, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 01/08/2001 7:40 AM | Opinion
Recent tension between two of Indonesia's largest religious organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, is an offshoot of long-standing differences. Mitsuo Nakamura, however, thinks incidents of violence involving the two groups are a legacy of the New Order's culture of violence.The emeritus professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology of Chiba University and veteran observer of the two organizations shared his thoughts recently at his residence in Usami, Japan, with The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba.
Question: What are the main differences between the two?
Answer: Generally speaking, differences between the two organizations are not only theological but also historical and sociological. They are deep-rooted and widespread -- not to be wiped out overnight. Islam in Indonesia -- like elsewhere in the world -- is not monolithic but diversified.
NU represents older and mainstream traditions centering on pondok pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) under the tutelage of kyai/ulama (religious leaders). Kyai/ulama are transmitters and interpreters of divine messages embodying the Muslim norms and virtues in a person exemplified by the Prophet Muhammad.
They play multiple roles as preachers, teachers, counselors, advisers, mediators, judges, and sometimes even, martial arts trainers, healers and diviners -- in short, they are spiritual and informal social leaders for the Muslim masses in rural areas.
Today there are about ten thousand pondok pesantren in Indonesia heavily concentrated in East and Central Java with many thousands of kyai/ulama. The NU is their federation. Of course, not all kyai/ulama are NU members. But they share a common sub-culture reinforced by guru-disciple relationships, marriage and family ties, as well as Sufi brotherhoods.
The Muhammadiyah movement represents a modernist challenge to NU traditions. They deny the extraordinary status of kyai/ulama and insist on returning to original sources of divine revelations, i.e. Qur'an and Hadith (words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad).
They have instituted schools after the Western model in which secular subjects are taught in addition to religious ones. These schools educate Muslim children to be adaptable to the ways of life in the modern urban world.
Over the past nine decades since its foundation in 1912, the most remarkable achievement of the Muhammadiyah movement is the establishment of schools and madrasah (religious schools), from kindergarten through to elementary and high school levels, totaling around one thousand across cities and towns, predominantly in Java and Sumatra.
On top of this huge network of schools, are located a number of universities, institutes and academies, making the Muhammadiyah school system the largest private school network in Indonesia today.
Some of the Muhammadiyah tertiary institutions set extremely high academic standards becoming as competitive as their Christian counterparts. The Muhammadiyah is a voluntary organization par excellence.
Members are individually registered at central headquarters and receive membership cards with a national serial number. The latest official information indicates that there are approximately 170,000 registered members of the Muhammadiyah. They are teachers, industrialists, traders, civil servants, and private office workers.
The organization is strictly ruled by a set of by-laws which requires frequent voting on decision-making and the election of leaders.
These differences are undeniable but not necessarily the source of conflict between the two. How and why then have these differences escalated into recent confrontation and conflict? My view is that this is exactly one of the fruits of reformation and democratization.
Today, contests for scarce resources, especially power (i.e. positions are openly fought, instead of authority from above or lobbying among the parties concerned, a common practice during the New Order days.
In this open struggle for power, political parties and other social groupings and interest groups tend to resort to the mobilization of religious affiliation or feelings of solidarity based upon religion.
Mixture of religion with mass democracy becomes explosive; unfortunately Indonesia is proving this sociological truth.
Contests for power, wealth and prestige are a fact of life. They cannot be eradicated from the earth so long as human beings remain human beings, i.e. not angels. The problem is how to manage conflicts -- contain them and resolve them at a low level of intensity so that the system does not disintegrate or degenerate into anarchy. Here the will of leaders, decision-makers, is crucial.
In the case of the Muhammadiyah and the NU there are obvious differences between them and they represent different ummat (Muslim communities). Sometimes they fight for positions -- government positions, in legislatures -- DPR, DPRD, in ministries, and even in university administrations and student unions. They fight, and I think that is normal.
The problem now is how to manage the fighting so that it does not become violent. Again what is crucial is the determination of the highest level of leadership both from Muhammadiyah as well as the NU. I am convinced that they are endowed with reason, common sense and wisdom. They are determined to prevent minor conflicts from escalating into confrontation.
But now with Gus Dur and Amien Rais at the top of national leadership, violence between the two members of the two organizations has become more violent. How did that happen?
Let me refrain from mentioning the incidents of violent confrontation supposedly occurring between members of the two organizations since I do not have first-hand information on these incidents. The only point I want to make is that the two organizations are not engaged in an all-out war to wipe out the other party. That is unlikely to happen simply because they live in different places in term of social ecology, basically in terms of rural vs. urban.
They may defend their territories but are unlikely to invade others. They do not have to fight for survival. They may fight for positions, as I mentioned before, in the framework of parliamentary democracy. But they will compromise eventually unless they want to abolish their positions or the system itself.
More generally, I would like to emphasize the negative heritage of state terrorism rampant during the New Order days which has produced a general atmosphere conducive to violence. Government terrorism under which Indonesian people suffered so long still haunts the psychology of the people.
They feel that they have the license now to resort to violence because they themselves were intimidated by state violence for many years. In revenge, and in order to seek what they would call retribution, they feel that they are now at liberty to do anything they like including rioting, looting, and lynching. That is the kind of situation in which Indonesia finds itself today.
NU has militia called Banser while Muhammadiyah does not.
The Muhammadiyah also mobilizes its own self-defense units, including Tapak Suci Silat groups, when necessary like the national congress although they are not as well established as the Banser for NU.
