Moeflich Hasbullah: Antologi Pemikiran

Marginalized Community: The Bitterness of Indonesian Muslim in the Early New Order

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Moeflich Hasbullah
State Islamic University, Sunan Gunung  Djati Bandung


When the New Order began its program of modernisation in the 1970s, two main political responses came from different political groups: The first group consisted of those who called for political rehabilitation after the Masjumi, P.S.I and P.N.I parties were banned[1] and the second group consisted of those who were chiefly focused on economic development and social welfare. Due to the Soekarno’s persistent political suppression of Islam, ex-Masjumi activists were in the first group.[2] After the fall of Soekarno and his government, the Islamic leaders welcomed the New Order enthusiastically with the expectation of reviving Masjumi’s triumph of the past. This endeavor gained support from the vast Muslim community.

“On December 16th, 1965, a ‘Coordinating Body of Muslim Activities’ (Badan Koordinasi Amal Muslim) was formed, uniting 16 Islamic organizations which wanted to work towards a rehabilitation of the Masjumi. Among the supporters  were also a few army officers who, according to Samson, were hoping to see the power of the N.U, restricted, realizing that the more modern-minded Muslims could no longer be counted out” (Boland 1971: 151).

Soon after the Islamic leaders such as Hamka, Isa Anshary and Burhanuddin Harahap were released from prison on August 14th, 1966, these leaders carried out a service of thanksgiving (tasyakur) conducted around and in the Al-Azhar mosque in Kebajoran Baru Djakarta. A crowd of about 50,000 people, led by the former top leaders of the Masjumi party such as Sjafruddin Prawiranegara, Asaat, Prawoto Mangkusasmito, Mohammad Roem, Kasman Singodimejo, and Moh. Natsir, “demanded the rehabilitation of Islam after its oppression in the times that had passed.” (Boland 1981: 148) However, Muslim activists’ desires were not realised as the New Order did not allow the rehabilitation and former Masjumi leaders were banned from taking part in the newly formed government sponsored party, Partai Muslimin Indonesia (Parmusi).[3]

The response of the Muslim leaders to modernisation was more reactive than proactive, as they suspected that it would result in secularisation.[4] While this group of Muslim leaders were busy struggling for political rehabilitation and questioning modernisation, the New Order government was focusing on stable political formation and economic development. For this reason, the government was not particularly interested in adopting rehabilitation aspirations. What the New Order required most, apart from the extermination of the Communist Party (PKI), was breakthrough thinking in economics and politics in order to address the problems inherited from the Soekarno period. To this end, the New Order recruited the so-called “Berkeley Mafia.”[5]

The Berkeley Mafia was a group of technocrats with American degrees, most of them leading economists, recruited by Soeharto to be his economic policy advisers. The most prominent figure was Widjojo Nitisastro, the incumbent Dean of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Indonesia. Others included Mohammad Sadli, Ali Wardhana, Emil Salim, Radius Prawiro, Subroto, J.B. Sumarlin, Frans Seda, Rachmat Saleh etc.[6] The alliance between Soeharto and these people was indirectly tied at the SESKOAD (Staff College of the Armed Forces) in Bandung in the 1950s where lecturers of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Indonesia were involved in the teaching of basic economics and publishing economic articles in newspapers within military circles. One of the military students who participated in the course was Soeharto (Glassburner 1978: 33), the future President of Indonesia.

When Soeharto came into power, several economists from the University of Indonesia were appointed to be Soeharto’s economic advisory team and in the following years four of them became ministers and others held government portfolios (Ali and Effendy 1986: 105). “These men,” said Ricklefs (1981: 275), “achieved a remarkable stabilisation of the economy.” Inflation dropped to only 113 percent in 1967 from 839 percent in 1966, and to 85 percent in the following year with a slight increase in prices towards the end of 1968. Indonesia then entered a period of price stability from 1969 onward in which the Jakarta cost of living index rose by only 22 percent over three years. “These occurred even though money supply continued to rise at around 30 percent a year, indicating that the real money stocks were being rapidly increased to regain lost ground” (McDonald 1980: 79). The Old Older slogans such as the “unfinished revolution” were replaced by new jargon: “stabilisation,” “dynamic stability,” “twenty five years of accelerated modernisation” and the like.

In the situation where the relationship between patron and client was defined ideologically, the constructed common sense was that the Islamic leaders were Masjumi leaders. Consequently, even though Emil Salim was the grandson of Haji Agus Salim (1884-1954), a respected Islamic leader in the beginning of the twentieth century who Ma’arif (1993: 103) calls, “the father of modern Indonesian Muslim intellectuals,” the Berkeley Mafia were associated with non-Muslim power. This was reinforced by the fact that Widjojo Nitisastro, Mohammad Sadli, Ali Wardhana, Subroto and Rachmat Saleh were Javanese abangan and Radius Prawiro, J.B Sumarlin, and Frans Seda were Christians. Therefore, for Muslim political activists, the emergence of the Berkeley Mafia was a sign that the Muslims had fallen behind. Ali and Effendy  (1986: 109) remark that,

“The lack of involvement of the Islamic community in the development process has forced the New Order government to find another development-partner usually coming from the secular intellectual groups, both Christian and socialist. This leads to the inference that seen from either political dimension (power) or development (modernisation), Islamic people are in the marginal position.”

