Posted by: Muhammad Wildan | 9 September 2014

Book Review: The End of Innocence? Indonesian Islam and the Temptations of Radicalism by Andrée Feillard and Rémy Madinier

The End of Innocence? Indonesian Islam and the Temptations of Radicalism [La fin de l’innocence? L’islam indonésien face à la tentation radicale de 1967 à nos jours], by Andrée Feillard and Rémy Madinier (translated into English by Wong Wee; Singapore: NUS [National University of Singapore] Press in association with IRASEC, 2011), 336 pp., ISBN: 978-9971-69-512-5, US$30.00 & S$38.00 (pb)

The basic premise of the book is that radicalism in Indonesia is not a new phenomenon. Although Islam has spread widely and peacefully in the country since the 13th century, Islamism and radicalism are significant challenges to Indonesian Islam. Islamism and radicalism have been a part of Indonesian history since its emergence as a nation-state. These phenomena have emerged in conjunction with Indonesia’s development up to the end of the 20th century. Islamism and radicalism in Indonesia have intensified with the rise of globalization over the last ten years and put pressure on Indonesian Islam.

In the book (published by NUS Press in association with IRASEC), Andrée Feillard and Rémy Madinier start with the process of indigenization of Islam in Indonesia. Beginning with the introduction of Islam to the archipelago, the authors also note the attempts by some nationalist Muslims during the first 50 years of Indonesia’s political system (collectively, the Old Order and New Order periods) to influence the political arena. Some radical activities, such as those carried out by the Darul Islam and Komando Jihad groups, are outlined in this chapter. The chapter also covers the role played in the political arena by such modernist Muslim groups as Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia (ICMI) that quite successfully put many santri (devout Muslims) in the parliament.

The strength of the book is its elaboration of the phenomena that allow radicalism to flourish. Factors that contributed to the rise of Islamism include the pressure of the government to Muslims during the early period of the New Order, the obsessive fear of Muslims with respect to the Christianization issue, the failure to integrate Chinese into Indonesian society, and the economic crises that occurred during Soeharto’s downfall. Finally, the authors describe the political climate at the end of the 1990s that triggered the emergence of Islamism activism. The reformation era ushered in a resetting of the nation-state in which many elements of society were able to participate. This situation clearly symbolizes the unfinished democratization process of shaping a new identity for Indonesia.

The authors clearly state that although Islamism has arisen largely as a result of democratization, many Islamism groups have rejected and condemned democracy. In their view, Indonesian Muslims, who comprise a majority of Indonesians, should take a leading political role in the country. Therefore, many hardliners consider democracy to be the worst kind of political system. It is worth mentioning that the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a conservative Islamic political party, recognizes the benefit of democracy in an Indonesian political system.

A shortcoming of this excellent book is that the authors do not include globalization and Western hegemony as contributory causes of radicalism in Indonesia. In my view, Indonesia is one of many countries that has struggled recently with radicalism; for example, some devastating bombings that were inspired by the 9/11 WTC bombing and allegedly attributed to Jama’ah Islamiyah (JI) were carried out by some “veterans” of Afghanistan. In addition, Imam Samudera, mastermind behind the Bali bombing, affirms in his book, Aku Melawan Teroris (I Fought against Terrorism, 2004), that his actions in Bali were an effort to seek revenge for Western hegemony over the Muslim majority countries of Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Furthermore, some radical activism during the 1980s was an outcome of the hegemonic and authoritarian government of New Order Indonesia. In this respect, I share the view of Olivier Roy (2004) who states that radical Islam is a global phenomenon shaped by local idiosyncrasies.

Another exceptional aspect of the book is that it describes in detail some phenomena of radicalism in the nation that have attracted some Indonesian Muslims. Most notable is that all of these phenomena have arisen during the reformation era. These phenomena include the emergence of the Salafī network, the re-emergence of Darul Islam, the Ngruki network and Jama’ah Islamiyah, the influence from tarbiyah of Ikhwānī, and the rise of some vigilante forces such as the Islamic Defender Front (FPI). All of the activities by these networks and groups greatly contribute to the assumption by many Indonesian observers and scholars that the country is moving in “another direction” toward radicalism or conservatism. Martin van Bruinessen (2013, et al) defines these phenomena as the “conservative turn”. Andrée Feillard and Rémy Madinier also use the term conservatism to characterize the shifting paradigm within the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI).

In my view, however, recent conservatism or Islamic radicalism in Indonesia is not part of the religious mainstream. Because Indonesia has a long history of religious tolerance and inter-religious dynamics, the growth of Islamic radicalism in the last decade has spread among a very small number of Muslims. At a glance, people may believe there is a shifting paradigm from inclusivism to exclusivism or from moderate to conservative ideology. Undeniably, the phenomena of Islamism is now quite obvious phenomenal in many aspects of life in Indonesia. Since the early 1980s, Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII) has played a significant role in spreading the ideology of Wahhābism and Salafism throughout Indonesia. Another phenomenon of conservatism is the existence lately of Peraturan Daerah Syari’ah (Islamic byelaws) in many Indonesian provinces. Moreover, some radical and violent activities, such as the Bali and Mega Kuningan bombings, also support the notion of a conservative turn.

In general, however, moderate Muslims still comprise the majority of Indonesians. It is due largely to the roles played by Nurcholish Madjid and Abdurahman Wahid (Gus Dur) in introducing tolerance and open-minded views of Islam during the New Order that Indonesian Muslims today accept democracy. On the one hand, democracy could unite many views of political Islam within a democratic system; on the other hand, it could incite the rise of diverse Islamic and radical movements. In Indonesia today, therefore, Islam is multi-dimensional and includes radical, con-servative, and moderate elements. It is now the task of civil society groups such as Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) to strengthen the acceptance of democracy among Muslims. I agree with Andrée Feillard and Rémy Madinier that radicalism is attractive to some Indonesian Muslims. Therefore, it is up to Indonesian Muslims to keep moderate Islam as their Indonesian identity.

Muhammad Wildan
State Islamic University (UIN) of Sunan Kalijaga,


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