. It went off without a hitch with about 500 people attending, according to Tempo.

Co-organiser Yunanto Adi said those who disagreed with the book's content should take part in an open discussion rather than try to block free speech.

"So they can understand the debate," Yunanto told Khabar. "This is part of our country's history."

Erased from history

Harry Poeze, a Dutch historian and author of the book "Tan Malaka, The Leftist Movement and Indonesian Revolution, September 1948 - December 1949," headlined the discussion. Poeze's book tour was dogged by similar protests.

An early February book discussion was cancelled in Surabaya after local police declined to issue a permit for security reasons, the Jakarta Globe reported.

Nevertheless, highly attended discussions took place February 6th and 7th at the State University of Surabaya and Airlangga University respectively, according to Tempo.

Tan was a leftist movement leader and freedom fighter during Indonesia's pre-independence years. Even though its military executed him in 1949, some people consider him one of Indonesia's founding fathers along with first President Soekarno, and others.

Though in 1963, Soekarno bestowed national hero honours on Tan, because of Tan's Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) ties, Soeharto's New Order regime expunged his contributions from books.

Recently on February 21st in his native West Sumatra, officials unveiled a bronze statue of Tan.

"Tan Malaka's story expresses the struggle for power between the Old and New Order," said Gadjah Mada University graduate student historian Sarita Rushia.

"Tan Malaka combined Islam and Marxism. That is why he became controversial for many Indonesians. For many Indonesians, the two cannot be used together," she told Khabar. "Most Indonesians value Islam as a religion, while Marxism is an ideology against Islam. Book discussions like this show how open our society is."

