Sunday, February 26, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 26, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman,
Contributor, Jakarta

Di Balik Tragedi 1965 (Behind the 1965 Tragedy)
Yayasan Pustaka Umat.
Januari 2006. 179 pp.

Sulastomo has presented his personal account of the 1965 aborted coup in his book Di Balik Tragedi 1965 (Behind the 1965 Tragedy). As a chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Association (HMI) from 1963 to 1966, Sulastomo not only observed the transition of power from Sukarno to Soeharto, but was directly involved in the power game at a time when young Indonesia was bitterly sandwiched between two competing ideologies: communism and capitalism.

The HMI survived amid intense pressure from the PKI to disband the Muslim students' organization. Sulastomo's humble personality and his sharp mind in assessing the situation helped the organization build strategic rapport with the Army as the emerging political force.

Now Sulastomo, a physician whose clean record has never been tainted by the New Order's corrupt practices, is speaking up to challenge the theories surrounding the tragedy. He divides his red-covered book into six analyses. Analysis one, the coup was the result of internal friction within the military, particularly the Army; analysis two, it was orchestrated by Soeharto against Sukarno's leadership; analysis three, it was engineered by Sukarno; analysis four, it was a conspiracy between DN Aidit/Sukarno and Mao Ze Dong; analysis five, the CIA fueled the conflict; and lastly it was the PKI that masterminded the coup.

The first analysis he considers unacceptable because it was the Army itself that was targeted by the PKI. Indeed, there were internal rifts and the kidnappers of the generals killed were Army personnel. However, he considered the kidnappers as mere puppets who exerted little influence on others.

The second analysis is also thrown out by the writer because Soeharto was very loyal to Sukarno and was not ready to accept more authority. Soeharto's attitude reflected a Javanese saying mikul nduwur mendem jero (highlight one's good deeds and bury his bad deeds). After the 1965 aborted coup, however, people's demand for regime change intensified.

The third analysis is also not plausible because Sukarno himself was bewildered in the morning of Oct. 1, 1965 after the kidnapping of the generals. Having received the report from Brig. Gen. Supardjo -- one of the leftist military personnel -- Sukarno denounced the kidnappings. Sukarno himself was very cautious regarding the issue of the Dewan Jenderal (The Council of Generals).

The fourth analysis purports that because Sukarno's health had deteriorated there was an agreement between DN Aidit, Mao Ze Dong of China, and Sukarno that the latter "take a rest" in Swan Lake, China. Sulastomo refuted this, as it was implausible that the founding father would agree to leave behind his people in such a critical situation. Kruschev of the USSR once offered Sukarno the opportunity to "take a rest" as a government guest during the struggle to reoccupy Irian Jaya, but he refused.

The fifth analysis is also refuted. It is true that CIA intelligence officers might have played role in Indonesian politics, but credible documents show that Western countries were surprised over the "premature" coup by the PKI, which was more likely inspired by political developments in Peking (now Beijing).

The sixth analysis suggests that it was the PKI who masterminded the coup. There are several arguments purported. The PKI was strongly inspired by Peking which was at that time spreading its power throughout Asia. The "progressive" political party was also anxious that Sukarno's health was deteriorating and was concerned that if it did not seize control through a coup, the Dewan Jenderal would do so first. He added that although not all members of the Central Committee of the PKI were aware of the coup, such as Nyoto, the system within the party dictates that the PKI as an organization should bear all responsibility.

Based on his recollections and interviews with other players, including former president Soeharto and Hardoyo, the former chairman of the left-wing Concentration of Indonesian Student Movement (CGMI, a student organization affiliated with the PKI), Sulastomo defends the sixth analysis. His defense is also supported by Harry Tjan Silalahi, a former activist of the Indonesian Catholic Students Association (PMKRI), who helped campaign for the elimination of the PKI. Harry Tjan has contributed his thoughts in Sulastomo's book.

Nonetheless, during the launching of the book at Jakarta Hilton Hotel on Jan. 25, which was marked by a "PKI bashing" poetry reading by a prominent poet Taufik Ismail, the book drew criticism from Sukmawati Soekarnoputri, the daughter of Sukarno, who was among the audience. She argued that the coup was a result of bitter friction and rivalry within the Army, particularly between Soeharto and Ahmad Yani. The latter was murdered during the coup.

Understandably, the Di Balik Tragedi 1965 did not attempt to discuss how millions of ex-PKI members, sympathizers and their families were killed, tortured or discriminated against following the coup or how Sukarno was in fact was put under house arrest until his death.

