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Indonesia: Don’t burn books

Editorial Board

The Jakarta Post Jakarta   Tue January 29, 2019

On the rise: A communist symbol dominates Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Senayan, in 1965 at a massive Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) rally. (Frank Palmos/File)

JAKARTA, Indonesia – There are two reasons why a government anywhere in the world would want to ban books; it is either fear or misunderstanding. The motivation behind the Attorney General’s Office’s (AGO) decision to conduct raids on leftist books was a combination of both. 

People fear what they don’t understand and in Indonesia this fear has long been institutionalized. For more than 40 years, the specter of communism continued to haunt Indonesia and there appeared to have been no efforts to exorcise it. Despite the fact the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) was decimated in 1965, with its followers executed, sent to gulags and stripped of their political rights, throughout the duration of the New Order regime the population was indoctrinated with the idea that the PKI, communism and Marxism-Leninism continued to pose a “latent danger”.

The demise of the New Order may have dismantled the state surveillance mechanism, but the legal foundation to demonize anything leftist remains. Despite efforts to abolish it, the Provisional People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR) Decree No. XXV/1966 on the disbandment of the PKI and the prohibition of the spread of communism, Leninism and Marxism, is still in place.

It is this regulation that has justified crackdowns on anything suspected of being communist-related, from people wearing hammer-and-sickle T-shirts and screenings of documentary films delving into alternative histories of the 1965 tragedy to books, which at times have only marginally been tied to the communist coup.

One of the books confiscated by the AGO in its latest round of raids — conducted jointly with the Indonesian Military — was one titled Islam Sontoloyo (Crazy Islam), a critique of the traditional version of Islam, written by the country’s first president Sukarno. The fact that a text written by one of the country’s founding fathers that opens up a discussion on the interpretation of Islamic texts has been targeted by the authorities could only result from a misunderstanding, a colossal one.

If only officials involved in the crackdown bothered to read the contents of the books, they would find out that most of the books on their target list are in fact academic texts that are essential for students to learn about Indonesia’s history. Even for some of the most incendiary texts like Lenin’sState and Revolution, a basic understanding of current international affairs could enlighten these officials that communism has reached an impasse.

The confiscation of physical copies of leftist books has also exposed government officials’ lack of understanding about how the internet has revolutionized the distribution of printed materials. Ronny Agustinus of Marjin Kiri (Left Margin) publisher, summed it up best. “If the AGO only wants to know what the book is about they can read the reviews on the internet. Raids will be useless anyway in this digital era.”

So, unless government officials get a proper education, while the provisional MPR decree on which they base their mindless action continues to be in place, we will continue to hear about pointless book raids and book burning in the future.


From: THE JAKARTA POST (Indonesia) Tuesday January 29, 2019

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