Reader Comments
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    • anto
      May 23, 2014 @ 03:05:06AM
    • What the FPI are doing is good, it's just that sometimes some things need more attention.
    • rohim
      May 22, 2014 @ 08:05:36PM
    • Islam is a blessing for all creation.
    • kholid
      May 19, 2014 @ 06:05:02AM
    • Do not forget history.
    • yyuy
      April 27, 2014 @ 03:04:21AM
    • Who and what is the FPI?
    • ali
      April 21, 2014 @ 10:04:49PM
    • People who say that communists are better than Islam, that Islam is brutal, that they commit terrorism everywhere, do not understand the besmirching of Islam by Jews and Christians. You are among those who have been influenced by their (Jewish) news.
    • H.Nursahaidi,ST
      April 21, 2014 @ 09:04:14PM
    • It is not necessary to once again bring up the history of Tan Malaka because it will ultimately cause anxiety in people. There is no benefit to it. This is a tactic of the PKI towards its resurgence (beware the latent PKI threat) and the government must be wise and prohibit them from discussing such things.
    • Wahabom Thai Khuning
      April 21, 2014 @ 01:04:03PM
    • Communists and Wahabi Salafi Takfiri are equally wicked, they are all slaughterers, slaughtering people. They are all criminals. Tan Malaka?
    • herdian
      April 30, 2014 @ 04:04:07AM
    • I suggest to you to not easily judge the wahabi negatively. You must look for clarification directly from the individual and their group. I am concerned that Islam may end up getting vilified.
    • chakti
      April 21, 2014 @ 01:04:27AM
    • This needs to be reviewed in civics education whether or not Indonesia has become a liberal nation, given that everything is permitted on the basis of human rights and democracy! (May the message of reformation be carried out properly and not just blindly followed!)
    • ronnie
      April 20, 2014 @ 09:04:30AM
    • Sometimes history is manipulated by the authors in line with their personal and group interests. There needs to be an open discussion so that if there are people, including those who lived through history or their descendants, who feel that there are errors in the writing of history, it can be corrected with the evidence they possess.
    • Ovan Banteng QioZ Cell
      April 19, 2014 @ 10:04:55AM
    • Islam is beautiful, those who do not feel the beauty of Islamic life do not enjoy independence. Insya Allah the people of the world is given guidance. Allah gives guidance to those he chooses. Amin.
    • daud salman
      April 13, 2014 @ 09:04:38AM
    • Do not forget history, because through history we can know all the stories from the past.
    • abahgilang
      April 13, 2014 @ 02:04:50AM
    • Islam is the perfect religion to govern people so that they can have the right relationship with their God and become blessings or a good force to all creatures on Earth. We only have to follow it without strings attached.
    • juli
      April 12, 2014 @ 06:04:11AM
    • We would rather have communism than Islam! Look at the brutality of Islam (terrorists) all over the world.
    • apid
      April 20, 2014 @ 12:04:35AM
    • Read history seriously and then comment.
    • herdian
      April 30, 2014 @ 04:04:17AM
    • You have been provoked and influenced by the slander spewed out by the infidels and he liberal media. Are you Muslim or not?
    • selamet mulyono
      April 8, 2014 @ 12:04:04AM
    • It is good to respect history. However, please look up the histories of figures like Hamka, Moh. Hatta, as an example for future generations.
    • sarhani
      April 7, 2014 @ 04:04:38PM
    • Be moderate about this, in balance with history. Freedom should not overstep its boundaries.
    • jodiesyogi
      April 4, 2014 @ 07:04:48AM
    • It is true, this nation must straighten out its history which, from the time of the monarchies right up to the united Indonesian republic, has been manipulated to serve the interests of its rulers. Take all the good and let all the bad serve as lessons so they would not be repeated by this nation's future generations.
    • herujoko
      April 3, 2014 @ 09:04:27PM
    • Why do we need history? Allah firmly reminds us on the importance of history (Qs 12:111). Even in carrying out the Islamic doctrine we need to understand the history. The history of our nation has been truncated and is in contradiction with reality by the powerful rulers' influence. Therefore, I think that in-depth studies on these events need to be undertaken so that the faithful/people can have access to history that is accountable, objective, transparent and credible in its authenticity.
      April 2, 2014 @ 07:04:32AM
    • Tan, just die already, you're still making people fight.
    • Kamsijantriko
      April 30, 2014 @ 07:04:42PM
    • Yes, it is funny, what is certain is that if Mr. Tan could return I am sure that he would repent and study Islam correctly while giving sermons to the faithful day and night without stopping until death comes for him a second time. This is because he would know that communism cannot save mankind in the afterlife. Islam is the only ideology in the world that can guide people to the garden of Allah SWT because Islam comes from the creator of man (Allah SWT) and befits man's purity.
    • risap abdullah
      March 28, 2014 @ 04:03:55AM
    • Keep up the spirit, Islam.
    • abduh
      March 27, 2014 @ 03:03:33AM
    • The purpose of discussion is not to create commotions but to understand what is happening. Tan Malaka was a Marxist, yes, but what the people of this republic must remember is that Tan Malaka was the "grindstone" for the revolutionaries who wanted Indonesia's independence. Are we going to sweep his great service under the rug just because he was a Marxist? Only a great country can honor the services of its heroes.
    • david
      March 26, 2014 @ 10:03:57AM
    • History is the oppression of our nation, which has given rise to immoral leaders with no responsibility towards their own nation.
    • zul atan
      March 26, 2014 @ 10:03:13AM
    • Al-Liwa is the flag of Islam, let us unite for our beloved Islam.
    • warman
      March 26, 2014 @ 08:03:03AM
    • To FPI or hardline Islam, you would do well to see it through and not just hold demonstrations. If this is to be our nation's journey, why would you erase it? For better or for worse it is a part of the nation's journey and the people of Indonesia should know about it. Whether it is bad or good - it's all depends on us. If it is bad, don't follow it.
    • Alimuddin Hasyam
      March 24, 2014 @ 10:03:38PM