In fact, there are so many elements of militia in Indonesian society. Indonesian villages have a long tradition of ronda, the night watch by young men. It is a sort of self-defense organization. Until the advent of the republic, the presence of police forces in rural areas was so negligible. Self-defense bodies at village level were the main means of keeping law and order. Even after independence, government law enforcement agencies have been weak, ineffective and corrupt until today.
Ordinary people have had to defend themselves by relying on those self-defense bodies. I think that has been the general situation. The period of recent lawlessness following the fall of Soeharto regime has accentuated the presence of these self-defense units including occasional skirmishes among them.
Especially regrettable is the use (or misuse) of them by the military.
Banser and other self-defensive organizations are double edged. They have positive as well as negative roles in society. They have positive roles in terms of self-defense and self-control. The Bansers role for self-defense is understandable in the recent ninja attacks on NUs kyai ulama in East Java. Aspects of its self-control are often underestimated by many.
Banser applies discipline and self-control to NU members and supporters to prevent them from falling into disorder or resorting to violence. I saw this many times at NU congresses and during election campaigns where Banser guarded people and forcibly prevented them from instigating lawlessness.
In the absence of effective law-enforcement agencies and of basic civic manners like queuing to purchase train tickets or in receiving food distributions, the presence of a well-disciplined civil organization is essential.
I believe the key is the establishment of trust-worthy national police. But, it will take some time. Meanwhile, Banser and other civil defense or self-policing organizations have positive roles to play.
I hope the day will come in the not so distant future when Banser and its fellow organizations become purely educational and recreational. What would be the reaction of the NU in case Gus Dur loses his presidency.
I don't think he is likely to lose.
Why are you so confident that the NU, in this case PKB, will not become another Golkar?
Because of the fact that they are quite different from Golkar in terms of religious orientation. Golkar is a secular party of individuals who seek power. Basically, they want to grab power, hold to power, and make money out of power. But, NU members belief is that this life is just a preparation for the next life. So, power in this life is nothing for them.
Of course, you can utilize power in order to make life happier. This life itself is not the focus, but pursuing the eternal life is. So, this kind of religious conviction makes one less hungry for power.
Muhammadiyah is basically the same in this regard. There are several outspoken people connected with the name of Muhammadiyah. But, I do not think the Muhammadiyah itself is a power-hungry organization. There is a tradition of Muhammadiyah not to overplay their position. So, Muhammadiyah will be a watchdog of power but they will not attempt to grab power. That is my understanding.
There is a fear that Gus Dur is becoming a new dictator and uses NU, especially Banser, to fight against his opponents and political rivals?
I think that opinion is very simplistic. There is no comparison between Gus Dur and Soeharto at all in terms of dictatorial power. The very fact that Gus Dur has been criticized by some of the DPR members and by the media so severely and openly is thanks to the fruits of the reformation. The people's voice, or the voices of those who claim to capture public sentiment are well heard now.
That means that there has been a major change in the power relationship between presidency and legislature. I think it is a very good thing that people are no longer afraid of the President. You are no longer caught or punished by criticizing the President. That is a very healthy thing for it is a kind of basic element of democracy.
I don't think that Gus Dur wants to use Banser to intimidate people. Gus Dur himself was rather angry when Banser made a noisy protest against Jawa Pos.
What is the weakness of Gus Dur as president?
One thing is quite clear that he has never been trained in the management of modern bureaucracy. This is not only his personal shortcoming. The sub-culture of NU, i.e. pondok pesantren, is not conducive to modern management.
I was attending the NU's congress in Situbondo in 1984. As an anthropologist, I wanted to know the details of the event. I wanted to know how the congress was managed in terms of logistics: how many people were gathering, how many were sleeping, how many were eating there etc.
I got rough estimates. I was amazed to find that there were no records for the common kitchen to feed the people gathering there. People just came to donate goats, chickens, eggs, fish, vegetables, rice, tahu, tempe, krupuk, etc. in kind and these food items were immediately cooked up to serve people. There was no use of keeping a balance sheet -- food just came in and went out.
I believe this is a pesantren sub-culture. The culture of donation (nyumbang). The Kyai in pesantren receives money or material from people and spends it for the maintenance of pesantren or for an immediate project or event. Often there are no exact records. Only the kyai remembers and people trust him. He often does not bother or care to make records since those donations are recorded in heaven by angels.
The Kyai does not use the money for his own interests and, to begin with, there is no clearcut separation of the kyais personal household and the pesantren management. This applied to the NU management, too.
When I attended the NU's congress in Semarang for the first time in 1979, I witnessed a very interesting phenomenon. In a general session of the congress, the national treasurer was presenting a report on the NU's finance.
He reported to the participants of the congress that the money he had received thus far was enough to cover all the expenses of the organization. There were no debts nor any carry-overs. He made this brief statement verbally without presenting a balance sheet. And the participants accepted his report warmly.
It is different from the Muhammadiyah, which has very meticulous bookkeeping. During the congress, the treasurer even reported details down to the smallest unit of money sen!
Compared to the NU, financial management of the Muhammadiyah is crystal clear. It is easy to criticize sloppiness of NUs management especially in financial matters. But, it must be understood that pesantren did not need meticulous bookkeeping as it is operated on the basis of personal respect and trust upon kyai.
The NU represents a sort of center of gravity of Indonesian society. It was marginalized too much during the Soeharto era. It will take a long time for the NU to adapt to modernization in many aspects. But, if the NU fails to succeed in doing that, then success for the entire society will not be possible.