A Fragile Nation: The Indonesian Crisis

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World Scientific, Jan 1, 1999 - History - 436 pages
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Since the fall of President Suharto in May 1998, Indonesia, the third largest country in Asia, has been facing a political, economic and social crisis. Racial and religious clashes, culminating in riots, burning and chaos, have become a daily event throughout the country. There are signs that this multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural country may disintegrate just as Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

There are two major reasons why Indonesia is facing the crisis. First, Suharto failed to keep the balance of power between the armed forces and Islam, just as Sukarno had failed in his interplay of strength between Communism and the armed forces. When the balance was tilted, chaos and disasters followed. The second reason is that the Indonesian people, at least a section of them, have lost the spirit of tolerance -- symbolised in the Indonesian state crest, Bhenneka Tunggal Ika ('Unity in Diversity') -- which is so vital in a multi-religious and plural society. The mass killing of thousands of ethnic Chinese on 13 May 1998; the appearance of mysterious 'ninja' murders, the burning of churches and mosques, and the religious clashes between Christians and Muslims in Ambon have all indicated that this spirit of tolerance which was once so strongly imbedded in the Indonesian culture is fast evaporating. There seems to be no more rule of law in the country. The cry for 'jihad' among the Muslims in Jakarta, to take revenge on the Christians in Ambon, is making the more moderate religious leaders panicky. There is a tendency among the Indonesians to take the law into their own hands. Some extreme Muslims even hope to establish an Islamic State of Indonesia.

Economically, Indonesia'scommerce and industries have been ruined, with foreign investors shunning the country. Millions of people are dying everyday from hunger. The economic situation is deteriorating everyday.

The author of this book is the former Singapore Ambassador to Indonesia in 1970-74, and was a journalist who had taken an interest in Indonesia since 1955 when he went to Bandung to cover the Afro-Asian conference. When he was Ambassador, he had the opportunity to travel widely across the country and observe the psyche of its people at close quarters. He has made many friends, from President Suharto. the military leaders, governors, mayors, down to ordinary people from all walks of life, including journalists, musicians and artists.

In this book, he gives insightful analyses and perspectives of the political collapse of Suharto and describes the danger facing the country. He also describes the diversity in the history, traditions, customs and cultures of the various ethnic groups, including Javanese mysticism, the happy-go-lucky Sundanese, the hot-tempered Madurese, the charming Balinese, the Minangkabaus who are matriarchal, the militant Bataks, the Malays who were once the founders of the Sri-Vijiya Buddhist empire, and then the Bugis, Makassarese, Torajans, Ambonese, Timorese and Irianese. The accounts are based on the author's personal impressions and reflections of his encounters with the different races.

The author is of the opinion that it is necessary for the peoples of so many ethnicities, religions and cultures to remember their national motto -- Bhenneka Tunggal -- so that the country can survive the present crisis. After all, Indonesia has 336 ethnic groups speaking 250 dialects whichreflect a staggering racial, religious and cultural diversity.

The aim of this book is to bring about a better understanding of the Indonesian peoples and to eradicate the misunderstanding and misconception about the country.


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In May 1998, President Suharto stepped down as President of Indonesia. With his fall, the third largest country in Asia has plunged into anarchy thend political, economic thend social strife. Racial ... Read full review


Why Suharto Fell
The Javanese No Temper No Emotion
The Sundanese Pioneers of Islam in Java
The Baduis The Isolationists
The Tenggerese The Staunch Hindu Devotees
The Madurese The Eternal Fire
The Balinese Face Death with a Smile
The Acehnese The Eastern Gateway to Mecca
The Orang Melayu The Malays Phoenicians of the East
The Bugis and Makassarese Cape of the Infamous Ones
The Torajans Land of the Kings
The Ambonese The Black Dutch
The Bandanese Victims of Nutmeg Massacre
The Irianese Dhanis and Biaks Living in the Stone Age
TheDayaks The Headhunters

The Timorese A People Betrayed
The Chinese Target of Economic Jealousy
The Minangkabau The Shrewd Gypsies of Indonesia
The Bataks Ferocity and Cannibalism

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