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Op-Ed / Asia

Darul Islam's Ongoing Appeal

Originally published in Tempo

The history of Darul Islam (DI) holds powerful lessons for Indonesia today – and not just about the ability of a radical movement to adapt and regenerate. It also teaches us about the cost of ignoring regional grievances; the dangers of trying to exploit Islam for political ends; the importance of cross-generational ties; and the ongoing mystique of an Islamic state.

Sekarmadji Kartosoewirjo in West Java, Kahar Muzakkar in South Sulawesi and Daud Beureueh in Aceh all became heroes to many in their home regions. Each led a DI rebellion against the Indonesian republic, each paid for it in different ways and each became an inspiration for a new movement decades later:

  • Kartosoewirjo, who proclaimed the Islamic State of Indonesia (Negara Islam Indonesia, NII) in 1949, was captured in 1962 and later executed; many of his top lietuenants were amnestied and given livelihood assistance, in an early attempt at a "deradicalisation" program. He was a direct inspiration for all of the groups, violent and non-violent, that seek to establish an Islamic state today, including Jemaah Islamiyah, Ring Banten and other Java-based DI offshoots.
  • Kahar Muzakkar was killed in a military raid in 1965; some of his followers fled to Sabah, others to Maluku. The upheaval and displacement caused by the insurgency has left scars in Sulawesi to this day. One of his admirers founded the Hidayatullah pesantren network and his movement inspired the formation of KPPSI, the Makassar-based group advocating application of Islamic law.
  • Daud Beureueh’s rebellion in Aceh ended in 1962. After signing a peace agreement with the Indonesian government in 1963, Beureueh was pulled back into a revived DI covering all Indonesia in 1974. He was taken into custody again in 1978 and spent the last decade of his life under house arrest. The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) claimed his mantle of Acehnese nationalism, and many of the early GAM fighters had fathers who fought in Darul Islam.

Each DI manifestation started out as a response to local grievances. Collectively their emergence underscores one key lesson for the Indonesian state, still applicable to Papua today: perceived inattention by the center to discontent in the periphery can be a potent driver of rebellion.

Kartosoewirjo in particular developed a justification for jihad against a kafir state (first the Dutch, then a secular republic) that includes many elements of what we now know as salafi jihadism. Indeed as a forthcoming book by Indonesian journalist Solahudin explains, one of the reasons the ideology associated with al-Qaeda found such fertile ground here may be in part because it had an indigenous base to build on.

By the late 1950s, leaders of the three insurgencies had established contact and agreed to work for a federated Islamic state. The concept never really worked, however –local goals were far more important for recruitment and mobilisation than shared ones. Forty years later, Indonesian mujahidin learned a similar lesson in a very different context: for all the anger aroused by US policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, it was easier to recruit around Ambon and Poso than around Palestine and Iraq.

Soon after the Indonesian military defeated the last of the DI revolts in 1965, an attempted coup took place involving some leftwing officers and members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). The top priority of the military and Gen. Soeharto, who came to power in the aftermath of that attempt, became the PKI’s elimination, and in this, the principle of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" became operative. Some of the fiercely anti-Communist leaders of DI in Java were offered weapons in exchange for taking part operations against suspected party members. By 1971, when Soeharto was planning the first election of the New Order, DI members, now seen as potential partners, were brought together by Indonesian intelligence for a three-day reunion in the hope that a revived DI would help secure a victory in West Java for a new mass organisation called GOLKAR.

Government funds and facilities thus provided the wherewithal for the revival of a movement which soon bit the hand that fed it. Radicalised both by Soeharto policies that were seen as anti-Islamic and by the writings of militant Islamic thinkers, newly available in Indonesian translation, its members went underground and began working against the state. As the only extant group in Indonesia with a history of actual combat in service of an Islamic state, it attracted more and more recruits as New Order repression increased – among them Abdullah Sungkar, the founder of JI and a fellow cleric, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir. One lesson that should have been learned but wasn’t: cooptation of or partnership with radical Islamic groups never works as planned and the costs always exceed the benefits.

