Indonesia and the legacy of US imperialist interference
Nearly seventy years of Australian and Indonesian diplomacy has proven problematic for Canberra. Recent developments in Indonesia, resting upon the legacy of decades of political turbulence and interference, continue to give cause for alarm for both Australian and Indonesian progressive forces.
It is highly likely diplomatic relations will be further strained in coming months with the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism. There is also the likelihood of greater repression within Indonesia as Islamic groups increasingly enter the political arena to confront democratic forces. There is little ambiguity with the intended outcome.
A recent reading of a nineteen-year-old poem, Ibu Indonesia (Mother Indonesia), by Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of founding Indonesian President Sukarno, at a fashion event which led to demands for her to be tried for blasphemy by hard-line Islamic groups has raised the very real problem of repression in the country. Some of the contentious lines in her poem include, as translated to English:
I don’t know Islamic sharia
But I know Mother Indonesia’s konde saree is very beautiful
Prettier than your face veil
I don’t know Islamic sharia
But I know Mother Indonesia’s ballad, it’s so very elegant
More soothing than your azan (Islamic call to prayer)
The development has followed the targeting of former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja 'Ahok' Purnana, an ethnic Chinese Christian, who was jailed last year for blasphemy. There is a great deal more to the two cases than meets the eye: Islamic forces seek to capitalise on their demands and push Indonesia closer to harder line agendas. They have now also targeted the daughter of a political leader who established Indonesia as a pluralist state, leaving little ambiguity about their real agendas.
A central part of the political standpoint of the former Sukarno administration was the policy of NASAKOM, a balancing of the military with political Islam and Communism in a 'guided democracy'. Sukarno was politically progressive: a committed Socialist and anti-imperialist. He was also a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement of recently independent countries at the United Nations, a body which supported progressive forces and national liberation movements in what is now the developing world.
From the independence from Holland in 1949, to its demise in 1965 by military coup, the administrations of President Sukarno presented Australia with a problem; at the height of the Cold War, Indonesia developed favourable diplomatic relations with the Socialist bloc, including China, and had one of the largest Communist parties in the world.
Much of the US-led attempt to undermine and destabilise the Sukarno administration included Australian involvement. A CIA operation to destabilise Sumatra in 1958, for example, included direct support from Canberra. (1) There are numerous other examples. (2) Some were conducted with professional military planning and an official stamp. Others were not so professional 'jobs', either with planning or implementation.
A CIA plan to destabilise Sukarno in the eyes of his supporters in the late 1950s included the making of a hard-core pornographic film with the male intended to look like Sukarno, who was renowned for possessing a healthy libido. The outcome, however, was described by a CIA officer, Joe Smith, as a 'grainy and gamey exposition of genital activity between what looked like a Mexican man and a seedy-looking woman'. (3) The legacy to the present day was a massive reaction and what can only be described as the later formation of an Indonesian sex-police aimed at regulating and restricting normal sexual behaviour by those of questionable standing. Indonesia has highly restrictive and repressive laws about sexual encounters.
The Indonesian coup, which took place under US tutelage, resolved part of the problem for the west. It removed the Communist section of NASAKOM, strengthening the remaining two parts to serve the interests of finance capital and the US. The legacy remains to the present day.
The CIA blueprint, Plan Jakarta, was also used as 'a model to be applied throughout the Third World'. (4) It has been suggested from informed sources the CIA plan was used extensively in Chile with the destabilisation of the Allende administration and coup in September, 1973. (5)
It is also important to note decision-makers in Canberra kept quiet as between 400,000 and one million Indonesian people of left-wing political persuasions and innocent ethnic Chinese were murdered. It is thought the figure of those killed might be as high as three million. (6) It is important to note the Australian diplomatic response to Indonesian atrocities, likewise, has remained appallingly consistent to the present day. Genocidal policies, formulated in Jakarta and implemented in East Timor and West Papua, were cast aside in Canberra with flourishing fountain pen signatures on official diplomatic documents for joint military exercises and corporate deals.
Large numbers of those Sukarno supporters who survived the coup were either forced underground or into exile. Both groups were routinely spied on by Indonesian agents linked to the rising Suharto regime with an appalling record of human rights abuses, largely ignored by western countries. Indonesia, for all intents and purposes, became a police state; the legacy of which remains, in part, to the present day.
Moves toward a more open and democratic Indonesia in the late 1990s have proved problematic; the country has a highly authoritarian past, which served 'US interests'. A trade union movement has, nevertheless, emerged although democratic rights for ordinary working people both in civil society and their workplaces has remained extremely limited. Those associated with the trade union movement live in fear of the return of government repression.