Indeed, when a nation painfully reflects on past wounds, it is always advantageous to hear directly from the people involved, whatever perspectives they might hold. As noted historian Anhar Gonggong said during the book launching, the writing of history never finishes. Equally important is what human rights campaigner Salahudin Wahid said that truthful reconciliation is what this nation badly needs to heal its wounds. Jakarta Feb. 1, 2006.

The reviewer is a lecturer at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University and a researcher at the International Center for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP).

Friday, February 24, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 25, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman, Serang, Banten

The National Education Standardization Agency (BSNP) is reportedly planning to overhaul the much-criticized Competency-based Curriculum (CBC), which was introduced only in 2004, because of the yawning gap between its "ideal" and the very reality of our education system's condition.

Among the perceived problems is that the existing curriculum contains more subjects than the preceding one. This has resulted in more work for both teachers and students, while the CBC strangely emphasizes "process", which requires flexibility and creativity during the learning process.

Moreover, the definition of competency is never clear. Compounded by its complicated indicators of the subject content, the curriculum looks more like a maze than an effective guideline.

Likewise, except in a few top schools that participated in the pilot projects, most teachers and students could not live up to the CBC demands. Many teachers are still trapped in the old paradigm of one-way-traffic communication and most students are also trapped, preferring to wait for direct and detailed instructions.

This country has so far changed its curriculum seven times, but education quality remains grossly low and the country is forced to languish as a backwater among its neighbors. Education fails not only to bridge the education and industry sector, but more crucially to build intellectual and emotional aspects of humans - as evidenced by the many, many student brawls and communal conflicts.

What is wrong with our education and its curriculum development? It is hard to answer in a simple way as it requires a holistic approach to answer and there are, indeed, interwoven factors. But in order to identify its possible weaknesses, it is important to locate the issue of orientation in our curriculum development which, I would argue, seems acutely lacking.

Principally, according to Elliot W. Eisner and Elizabeth Vallance in their edited book Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum, there are five curricular orientations.

First, curriculum as the development of cognitive processes highlights the importance of "the inclusion of materials and activities associated with processes and aimed at learning objectives related to learner's abilities to solve problems, think and become independent in the pursuit of understanding the world about them".

Accordingly, this means more emphasis on the process and connection between cognitive aspects and useful practicality that will help students appreciate their life, something that is clearly missing in our education, particularly given the controversial National Exam, which merely seems to emphasize output rather than process and excessively highlights cognitive aspects without enough attempts to relate them to affective and psychomotoric aspects.

Second, technology should not be seen merely as a "hardware". Therefore, the crucial element in technology is the measures and techniques of instruction and their related methodical knowledge.

In the face of the inadequate "hardware" facilities, this paradigm breaks the "lazy perception" that now teachers should be mainly assisted by advanced gadgets, which are non-existent in most schools across the country. Technology here is seen more as a "technique" of teachers to creatively make use of whatever facilities are around them.

Third, curriculum should have the spirit of learning creatively with "faith and reverence" through exercising responsible freedom, searching for the fullness of disciplined understanding and participating in unremitting dialogic query. This means the curriculum should encourage students to experience "transcendental" processes in learning activities.

Fourth, curriculum should be designed to support perceptions of social reconstruction that see schooling as an agent of social change, and which is relevant to the interests of both students and societies. As such, curriculum should help students grasp problems of larger societies from where their personal problems have stemmed from.

Fifth, curriculum as an academic rationale is to encourage students to be grateful for the works that comprise the diverse intellectual and inventive disciplines, but proposes that the emphasis is put not on topics or subjects but forms of thoughts.

In this case, academic rationalism does not merely mean multiplying the number of subjects in the curriculum (and making it as thick as possible!), but categorizing them in the form of thoughts that students can easily comprehend.

A curriculum might contain the five key interrelated orientations; however, it should have an emphasis as to avoid the "clash" or the excessiveness, which might instead blur its objective.

I do not mean to praise certain aspects at the expense of others, but against the backdrop of the situation where moral degradation, intolerance and dehumanization seem so pervasive, I just cannot agree more to an argument advanced by a noted education expert, Michael Apple, that what we need is not merely a "functional" literacy, but a "critical" literacy which "enables the growth of genuine understanding and control of all of the spheres of social life in which we participate."

Above all, nonetheless, whatever curriculum orientation or its combination is chosen, it inevitably needs open-minded teachers as the public engages intellectuals who are well-trained and are liberated from the old paradigm. Without this, we will remain abhorrently ensnared in our imprudent trial-and-error experiment in curriculum development.