Major government crackdowns on DI/NII took place throughout Java in the 1970s and 80s, leading to the arrest of nearly the entire senior leadership of DI. One particular aspect of these arrests stands out: many of those arrested had sons who twenty years later emerged as leaders of JI and/or active participants in jihadi operations.

For example, four DI leaders arrested during this period were Haji Faleh and Achmad Hussein from Kudus; Muhammad Zainuri from Madiun; and Bukhori from Magetan. Haji Faleh’s son, Abu Rusdan, became caretaker JI amir after Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was arrested in 2002, although he was never involved in violence. One of Achmad Hussein’s sons, Taufik Ahmad alias Abu Arina, became a leader of JI-Central Java. Zainuri’s son, Fathurrahman al-Ghozi, killed in Mindanao in 2003, was involved in JI bombings in Jakarta and Manila; his younger son, Ahmad Rofiq Ridho alias Ali Zein, was arrested in connection with Noordin Top. Bukhori’s son, Lutfi Haedaroh alias Ubeid, was just arrested for the second time in connection with the jihadi training camp in Aceh; both Ubeid and his brother Umar Burhanuddin worked with Noordin in the lead-up to the 2004 embassy bombing. Daughters of DI leaders arrested in the 1970s also ended up as wives of JI leaders in the 1990s.

If Indonesia can learn from the past, it should be targeting counter-radicalisation programs at the younger siblings and children of arrested radicals. This leads to the question of schools. Kartosoewirjo, more than Daud Beureueh or Kahar Muzakkar, understood that indoctrination and regeneration went hand in hand. The school that he founded, the Suffah Institute, combined political and religious studies with military training, in a way that became a model for famous JI schools such as al-Mukmin pesantren in Ngruki or Lukmanul Hakiem in Johor, Malaysia. Even as JI seems to have entered a period of dormancy, its affiliated schools in Java, Lampung, Lombok and elsewhere are the key to its long-term survival, because it is here where the children of current leaders are being educated. The newly created anti-terror agency, BNPT, should have as one of its priorities a program to ensure that these schools – over 50 at last count – are subjected to greater government supervision and that the children enrolled in them are involved in community activities that draw them into broader social networks.

The history of Darul Islam offers another lesson that Indonesia would do well to study: when the leadership grows old or passive, a new militant wing emerges ready to fight. Ideological splits, policy differences and personality disputes have characterized DI from its revival in the early 1970s until the present. The best-known split in 1993 produced Jemaah Islamiyah, but other factions emerged as dissatisfaction mounted in 1999 and 2000 with DI’s do-nothing approach toward conflicts in Ambon and Poso. Noordin Top broke away from JI in 2003-4, taking his followers in a more militant direction. Most recently, the cross-organisational alliance that built a training camp in Aceh represented disaffected elements from a number of groups, all critical of JI’s withdrawal from active jihad.

Darul Islam is not a museum piece – now more than half a century old, it continues to evolve, its offshoots continue to constitute the core of militant Islam in Indonesia, and the idea of an Islamic state continues to resonate with new generations.

Anyone who doubts the lasting power of Darul Islam to inspire young Indonesians should read the last testament of Iqbal alias Arnasan, one of the two suicide bombers in the first Bali bombing. He wrote to his friends and family in Malingping, West Java, a former DI stronghold:

"Remember, o mujahidin of Malingping, how our imam, SM Kartosuwirjo built and upheld and proclaimed the independence of the Islamic State of Indonesia with the blood and lives of martyrs, not by relaxing and fooling around the way we do today. If you are serious about see ing the glory of the buried Islamic State of Indonesia rise again, shed your blood so you will not be ashamed to face Allah, you who acknowledge yourselves to be children of DI/NII".

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013