Articles

Gus Dur from an Australian perspective


02 January 2010

Professor Greg Barton is Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia at Monash University, and acting director, Centre for Islam and the Modern World. He is also the author of Gus Dur: the Authorised Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid. More than that, he has had a professional and personal relationship with Gus Dur dating much further back than the Wahid presidency.

Greg Barton wrote two pieces for The Australian and The Age. We are presenting them in complete form in recognition of their importance:


Gentle, friendly face of Indonesia and Islam
Greg Barton 
January 2, 2010 - 9:57AM
 
ABDURRAHMAN ad-DAKHIL WAHID
FORMER PRESIDENT
7-9-1940 - 30-12-2009
WHEN the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid succumbed to a long battle with kidney disease and diabetes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for seven days of national mourning. For many millions of Indonesia's 240 million citizens, the mourning is very personal.
Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, although a controversial president, was deeply loved and admired. Even before becoming Indonesia's first democratically elected president in October 1999, he had built a towering reputation as a progressive Islamic intellectual and as a leading dissident. In fact, many feared that his unexpected entry into political office would tar his reputation as a social reformer and religious leader.
They were right to be afraid. He was never meant to be a president. It wasn't just that his style was too unconventional, it was that he refused to play by the rules of the game and to do the sort of deals that politicians need to do. Ironically, however, it was this commitment to idealistically championing reform despite a lack of political backing for which he is currently being remembered, as much as for his contributions as an Islamic intellectual and Muslim community leader. He was the wrong man for the job but it was the right man for the time.
Born into one of Indonesia's most prominent families of ulama, or Islamic scholars, Wahid went on to lead Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) for 15 years from 1984 until 1999. He succeeded in transforming the culture and orientation of this traditionalist Islamic association; with a membership of about 40 million people, it is the world's largest Islamic organisation. Along with like-minded colleagues he helped ensure that the NU pesantren, Islamic boarding schools known elsewhere as madrassa, completed a transition to becoming modern schools offering the secular state curriculum alongside religious instruction. This ensured that their mostly poor rural students were able to enter fully into modern Indonesia society.
Wahid's two grandfathers, Hasyim Asyari and Bisri Syansuri, had been instrumental in establishing NU in 1926, and his father, Wahid Hasyim, was minister of religious affairs under Sukarno and one of NU's most prominent leaders up until his death in 1952, when the car in which he was travelling with his son, the future president, skidded on a mountain road. As the eldest of six children, Wahid felt a heavy responsibility to follow in his father's footsteps. His solid pedigree gave him a commanding position to call for reform within NU and to challenge the Indonesian military, including president Suharto, on human rights abuses, corruption, nepotism and abuse of power. Gifted with a brilliant mind and near photographic recall, he blitzed through his pesantren studies as a teenager while sneaking off to the cinema as much as he could.
He also developed a love of literature. His mental gifts, if not his personal discipline, meant that when he arrived at Cairo's famous al-Azhar University to study Islamic studies in 1963 he quickly found the sort of traditional rote learning in place there to be a disappointment. Neglecting his formal studies he spent his time in informal learning, extending his earlier studies to include French cinema and Western literature (read in the library of the American University) as well as hours of coffee shop debates in the cafes of Cairo.
Wahid was working at the Indonesian embassy in Cairo at the time of the 1965 coup that saw Sukarno toppled and hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathisers brutally murdered. He translated diplomatic cables and letters reporting events from back home and was all too aware of the culpability of NU members in aiding and abetting the violence. This led to a lifelong commitment to speaking out on human rights abuses, including those linked to his own community. As president, he sought to rehabilitate former political prisoners.
Bored with al-Azhar, he moved to Baghdad University in 1966, where he completed a degree in Arabic literature. Back home to Indonesia in the early 1970s , he threw himself into NGO activism. Like his father, he enjoyed broad friendships across all communities and was an early proponent of interreligious dialogue. He was also a champion of the rights of minority communities, including Indonesia's Christians and Chinese, and later as president sought to advance their interests.
His leadership of NU positioned him to fearlessly critique Suharto and his regime, especially when beginning in the early 1990s Suharto sought the support of the radical Islamist elements that he previously persecuted.
To oppose this Wahid joined Djohan Effendi and others in establishing Forum Demokrasi to openly criticise the president's use of sectarian sentiment for political purposes. In 1994, Wahid and Djohan accepted an invitation from Shimon Peres to visit Israel; they participated in the inauguration of the Peres Centre for Peace. Later, as president, he sought to open formal relations between Indonesia and Israel. Despite this bold move his popularity among his support base in NU remained undiminished and he declared that he was now prepared to run for a third five-year term as executive chairman. Suharto did all that he could to block his re-election but Wahid's triumph established him as one of the few people who could take on Suharto and get away with it.
Nevertheless, he was forced to seek a rapprochement with Suharto following the latter's ousting of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of her own party in 1996 and the violent suppression of her supporters. But when the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia in the 1997, he was again at the head of the movement for reform.
A near fatal stroke in January 1998 robbed him of what was left of his failing eyesight and meant that he spent the first half of 1998 in physical rehabilitation rather than in leading the push against Suharto. Still, following Suharto's resignation in May, Wahid was able to establish a new party designed to garner the support of members of NU but founded on principles of secularism. The success of this party, PKB, in the 1999 elections set him up for role in government. No one, however, really expected him to become president.
That occurred because Habibie, who wanted to turn his transitional presidency into a full term through election, was thwarted when he supported the referendum in East Timor and Islamist elements and others within parliament moved to block the ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri. She eventually became president in July 2001 when parliament effectively voted Wahid out of office.
Wahid is remembered today largely for his role as a reformist president, but history is likely to also remember him as one of the 20th century's leading Islamic intellectuals and as someone who demonstrated how a traditional Islamic scholar can also be modern, democratic and humanitarian.
Professor Greg Barton is Herb Feith Research Professor for the Study of Indonesia at Monash University, and acting director, Centre for Islam and the Modern World. He is also the author of Gus Dur: the Authorised Biography of Abdurrahman Wahid.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/gentle-friendly-face-of-indonesia-and-islam-20100101-lluu.html