The writer is a lecturer at the school of education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten and a researcher at ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism). His published essays can be read at

Monday, February 06, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 5, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Serang, Banten

In this era of global capitalism, materialism has rigorously marginalized the value of humanity. In education, for example, subjects that are perceived to be able to broaden one's knowledge and skills to survive in the era, such as economics, have become the darling among many students.

Education is now merely taken for jobs -- for money -- and no longer for molding character by instilling values such as honesty, sensitivity and tolerance. Other social sciences that are somewhat considered to be "less money-oriented", such as Indonesian literature, are increasingly marginalized.

"So we need to break this `literature deadlock'," argued Wan Anwar, head of the Literature and Bahasa Indonesia Department of the Faculty of Education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University (Untirta) in Serang, Banten.

The department conducted a one-day seminar called "Enhancing the Quality of Literature and Bahasa Indonesia Teaching at School" on December 17, 2005.

While it was open to the public, the seminar attracted many schoolteachers, particularly from Banten province, as it aimed to explore an enjoyable but effective way of learning and teaching literature at school.

Guest speakers of the seminar were Riris Sarumpaet, an Indonesian literature professor from the University of Indonesia, Abdul Chaer, an expert on teaching Bahasa Indonesia from Jakarta State University (UNJ), and Ahmadun Y. Herfanda, a Jakarta-based poet whose poetry and short stories have been widely published in the national media.

Riris, who is also chairwoman of the Association of Scholars of Indonesian Literature (HISKI), lamented that many Bahasa Indonesia teachers needed to respect the profession that they had chosen for themselves, and should not lose their zest for teaching literature. Riris urged that the teachers "re-internalize" literature.

"How many of you cry when you read a heart-breaking poem? How many of you really urge your students to appreciate literature and explore the depths of its meaning?" she challenged the overwhelmed audience.

Meanwhile Abdul Chaer, a prolific writer of books on linguistics, shared his long-time experience in teaching Bahasa Indonesia. He specifically defined literature as a "language phenomenon" that has received appreciation around the world, but not so much in this country. He shared the theoretical and academic aspects of teaching literature, and also practical know-how to tackle potential problems in class.

Ahmadun Y. Herfanda, drawing upon his creative experience as a poet, said expectations were high that the study of literature would not merely end with a mastery of literary theory, but also with a sufficient degree of writing skills. Succumbing to the audience's enthusiasm, Ahmadun eventually read a few of his poems in his usual, unique aura of spirituality.

Perhaps because of this encouraging atmosphere, several participating teachers began to stand and address questions to the speakers, while others read their own poems to the applause of their colleagues.

More notably, the participants appeared delighted that the seminar also marked the inauguration of the Banten branch of HISKI. HISKI Banten is headed by Untirta's Chussaery and Yudi Juniardi as, respectively, chairman and secretary.

Untirta is very much aware of the problems faced by teachers -- particularly literature teachers -- ranging from conflicting government policies to insufficient facilities and to low salaries.

It is because of this that the department has initiated regular activities to promote literature awareness among HISKI students, such as the bimonthly "Afternoon Appreciation" program, which that involve students to encourage them to appreciate literature through reading, writing and performing plays.

The program has invited many figures from the literary and cultural communities, including: Jakarta-based poet Jamal D. Rahman, Yogyakarta-based short story writer Joni Ariadinata, Tangerang-based short story writer Khusnul Khuluqy, Bandung-based drama actor Ayi Kurnia Iskandar, Bandung-based actor Wawan Sofwan, Bandung-based novelist Dewi Sartika, Jakarta-based poet Dodi Ahmad Fawdzy and Chaedar Alwasilah, a professor of English at Indonesian Education University of Bandung (UPI).

The program was also marked by the launch of a book by several Aceh-based poets titled 8.9 Skala Richter, Lalu Tsunami (8.9 on the Richter scale, then the tsunami).

For 2006, it plans to invite Taufiq Ismail, a senior man of letters, novelist Gola Gong and Lampung-based poet Isbedy Setiawan, who has earned the title of "the pope of Indonesian literature".

Poet Wan Anwar, who is also an editor of national literary magazine Horison, cannot agree more with Riris that during the contemporary era, in which moral degradation is so pervasive and corruptors rule this country, "people in the literary community can come to the fore as a moral force by sharing with our students the spirit of humanity, the values of which are abundant in the world of literature".

But he also stressed that "we need earnest cooperation from all concerned parties to make this possible -- to make literature an enjoyable and meaningful subject at school".

The writer is a lecturer of the Faculty of Education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University, and also contributes opinion pieces to The Jakarta Post.