Monday, March 31, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor, Leiden, the Netherlands

Making a switch from geology to Asian studies may not be the conventional path for an academic to take, but a fascination with Indonesian politics was enough for Gerry van Klinken.

Now a research fellow with the 157-year-old KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies) in Leiden, van Klinken describes the move as "a big shift".

Over ten years of teaching physics at universities in Malaysia and Indonesia, his passion for Asian culture and politics, and particularly Indonesia where he spent his early childhood, grew.

So he decided to pursue a PhD in Indonesian history at Griffith University in Australia, which he completed in 1996. Since then he has taught and conducted research at universities in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Yogyakarta and now Leiden.

From 1998 he became a frequent media commentator on Indonesian current affairs.

Born in the eastern part of the Netherlands in 1952, van Klinken spent his early childhood in Doom, a small island of Sorong in what is now known as West Papua, after his family moved there in 1956.

His father was a police officer who trained would-be Papuan officers, though he accepted the role more for his enthusiasm to explore the then Dutch colony.

The family moved back to the Netherlands in 1962, three years before West Papua's integration into the newly independent Indonesia.

"But like any other Dutch family who had spent time in Indonesia, we found the Netherlands too small and too cold," the self-effacing scholar said.

His family decided to move to Australia where they found open space and nicer weather. To earn a living, his father became a businessman.

It was in Australia that van Klinken met Helene, who he married in 1976. The couple now have two grown up children, Ben and Rosie.

During the early years of their marriage, van Klinken and his wife talked about making a trip to Indonesia, the country that thrilled him with childhood memories.

So they departed for Indonesia, learnt Indonesian in Salatiga, Central Java, and made a trip through the archipelago as hippies in 1977.

After receiving MSc in geophysics from Macquarie University in Sydney in 1978, van Klinkan aspired to teach at universities in Indonesia.

However, since no jobs were available, he moved to Malaysia in 1979 and taught physics at universities for three years before moving back to Indonesia to teach physics at Satyawacana University, Central Java, in 1984 for seven years.

It was during this period van Klinken mingled with Indonesian intellectuals such as George Junus Aditjondoro, Arief Budiman, Ariel Heryanto and student activists like Stanley Adi Prasetya and Andreas Harsono, who gradually bolstered his passion for Indonesian politics.

Van Klinken witnessed and involved himself in a new generation of student activism at the time of the controversial development of a dam in Kedungombo, Central Java -- a New Order development disaster that became a research topic for George Junus Aditjondro's PhD dissertation.

"But it was the late Herbert Feith who really excited me about Indonesian study and influenced me seriously to switch to this area of study," van Klinken said.

Herbert Feith was an Australian academic whose work on Indonesia was greatly referred to by many scholars.

Van Klinken completed his PhD in Indonesian history from Griffith University with a dissertation on political biographies of three Indonesian Christian figures, Amir Syarifuddin, Kasimo and Sam Ratulangi.

He later became editor of the Australian quarterly magazine Inside Indonesia (1996-2002), publishing stories on the people of Indonesia, their culture, politics, economy and environment.

From 1999 to 2002 van Klinken became resident director in Yogyakarta for the Australian Consortium of In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS).

The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) also recruited him as research advisor from 2002 to 2004.

"Basically since 1998, I have been working on contemporary Indonesia. Ethnic and religious conflicts are really a new chapter in Indonesian history," he said, referring to violence that engulfed some areas in Indonesia after the collapse of the New Order regime.

Van Klinken was especially disturbed by what he dubs "the silence in Jakarta" about ethnic cleansing in Central Kalimantan, where a sizable Madurese population was reportedly massacred and driven out of the territory during a terrible bloodbath with other ethnic groups in Central Kalimantan.

Madurese figures in Jakarta like Amir Santoso, Didik Rachbini and Atmonegoro tried hard to speak on behalf of the victims but to no avail, van Klinken said.

"So there was a crisis in the conception of Indonesian citizenship," he said.

The Education, Internalization, and Implementation of Pancasila (P4) program that had been enforced for decades was called into question after the collapse of the New Order.

Post-1998 also saw four streams of political changes, van Klinken said.

First was the cosmopolitan movement, where elite intellectuals like Garin Nugroho produced movies about being an Indonesian at the time of the crisis.

Second was the Islamist movement, which saw the mushrooming of Islamic-oriented political parties with narrow-minded conceptions of Indonesian citizenship.

Third was the putra daerah, or "local son", a revival of pride in local identity, which also neglected migrants that had also lived in an area for a long time, such as the Madurese in Central Kalimantan.

Fourth was the labor movement, with more worker unions established, along with a new generation of labor activists.

"Another interesting phenomenon is the revival of Indonesian-Chinese identity. Many of my Indonesian-Chinese friends began to write about their own social identities and Chinese cultural inheritance in Indonesia," van Klinken said.

He mentioned people like Ong Hok Ham, Liem Soei Liong, Andreas Susanto and Stanley Adi Prasetya.

"For example, I asked human rights activist Liem Soei Liong to present his paper on Indonesia's human rights situation for an upcoming conference on the Indonesian reformasi movement at Universiteit van Amsterdam this May, but he refused because he said he wanted to write specifically about the Chinese now," van Klinken said.