 

Gentle, friendly face of Indonesia and Islam

The Age

January 2, 2010 

ABDURRAHMAN ad-DAKHIL WAHID

FORMER PRESIDENT

7-9-1940 - 30-12-2009

 

WHEN the former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid succumbed to a long battle with kidney disease and diabetes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for seven days of national mourning. For many millions of Indonesia's 240 million citizens, the mourning is very personal.

Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, although a controversial president, was deeply loved and admired. Even before becoming Indonesia's first democratically elected president in October 1999, he had built a towering reputation as a progressive Islamic intellectual and as a leading dissident. In fact, many feared that his unexpected entry into political office would tar his reputation as a social reformer and religious leader.

They were right to be afraid. He was never meant to be a president. It wasn't just that his style was too unconventional, it was that he refused to play by the rules of the game and to do the sort of deals that politicians need to do. Ironically, however, it was this commitment to idealistically championing reform despite a lack of political backing for which he is currently being remembered, as much as for his contributions as an Islamic intellectual and Muslim community leader. He was the wrong man for the job but it was the right man for the time.

Born into one of Indonesia's most prominent families of ulama, or Islamic scholars, Wahid went on to lead Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) for 15 years from 1984 until 1999. He succeeded in transforming the culture and orientation of this traditionalist Islamic association; with a membership of about 40 million people, it is the world's largest Islamic organisation. Along with like-minded colleagues he helped ensure that the NU pesantren, Islamic boarding schools known elsewhere as madrassa, completed a transition to becoming modern schools offering the secular state curriculum alongside religious instruction. This ensured that their mostly poor rural students were able to enter fully into modern Indonesia society.

Wahid's two grandfathers, Hasyim Asyari and Bisri Syansuri, had been instrumental in establishing NU in 1926, and his father, Wahid Hasyim, was minister of religious affairs under Sukarno and one of NU's most prominent leaders up until his death in 1952, when the car in which he was travelling with his son, the future president, skidded on a mountain road. As the eldest of six children, Wahid felt a heavy responsibility to follow in his father's footsteps. His solid pedigree gave him a commanding position to call for reform within NU and to challenge the Indonesian military, including president Suharto, on human rights abuses, corruption, nepotism and abuse of power. Gifted with a brilliant mind and near photographic recall, he blitzed through his pesantren studies as a teenager while sneaking off to the cinema as much as he could.

He also developed a love of literature. His mental gifts, if not his personal discipline, meant that when he arrived at Cairo's famous al-Azhar University to study Islamic studies in 1963 he quickly found the sort of traditional rote learning in place there to be a disappointment. Neglecting his formal studies he spent his time in informal learning, extending his earlier studies to include French cinema and Western literature (read in the library of the American University) as well as hours of coffee shop debates in the cafes of Cairo.

Wahid was working at the Indonesian embassy in Cairo at the time of the 1965 coup that saw Sukarno toppled and hundreds of thousands of alleged communist sympathisers brutally murdered. He translated diplomatic cables and letters reporting events from back home and was all too aware of the culpability of NU members in aiding and abetting the violence. This led to a lifelong commitment to speaking out on human rights abuses, including those linked to his own community. As president, he sought to rehabilitate former political prisoners.