    • Discussions on history are necessary. We do this so that we can unravel the tangled threads in the history of our lives as a nation and as a country. The people need to know and understand the true history of their nation. This is so it can serve as a reference through the generations so that each one will be able to put the elements of the nation's journey into the proper context. It goes without saying that this must be done elegantly, courteously, objectively, and professionally, regardless of who is in power, whether they are strong or weak; those who would obfuscate history according to their will and power, through their ingenuity or even shrewdness to obscure the actual truth. This nation needs to streamline its history. In my view, there are already many practitioners of history who have been marginalized and many traitors to the nation who have been portrayed as peacetime heroes. Discussions also should never be used as a means to finding fault in people/organizations, nor should it be directed to incite war between the ages (read: orders) and most importantly, the discussions must produce real materials to be made available to read in every library, whether they be government or privately owned. Readers or even those who prefer to listen are also expected to assess these materials with a mature mindset so that the nation's journey will never be biased, whether it is today, tomorrow and in the future. (The writer is a former activist at Unhas Makassar during the 1990's)
    • Khamdani
      March 22, 2014 @ 06:03:37PM
    • A responsible freedom is one that is good and constructive, whereas the freedom we have been seeing is an irresponsible one (Waton Suloyo), and has therefore led to the increasingly chaotic management of the country. If you want to discuss something, consider the pros and cons.
    • tb gadeng
      March 19, 2014 @ 08:03:37PM
    • The history of the past, good or bad, must be available to the public to preserve the integrity of history. The public is not stupid in how they deal with it and use it as a guideline in distinguishing the good from the bad.
    • asamson
      March 18, 2014 @ 12:03:11PM
    • The point of history, whether good or bad, is that it serves as a reference to the original purpose of Man in this world. It is not to give in to the desires that lead us further astray, for all will be destroyed save for those who still remember and fall in line with the true purpose of life: "Allah created the devil and Man to serve Me, Me = Allah". History has proven that this country has an observant religious culture, not a communist or secular one (half man half demon).
    • Hilda
      March 17, 2014 @ 08:03:37PM
    • A nation will be able to progress when the people can appreciate history.
    • asep amin nasrudin
      March 16, 2014 @ 09:03:45PM
    • History is indeed important to convey and discuss, if it is not our children and grandchildren would not be familiar with it. As long as historical facts are not mixed in with lies - authentic data must be true right from the source.
    • abu syafiq
      March 15, 2014 @ 02:03:28AM
    • Before deciding to like or dislike, you should learn about it to gauge the degree to which you reject or support it. Knowledgeable people will understand the future repercussions for better or for worse. Will there be certain parties that benefit from this? Are there political motives behind this? We need to preserve the good elements of our history and use them as examples. The bad elements cannot be preserved or exposed. Tan Malaka was a bad element, we'd better get rid of it.
    • Sungkar heho
      March 14, 2014 @ 07:03:01AM
    • We demand the right of free speech and yet do not recognize the right to limit freedom of speech. This is just looking out for one's own interests. There are signposts in freedom of speech, so yes there are limits. Try walking into a government office wearing only an underwear and if they send you away, try to say your dress code must be respected; they will think you've gone crazy! So, freedom of speech is nothing but hot air.
    • yumad sahid
      March 14, 2014 @ 04:03:14AM
    • Whatever "world" history may be, black or white, is synonymous with a chronicle. We must familiarize ourselves with history to better understand the good and the bad, being ignorant of history is the same as blinding our hearts and minds! The result is fanatical obedience run amok! To know/learn/understand the thieving tactics of the corrupt is not to become "them" but so that "we" become even smarter so we won't be deceived by all the smoke and mirrors. Another piece of wisdom.
    • suratno
      March 13, 2014 @ 10:03:54AM
    • But try not to forget our prominent figures like Ki Bagus Hadikusumo, Nashir, Hamka.
    • paiman syaibani
      March 11, 2014 @ 05:03:07AM
    • Do not be resistant towards history. It is necessary for us as a nation consisting of various elements. Understanding history in all its versions will make us mature as a nation.
    • jendravolta zamri
      March 11, 2014 @ 03:03:12AM
    • History is very important. We should never forget history but we must be smart in choosing trustworthy sources in understanding that history.
    • noval
      March 6, 2014 @ 06:03:57PM
    • I am saddened when one of our nation's former freedom fighters is ignored.
    • J. Kendill
      March 6, 2014 @ 05:03:04AM
    • Do not hide comments from the public. It is not the editorial who needs to know the comments but the readers in general. Please, Mr. Editor, expose all the comments. Please don't hide them.
    • farid
      March 5, 2014 @ 06:03:18AM
    • Discussions are important for directing our mentalities towards academics, not physical force.
    • Sungkar heho
      March 14, 2014 @ 06:03:32AM
    • Irresponsible freedom of speech must be curtailed because it will only breed animosity. Please respect the freedom to limit freedom of speech. Don't just think of yourself.
    • J Kendill
      March 5, 2014 @ 05:03:28AM
    • Now is no longer the time where people only believe in rumors (whether about history or religion). It is better to see and learn for yourself to know exactly what is going on, not hearsay (from my father, my friend, public figures, my role models, or my cleric). Now is the time where people should be able to accept the views of others, even if they are in contradiction to our own. To accept is not the same as to believe it as the truth (for instance, upon listening to another person's point of view, I'd seek to understand but will not force myself to believe). Constructive attitudes are better than destructive ones.
    • jumron
      March 13, 2014 @ 06:03:36PM
    • This is good, learning from history will make us better at respecting others, this is the character of Prophet Muhammad. Love for one's homeland is a component of faith, faith will engender belief, belief is total faith. Allah, Muhammad, Knowledge, Learning, Islam, Indonesia.
    • bagiyomulyono
      April 19, 2014 @ 03:04:46AM
    • Jumron, in which Hadith is it written that love for the homeland is a mark of faith? Is it Shahih, Dhaif, weak or fabricated?
    • Ashari
      March 3, 2014 @ 08:03:48PM
    • We must pay attention to history. History often teaches us the good, the bad and what lies in between. Would we discard the history of Diponegoro for any reason? Never leave history behind, for justice in humanity. Regards.

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