Soeharto’s preference for the ‘Mafia’ carried two significant meanings for the Muslim group at the beginning of the New Order period: First, it proved the “unreadiness” of Muslim leaders at that time to face modernisation,[7] because of their emphasis on political rehabilitation. Second, it showed the lack of qualified Muslims.[8] This led to the situation where many important and strategic governmental positions were occupied by non-Muslim political actors. Cabinet formations from the 1970s up to the 1990s, did not represent the political powers based on the religious affiliations meaning that there was an “overrepresentation” of non-Muslims. Politically, the Javanese abangan and Christian minority were powerful, while the Muslims, the majority, were in fact powerless. Hence, the Umat Islam often suffered under government policies.[9] Furthermore, “they [Muslims] have never been the decision makers in the political process, and were not even capable of influencing the decision making process” (Kuntowijoyo 1991: 147).

The restriction of Muslim political activists during the New Order occurred because of “the proclivities of state leaders influenced by both technocrats and pre-Islamic ideas and fearful of any institutions they [did] not control” (McVey 1983: 199). There were at least three factors that made the restriction possible: first, prior to the 1990s, “the Soeharto government was a resolute defender of abangan Javanese values” (Hefner 1997a: 75).[10] Second, the government feared political Islam and accused politically minded-Muslims of having a latent desire for an Islamic state; and third, and most obviously, the Muslim community of that time was still at a stage of, as Ali accurately terms it, a “Masyarakat Sawah.”[11]

The term masyarakat sawah (peasant society) denotes a people, commonly farm workers, who are uneducated, indigent; whose standard of living is below average, and who still practise traditional agricultural activities. In Indonesian society, the masyarakat sawah occupied the lowest social level and comprised the majority of Indonesians in the 1960s and 1970s. As reported by Indonesian Raja (17/10/72) and Suara Karja (6/9/72), the Education Minister Mashuri revealed the poor level of education for Indonesian people in the late 1960s:

“Of 47 million Indonesians with the right to obtain education, there existed facilities for only 12.5 million. Of the 6.9 million with the right to higher education, facilities existed for only 127,000. More recently he drew attention to the fact that 67% of primary school children drop out because their parents are too poor, and he stated that only 1% of children in primary schools will have the chance to reach higher education. He estimated the daily income of parents of primary school drop-outs to be four cents” (Ward, 1973: 80).

Even though the umat Islam constitutes 87 percent of the population, it might be misleading to conclude that all Muslims were illiterate. However, because they were the majority, it can be concluded, that many of them had little to no access to education at the beginning of the New Order. It is understandable then that the Christian minority who had accumulated economic capital after benefiting from Dutch protection during the colonial period, had at the time of independence an educational level that was on average far higher than that of the umat Islam. Thus, when modernisation required educated people, they were accordingly more prepared to compete in economic development. For the Muslim majority of the contemporary New Order, this historical bitterness has become a tremendous psychological force to overcome.



[1] Not only were they banned but their political activities were also limited. Boland describes the languishing existence of political parties in Indonesia in this period: “The new leadership of the P.N.I had great difficulties in re-orientating the party. The former Socialist Party of Sjahrir did not get a successor. The replacement of the Masjumi by a new Islamic party remains problematical, as long as certain ex-Masjumi leaders have to remain onlookers. Soekarno’s Guided Democracy hindered the emergence of a new generation of politicians. Among young intellectuals one meets people with a political education but lacking political experience ” (1971: 149).

[2] Within the Muslim community there were actually three groups which endorsed three different kinds of responses towards modernization. First, the apologetic response. This was put forward by ex-Masjumi leaders who welcomed modernization with hope and continued to struggle for rehabilitation. Their response towards modernization values was defensive, suspicious and apologetic as shown, for instance, by such advocates as Hamka and H.M. Rasjidi (for their views see Anwar 1995: 25 -37). Second, the realistic response. This was put forward by the senior alumni of HMI (Association of Muslim University Students) who had been the protagonists of the New Order economic policy. Many of them became the second rank technocrats in Soeharto’s government, for example Bintoro Tjokroamijoyo, Deliar Noer, Barli Halim, Madjid Ibrahim, Zainul Yasni, Omar Tusin, Bustanul Arifin, and Hariry Hady (Rahardjo 1993 : 318-34). Third, the intellectualistic response. This was given by incumbent HMI activists at the time when Nurcholish Madjid was the most prominent figure. These younger Muslim activists, recognized then as the Islamic renewal movement, saw issues such as “secularization” and “Islam Yes, Islamic Party No!” feed a hot debate in Indonesian public discourse from the 1970s onward (see Madjid 1987; Hassan 1980).