Bored with al-Azhar, he moved to Baghdad University in 1966, where he completed a degree in Arabic literature. Back home to Indonesia in the early 1970s, he threw himself into NGO activism. Like his father, he enjoyed broad friendships across all communities and was an early proponent of interreligious dialogue. He was also a champion of the rights of minority communities, including Indonesia's Christians and Chinese, and later as president sought to advance their interests.

His leadership of NU positioned him to fearlessly critique Suharto and his regime, especially when beginning in the early 1990s Suharto sought the support of the radical Islamist elements that he previously persecuted.

To oppose this Wahid joined Djohan Effendi and others in establishing Forum Demokrasi to openly criticise the president's use of sectarian sentiment for political purposes. In 1994, Wahid and Djohan accepted an invitation from Shimon Peres to visit Israel; they participated in the inauguration of the Peres Centre for Peace. Later, as president, he sought to open formal relations between Indonesia and Israel. Despite this bold move his popularity among his support base in NU remained undiminished and he declared that he was now prepared to run for a third five-year term as executive chairman. Suharto did all that he could to block his re-election but Wahid's triumph established him as one of the few people who could take on Suharto and get away with it.

Nevertheless, he was forced to seek a rapprochement with Suharto following the latter's ousting of Megawati Sukarnoputri from the leadership of her own party in 1996 and the violent suppression of her supporters. But when the Asian economic crisis hit Indonesia in the 1997, he was again at the head of the movement for reform.

A near fatal stroke in January 1998 robbed him of what was left of his failing eyesight and meant that he spent the first half of 1998 in physical rehabilitation rather than in leading the push against Suharto. Still, following Suharto's resignation in May, Wahid was able to establish a new party designed to garner the support of members of NU but founded on principles of secularism. The success of this party, PKB, in the 1999 elections set him up for role in government. No one, however, really expected him to become president.

That occurred because Habibie, who wanted to turn his transitional presidency into a full term through election, was thwarted when he supported the referendum in East Timor and Islamist elements and others within parliament moved to block the ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri. She eventually became president in July 2001 when parliament effectively voted Wahid out of office.

Wahid is remembered today largely for his role as a reformist president, but history is likely to also remember him as one of the 20th century's leading Islamic intellectuals and as someone who demonstrated how a traditional Islamic scholar can also be modern, democratic and humanitarian.

http://www.theage.com.au/world/gentle-friendly-face-of-indonesia-and-islam-20100101-lluu.html

 

 

The Australian

Australia owes a debt of gratitude to Indonesia's accidental president

AUSTRALIA lost one of its best friends in Southeast Asia with the passing of former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid on Wednesday. A controversial figure, particularly as president, Wahid was nevertheless loved and admired by tens of millions.

Most Australians who worked closely with Indonesia in the latter part of the Suharto period and the transitional years that followed Suharto's May 1998 resignation felt deep affection for Wahid. This was consolidated by his state visit to Australia in June 2001, in the last days of his presidency. Although by this time it seemed almost inevitable that he would be voted out of office by Indonesia's newly bellicose parliament, as indeed did happen a month later, his visit, the first by an Indonesian president since 1972, was widely regarded as a great success.

Like his presidency, the visit was big on symbolism and genuine sentiment rather than policy substance. It was hardly his first visit as he was a regular guest of Australian universities and other institutions where he had been admired for decades as a progressive Islamic intellectual and as one of Indonesia's leading dissidents. He had many close friends in Australia and genuinely liked Australians for their informal demeanor and their engagement with the region. He disliked pretension, appreciated good humour, particularly when it was self-deprecating, and admired frankness.

His state visit was largely organised informally by a small group of people close to him, including his second daughter, Yenny, who functioned as his chief of staff. At the time of his election, relations between Indonesia and Australia had gone through one of the most difficult periods following the referendum in East Timor.

Wahid himself, although one of Indonesia's leading advocates of human rights and critics of the Indonesian military, and widely regarded for his outspoken defence of Indonesia's minority communities, did not have a clear understanding of the extent of military-backed militia violence in East Timor at the time the referendum and the culpability of the Indonesian military leadership. He only came to a full understanding on this issue through the intervention of Yenny, who remained in Dili throughout the period of the referendum working as a journalist for the Fairfax press. As an Indonesian, she was one of the few journalists able to remain behind and from her vantage point staying at the military barracks witnessed the incredible violence that occurred. It was her reports to her father in the weeks after her return that persuaded him of the enormity of what happened. This led to him making a state visit to Dili on February 29, 2000, during which he stopped to lay a wreath at the Santa Cruz cemetery (site of the infamous massacre of 1991 that led to the US government severing its ties with the Indonesian military) and then on to the central town square, where he stood on a podium alongside Xanana Gusmao to apologise to the people of East Timor for the sins of his people against them. Needless to say, this won him no favours with the Indonesian military, just as his sacking of army chief Wiranto on account of the referendum violence served to further consolidate opposition among the generals.

