THE ISLAMIC TURN IN INDONESIA: A POLITICAL EXPLANATION
R. William Liddle is Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University. An earlier version of this article was prepared for a conference on Islam and Society in Southeast Asia, Jakarta, June 1995. I would like to thank conference participants and also Ben Anderson, Don Emmerson, Sidney Jones, Blair King, and Takeshi Kohno for their comments
In December 1995, the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals, ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim se-Indonesia), held its second national congress in Jakarta (Kompas, December 4-10, 1995; Republika, December 4-10, 1995; Gatra, December 9 and 16, 1995; Forum Keadilan, January 1, 1996; Ummat, December 1 1, 1995). Twelve hundred delegates, representing 42,000 members from all Indonesian provinces and from many Indonesian Islamic communities abroad, participated. Minister of Research and Technology B. J. Habibie, generally considered President Suharto's favorite cabinet member, was chosen for a second five-year term as national chair. Sixteen ministers, nearly half the cabinet, were elected to leadership positions, and the president himself was designated ICMI's "Protector" (Pelindung).
The ICMI leadership list included several officials and former officials previously regarded as hostile to Islamic political movements: Vice-President General (ret.) Try Sutrisno, commander of the armed forces from 1988 to 1993; former Vice-President Lieutenant General (ret.) Sudharmono, believed by many to have had leftist connections during the 1945-49 independence revolution; Professor Sumitro Djojohadikusumo, the dean of Indonesian economists and once a leader of the Indonesian Socialist Party (PSI, Partai Sosialis Indonesia); Minister of State and Head of the National Development Planning Board, Ginanjar Kartasasmita, who has close ties to the old Indonesian National Party (PNI, Partai Nasional Indonesia), now a part of the Indonesian Democracy Party (PDI, Partai Demokrasi Indonesia); and former Army Chief of Staff and Minister of Home Affairs General (ret.) Rudini. Among top currently serving officials, only the names of the head of the state secretariat, Murdiono, and the minister of defense, General (ret.) Edi Sudradjat, were absent.
Many prominent Islamic intellectuals and activists outside the state were also listed among the organization's 148 officers (up from 111 at the first congress in 1990) for the 1995-2000 term. Amien Rais, the head of Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia's two largest Islamic social and educational organizations, played a key role at the congress and was elected chair of ICMI's Council of Experts. Several leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the other major Islamic social and educational organization, also joined, although NU head Abdurrahman Wahid, long an opponent of ICMI, did not.
All three political parties, the government's own Golkar (for Golongan Karya, Functional Groups), the Islamic PPP (Partai Persatuan Pembangunan, Development Unity Party), and the nationalist plus Christian PDI were represented. The Golkar and PPP contingents were headed by their respective chairs, Minister of Information Harmoko, an ICMI activist for the past five years, and Ismail Hasan Metareum, a new ICMI member. Of the three party chairs, only Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno and a political ally of NU's Abdurrahman Wahid, was absent.
ICMI was founded at the end of 1990, as the result of an initiative taken earlier that year by students at Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java (Anwar 1992; Hefner 1993; Nakamura 1993). The students travelled to Jakarta in search of funds for a conference of Islamic intellectuals. They were advised by two prominent senior Islamic activists, Imaduddin Abdulrahim and Dawam Rahardjo, to meet with Minister Habibie and to seek support for a permanent organization of Islamic intellectuals to be led by Habibie himself. The minister was at first reluctant, but agreed after consulting President Suharto. According to Habibie, the president gave him no choice, insisting that it was his duty to "help, uplift, and guide" (membantu, membina, dan membimbing) the majority of the people who are Muslim (Husaini 1995, 58).
The rise of ICMI is the most striking but not the first or the only sign of the new centrality of Islam in Indonesian public life. In the mid-1980s President Suharto's "New Order" government, established in the mid-1960s, began responding positively to demands from various Islamic organizations and spokespersons for policy changes and other actions across a wide range of issues (Effendy 1994, chap. 8). For example, the Department of Education and Culture abandoned a decades-long firmly held policy forbidding the wearing of the jilbab, or Islamic head covering, by female students in state schools. The Department of Religion presented to Parliament a bill regulating Islamic courts, and also published a codification of Islamic family law. A new marriage regulation made interfaith marriages virtually impossible. The Catholic editor of a popular television tabloid was found guilty of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and received a long prison sentence. A national sports lottery, opposed by devout Muslims as sanctioning gambling, was discontinued. An old demand for an Islamic bank was finally granted. Not least significant, in 1990 President Suharto (at the relatively advanced age of 69) and his family made the pilgrimage to Mecca.
From the late 1960s to the mid 1980s, the same Suharto government had taken a much harsher attitude toward Islamic groups and demands (Crouch 1981). Muslim political activists were discriminated against, persecuted, arrested on seemingly flimsy charges, and sometimes given lengthy jail sentences. Suspected militants were kept out of government and national political life. Muslim demands for a political party to represent their interests in Parliament, or for government policies and programs responsive to their interests and values, were routinely subverted or denied. For most of the New Order, in fact, political Islam was labelled the "extreme right" by the government. It was treated as public enemy number two, ranking just below the extreme left," the Communists held responsible for the October 1965 assassination of six senior army generals that preceded the collapse of President Sukarno's Guided Democracy and the construction of Suharto's New Order...........