[3] For a detailed study of Parmusi, see Ward 1970: pp. 34-53, and Solihin Salam 1970. According to Wertheim, the government refusal was due to the suspicion of the return of consistent Islamic politics and a constitutional struggle for an Islamic state (Wertheim, “Islam Before and After Elections,” in Indonesia After 1971 Elections, Ed. Oey Hong Lee. Quoted from Ali and Effendy 1986: 108, esp. footnote no. 35). However, according to Boland, this leaning is not a specific characteristic of the Masjumi: “Could it be that this indictment was spread by certain anti-Masjumi circles, while the real motives of these circles were not matters of principle at all” (Boland 1971: 151).

[4] Concerns about the negative impacts of modernization came from various sections of the community. Basically, they were worried that modernization would be used by the ruling actors to legitimate and fulfill their political interests, or as a justification for the government’s political coercion exercised upon Muslims. Another reason was that it was thought that modernization would result in westernization and would destroy religious, traditional and national values. Moreover, for a newly independent country like Indonesia modernization would mean a dependency on the West. It was suspected that modernization would result in a dependency on the Western countries, or which would amount to a form of neo-colonialism. This beliefs were held by Hamka, Rasyidi etc. On the other hand, Muslims such as Deliar Noer, Omar Hashem, and Amin Rais look positively on modernization. They conclude that modernization was not only necessary but compulsory. For Muslim responses on modernization see Kamal Hassan 1980; Ali and Effendy 1986: 93-143).

[5] This term referred to the University of California, Berkeley from where some of Soeharto’s technocrats graduated. The first was Widjojo Nitisastro who after gaining his Ph.D from that university returned to the University of Indonesia. Two others in this team achieved doctorates from the same university –Ali Wardhana and Emil Salim. Subroto completed his doctoral study in North America and Mohammad Sadli also studied in the USA before completing his doctorate at the University of Indonesia. More than that, “Berkeley” has become a place associated with the economists who “train most of the key Indonesians who would seize government power and put their pro-American lessons into practice” (McDonald 1980: 76). Therefore, other economists who were not from Berkeley, such as Radius Prawiro, Frans Seda, and Rachmat Saleh, are also linked to this “Mafia.” The term of  “mafia” came into existence because of the domination of Berkeley graduation in this team.

[6] On New Order technocrats, see, among other things, Ransom 1974; Palmer 1978: 14-15; and  McDonald 1980: 68-86.

[7] There was actually a response on modernization given by the younger generation of HMI (Association of Muslim University Students) activists. Their response was roughly: First, they did not want to question any longer the relation between Pancasila and Islam, instead choosing to be directly involved in bureaucracy and directly fostering modernization ideas by participating in the development process. Second, modernization should be responded to with responsibility. Modernization is a set of values which has spread all over the world. Some of those values could be perceived as positive or negative. However, it should register a response. The modernization process is necessary but not in its entirely, because modernization values need contextualization. The most important thing is to requestion Muslim perception upon their theological concepts against social changes and the development inclination in the future. For details see Rahardjo 1993: 326- 327.

[8] What is meant here is the capability of getting involved in modernization, that is to say, economic development. There is a story spread amongst young Muslim activists today about when Soeharto asked Muslim leaders in the late 1960s to provide men amongst them who could take part in the modernization of development, they named probably “the most educated” and the “best stocks” of their time, like Deliar Noer, Moh. Rasjidi and so forth. But Soeharto did not them and merely questioned: “Who are they?” Another story concerning the ‘low quality’ of Muslims in recent years, was recounted by Amin Rais at a conference I attended in 1996, who stated that before the 1990s, out of 18 faculty secretaries at the Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), only three were Muslims and the remaining 15 were Christians. “By the 1980s, it was hard to find qualified Muslim resources,” he said.

[9] For example the 1973 RUUP (The Draft of Marriage Law) released by the government was to be endorsed by Indonesian people but many of its points were in opposition to Islamic law. The Aliran Kebatinan (with which the government made Javanese mysticism equal to other religions), the 1985 Asas Tunggal (the removal of primordial foundation from political parties and mass organizations, such as religion and ethnicity, replaced by Pancasila). And the government’s prohibition of Muslim women wearing head-covers in schools etc. For this reasons it was often asserted that the New Order had a strongly anti-Muslim inclination.

[10] For a study of Soeharto as a Javanese abangan and the New Order as reflection of the Javanese system of power, see Anderson 1990; Emerson 1976; Ali 1986 and Moedjanto 1987.

[11] See Kompas, 19 April 1989.


Written by Moeflich

29/12/2010 at 3:30 pm

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