Wahid had been elected as a direct result of Habibie's forced withdrawal of candidature in the wake of the East Timor referendum and a concerted effort to block the ascension of Megawati Sukarnoputri. It was expected that he would be a weak president, and have to strike deals with both the generals and the political elite. His refusal to do deals set him up for confrontation with the powerful forces of the former regime. In this respect, the Wahid presidency resembled the Habibie presidency. Both men were non-politicians who became accidental presidents. And both men proved to be romantic idealists.

Wahid, like Habibie, is best understood as a transitional president. Judged as a regular president he was a failure but when understood in the context of his transitional role, he can be seen to have played a vital role in setting Indonesia on the course for reform. In May 1998, it was clear that Suharto had expected Habibie to join him in resigning. This would likely have led to someone like General Wiranto stepping in and ensuring a minimalist approach to reform. Similarly, it was Megawati who was expected to be Indonesia's first democratically elected president in October 1999 following July's parliamentary elections, the first free and fair elections in 44 years, in which her party secured a third of the popular vote. But when she did become president in July 2001, she went on to play a very passive role for the remaining three years of her term.

Unlike Wahid, who had increasingly taken an interventionist role in military reform, promoting reformist generals and confronting hardliners such as Wiranto, Megawati largely left the generals to their own devices and did very little else to advance reform. The result was that when Indonesians voted again in 2004, firstly for the members of parliament, and secondly, for the first time ever, in direct presidential elections, they deserted Megawati's party and the president herself and swung their support behind Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whom they identified as being more committed to reform.

Wahid had built upon some of the policy reforms of Habibie but his lasting contribution was not so much in the nuts and bolts of political reform, where he found himself stymied by the newly energised legislature, as in the raising of expectations. Under the transitional presidencies of Habibie and Wahid, Indonesians came to expect freedom of the press, transparency and accountability from both the president and the government, greater autonomy for provincial and district governments and the withdrawal of the military from political life.

They came to appreciate the way in which Wahid tried to use non-violent means to end the long-running separatist conflict in Aceh and the simmering unrest in Papua. Most could see that he was working earnestly to end the sectarian violence in Ambon that had cost the lives of thousands.

Indonesia's Chinese community, in particular, is in deep mourning for the man they felt did more than any other leader to address the wrongs against them and to rehabilitate them. 

In the end, though, Wahid's presidential style was simply not presidential. As one of the leading voices to confront Suharto during the 1990s, he learned how to use unpredictable tactics to good advantage against the regime. He was an agile and clever streetfighter but this style served him poorly in office. The ancien regime was still very wealthy and incredibly powerful and actively used the media to undermine the credibility of the president. A divided and rather naive civil society community gave him little support and made it easy to set public opinion against this unorthodox leader.

Many foreign diplomats found this frustrating. Some had deep respect for Wahid but felt he was wasting his opportunities. Others never really understood him and saw him as erratic. But many recognised the was courageously taking on an impossible job and doing his best to achieve something before the inevitable occurred and he was removed from office.

From this perspective, the great strengths of both Habibie and Wahid as accidental presidents was precisely that they were not bound by conventional rational calculations about the limits of their scarce political capital. Had they behaved as professional politicians, they would have done much less and likely survived much longer, but it's also very likely that Indonesia's transition to democracy would not have succeeded as it has today.

Yudhoyono is widely respected, and for good reason, but the social base that has given him the legitimacy and authority that he enjoys was established by these transitional leaders. He perhaps more than anyone recognises the contribution Wahid made in establishing social foundations for democratic transition. As a former general himself and as co-ordinating minister for political and security affairs under Wahid, he well understands the courageous nature of Wahid's engagement with military hardliners and his boldness in pushing for reform.

It was in all of these things that Wahid was a great friend to Australia. It has been very much to Australia's interests that Indonesia has succeeded in its transition to democracy, though much remains to be done, and both nations owe a debt of gratitude to this accidental president.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/australia-owes-a-debt-of-gratitude-to-indonesias-accidental-president/story-e6frg6zo-1225815349482

 

 

 

 

 

Print article only

0 Comments:

« Home