Liem Soei Liong is a co-founder and editor of the UK-based Tapol magazine, which regularly reports human rights abuses by Indonesian authorities.

Van Klinken's passion for Indonesia has also been passed on to his wife. Helene is now completing her PhD at Queensland University in Australia.

Her dissertation is about East Timorese children who were taken away to live in Indonesia.

"There were mixed motives, human and religious motives and thousands of East Timorese children (were involved)," he said.

There was also evidence that an emotional bond developed between Indonesian soldiers and Timorese youths during the Indonesian occupation.

Back then many East Timorese youths were employed by the Indonesian army as Tenaga Bantuan Operasi (TBO) or Operational Force Assistants.

Van Klinken said Alfredo Reinado, an East Timorese military renegade and rebels' leader who was killed during a recent failed coup in East Timor, was one such example.

In May 2006, Reinado led a revolt against the government after its controversial dismissal of 600 soldiers in the newly independent country.

Back then the young Reinado was a TBO and was taken to Indonesia by a soldier he had become close to.

"But the soldier's family mistreated him as they considered him to be a burden, as they already had children to raise," van Klinken said.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


First published in The Jakarta Post, Thursday, March 27, 2008


Alpha Amirrachman, Amsterdam

The debate on whether or not right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders should release the anti-Koran movie has taken a new twist recently, as a prominent Dutch Jewish figure, Harry de Winter, says Wilders' statements are on the same level as anti-Semitism.

Wilders had earlier suggested Muslims should "tear out half of the Koran if they wished to stay in the Netherlands" because it contained "terrible things".

But de Winter said, "If you read the Old Testament (the Jewish Thora) then you also find texts about hatred of homosexuals, hatred of women and the murdering of non-Jewish preachers."

Moroccan Muslims strongly felt there were double standards in Wilders' stand, Fouad Sidali of the Cooperative Organization of Moroccans in the Netherlands told Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Sidali also said he was relieved to hear de Winter's statement.

As many as 6,800 Dutch people have signed a petition to show the world that Wilders and his forthcoming film Fitna do not express the views of everyone in Holland (

The debate, which has enormously polarized Dutch society, provides us with some appealing lessons.

First, this is an issue of Dutch multiculturalism and is really a Dutch thing where local social, economic and political crises and subsequent intrigues were pulled beyond the boundary, becoming an unnecessary but inevitably international issue.

There is a popular perception that the large incursion of Muslim migrants, mostly from Morocco, have caused serious social and economic problems for the broader Dutch community.

The migrants are perceived to be unable to assimilate into Dutch society.

Some sections within indigenous Dutch society fear the presence of these one million

Muslims may endanger the very core of their liberal democratic tradition, particularly amid the rise of Islamic terrorism.

Second, this relates to the issue of freedom of expression. In Dutch history the freedom of expression extends back to the Dutch 'Golden Age' where after the Union of Utrecht in 1579, the freedom of conscience (a principle that no one can be persecuted for his reasons of religion) was officially assured by the United Provinces of Netherlands.

Some within Dutch society seem to have become so obsessed with the freedom of expression, and the always blurred limit of this freedom has been delicately tested. The recent brouhaha over the Wilders' movie-to-be proves this fragility.

In a multicultural society where norms vary, the limits of freedom become very subtle because the freedom is relatively limited by the freedom of others; shared wisdom, through an unremitting and civilized dialog are thus needed for the sake of the freedom itself.

Such dialog is required where one narrow-minded Dutch politician tries to internationalize a local crisis (which seems to be cracking the Dutch multicultural society) and plays the card that the Netherlands' long-cherished freedom is under threat from "uncivilized" Muslim immigrants.

For the Dutch multicultural society, the crisis seems to have spiraled out of control, with migrants suffering the entire blame. Some even say it has (even) gone beyond the issue of multiculturalism and has become an issue of "political correctness".

Wilders is just a politician of the day who wants others to fall into his short-lived political game.

So, if there is any violent verbal reaction from Indonesian Muslims as to whether the movie should be released, this would only strengthen Wilders' belief that Muslims are unable to articulate their cause in a cultured manner.

Freedom of expression (which Indonesia also values highly) would just be wasted if it is filled with mere empty condemnations and self-denial slogans or statement. It should be used in the way the Jewish Dutch leader de Winter did.

The fact that de Winter jumped into the crowd, criticizing Wilders by revealing the perceived weaknesses of his own holy book, shows that in a democracy even Jews can show solidarity in defense of Dutch Muslims.

It is, therefore, an opportunity and moral obligation for Indonesian Muslims to articulate to the world that the perceived intolerant elements of the Koran should be understood using a historical and contextual prism.

In a nutshell, the contextual interpretation of the Koran should be well expressed to the world and, equally importantly, the peaceful paradigm must be realized in Muslim deeds in tandem with inter-cultural and inter-religious dialog.

Only then will Muslims secure a place in this increasingly crowded world, without having to fall into the wild game of a local opportunistic politician in one particular country.