Australia, historically, has sought favourable diplomatic relations with Indonesia for a variety of reasons including the Defence of Australia doctrine which has required countries to the north acting as buffers with compliant governments with military planning to deal with the threat of invasion. Indonesia was also used as a training ground for Australian government officials. It is highly significant to note rising Australian diplomatic personnel were usually given postings to Jakarta on their way to more prominent diplomatic and other positions within the Australian state.
Traditional Australian defence doctrines have become more important in recent times with the perceived threat of China moving within striking distance of northern shores. Recent developments in Indonesia have, therefore, come at a particularly difficult time for decision-makers in Canberra as they seek to draw Jakarta into closer diplomatic ties.
The problem of radical Islamic traditions, however, continued to cause Canberra problems, particularly in recent times. Indonesia, historically, has moderate Islamic traditions, which are now being swept aside by more militant Islamic forces and secretive, conspiratorial groups linked to Saudi Arabian Wahabist Islamic traditions. (7) The poem, Mother Indonesia, read by Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, in fact, 'lionises Indonesian culture over imported Islamic traditions such as the full-face niqab, and other aspects associated with Wahabist traditions. (8)
It is not difficult to establish a list of Indonesian Islamist organisations and the money trial, revealing US connivance through proxies and why they have become so upset about the reading of the poem, Mother Indonesia.
The Islamic Defenders Front was a key player in the anti-Ahok movement which mobilised huge number of Indonesians. They have now similarly targeted Sukmawati Sukarnoputri with mass rallies. It has been noted ten years ago such groups lurked on the mere fringes of Indonesian society. Today they are waiting to grab centre-stage of the whole country and impose Sharia practices with a polarisation of Indonesian society. (9)
Secondly, the GNPF Ulama organisation was also a central player in the anti-Ahok demonstrations and is a hard-line conservative Islamic grouping. (10) They have been active campaigning against Sukmawati Sdukarnoputri.
Finally, the so-called 212 movement was also involved with the anti-Ahok protests and provides the strategic link with Saudi Arabia. Their leader, firebrand cleric Riziez Shibab, in fact, is based in exile directing protests from Saudi Arabia. (11)
Saudi Arabia has formed part a strategic part of US military planning for decades. The secretive money trail through shadowy Wahabist connections to far-flung Jihadist groups has been well documented to serve 'US interests'. (12) They have now targeted Indonesia, at a time when large numbers of Saudi-funded jihadists are returning to their countries of origin, including Indonesia, after active service in Iraq and Syria. It is also significant to note jihadist activity in Indonesia in past decades has involved the burning of Christian churches and terrorising their congregations. Today the jihadists are concentrating their efforts upon so-called legitimate protests within established political arenas in the lead-up to presidential and other elections.
It is, however, the link between the grassroots Islamic groupings and their mosques with the inner workings of the Indonesian state which give serious cause for alarm both in Australia and Indonesia. Earlier this year Gatot Nurmantyo, a former military leader announced his intention to stand for the position of vice-president in forthcoming elections next year. Regarded as 'a nationalist with close Islamic ties' the former general still retains high levels of support in military circles. (13) Gatot is also regarded as 'someone who is so hostile to democratic ideals and Indonesian democratic systems' that, if elected, may be used to introduce repressive measures which will ultimately serve the interests of finance capital and the US.
And it will be ordinary working people and their democratic organisations who will bear the brunt of such policies.
1. Oyster, The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Brian Toohey and Willian Pinwill, Melbourne, 1989), page 69.
2. Ibid., page 71, page 90, page 90, page 96, page 100, page 102, page 105, page 106, page 107, page 114, page 119.
3. Ibid., page 93.
4. Ibid., page 101.
5. Ibid., page 102.
6. US Role in 1960s Indonesia Anti-Communist Massacres Revealed, AP., 19 October 2017, was written following the declassification of 30,000 files which revealed US involvement.
7. Islamists set for culture clash with Sukarno daughter, Australian, 5 April 2018.
8. Sukarno daughter in hardliners' crosshairs, Australian, 6 April 2018.
9. Sukarno kin shapes up as target of Islam's dirty political war, Weekend Sydney Morning Herald, 7-8 April 2018.
10. Former first daughter in hot water, The Age (Melbourne), 5 April 2018.
11. Australian, op.cit., 5 April 2018.
12. The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda, Andrew Gavin Marshall, September 2010, and, NEXUS, (Australia, October-November 2010), pp. 15-16.
13. Jakarta hardman throws hat in ring, Australian, 3 April 2018.