May 1998 Jakarta Riots

May 16th, 2008, in IM Posts, Opinion, by

Spew looks back on the May 1998 riots and the issues of mass rapes, anti-Chinese sentiment, and how the rioters came to be judged.

It has been a decade since Reformasi (reform) movement took place in Indonesia that succeeded in forcing Suharto to step down. Every year after the movement, media and political and social analysts reflect on what has happened and has been happening since Suharto was ousted. Since reform is the grand theme, these reflections therefore highlight the progress of reform in Indonesia. Although many topics can be written regarding reformasi in Indonesia only democracy and political reforms are arguably having much more attention than other issues.

Having said this, I would like to shift the focus away from political reforms and democracy and reflect on the riots that took place in Indonesia. The riots shocked the international community and may have changed their views on the Indonesian people. To some extent, the riots may have confirmed the wide representation of Indonesian people as having an amok culture. The friendly, hospitable, and inclusive attitude can suddenly turn into vicious, violent, and barbaric acts. When one of the Bali Bombing perpetrators Amrozi had his picture taken in foreign media, people bewildered with his smile: how can he smile after killing innocent people? There seems no other alternative to explain this perplexing phenomenon but put it into a cultural category box called amok.

Not long after the riots which took place in Solo, Medan, Jakarta, and Surabaya, Indonesians were shocked to know that many people were burnt to death in malls and shopping centres. The government, however, labelled them looters. Quoting the government, media outlets played an important role in perpetuating the representation of people who were burnt to death in malls. In their headlines, looters emerged as a product of discourse on representation of poor people in Indonesia. Labelling them looters instead of victims will impact on how big was the state's responsibility for the dead people. Looters can be equated with criminals and with their deaths, the state should not be responsible for dealing with criminals.

Labelling them looters also denies the history of well-being of the poor in Indonesia. These "looters" are victims of structural violence stemming from unfair economic development. According to a report released by Jakarta based non-governmental organisation, Volunteer Team for Humanity, the total death toll was about 1200 people Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta Kerusuhan 13-15 Mei 1998 (TGPF), Laporan Akhir Kerusuhan 13-15 Mei 1998, Jakarta, 23 Oktober 1998. available from:,
[Accessed at 8 May 2008]
. The majority of the dead were those who were trapped in the burning shopping centres.

What made the riot gaining more attention, however, was the rape of the Indonesian Chinese. The stories of rapes appeared publicly not long after the news of more than a thousand deaths in malls emerged. It was Jakarta based NGO, Volunteer Team for Humanity (Tim Relawan untuk Kemanusiaan-TRuK) that brought up the issue about the rapes. According to their report, hundreds of Chinese women were gangraped. Human Rights Watch, Indonesia: The Damaging Debate on Rapes of Ethnic Chinese Women, 1 September 1999, available from:, [Accessed at 10
May 2008].
Yet, this appalling news did not immediately receive sympathetic gestures. In fact, doubts were voiced publicly as to whether the rapes indeed had taken place.

In response to the rapes issue, the Indonesian Minister of Women’s Affair Tutty Alawiyah, for instance, contested the data provided by TRuK and asked for concrete proof regarding the mass rape. Karen Strassler, “Gendered Visibilities and the Dream of Transparency: The Chinese-Indonesian Rape Debate in Post-Suharto Indonesia”, Gender & History, Vol.16 No.3 November 2004, pp. 689–725. Similarly, Roesmanhadi the Chief of the Indonesian Police contended that the failure of providing "concrete data" meant that NGOs could be charged with disseminating lies. Ibid.

Responding to the furore over mass rapes as well as international pressure to deal with these rapes the Indonesian government formed a joint fact finding commission (Tim Gabungan Pencari Fakta Kerusuhan Mei 13-15) in which government and NGO were expected to work together to solve this puzzle. Although working within a strict time constraint, this commission finally completed its report and suggested that the riot was a result of political tension at elite level and worsening economic condition. The report, however, did not draw a conclusion that mass rapes were systematic violence but only confirmed that such acts happened simultaneously with the riot and that among those rapes were some that were carried out with particular purposes. TGPF, ‘Laporan Akhir’. For more discussion on TGPF, Jemma Purdey provides an excellent account on the dynamic within the fact finding commission. See, Jemma Purdey, ‘Problematizing the Place of Victims in Reformasi Indonesia: A Contested Truth about The May 1998 Violence’, Asian Survey, Vol. 42, No. 4, The Legacy of Violence in Indonesia, (Jul-Aug, 2002), pp. 605-622.

The raging debate over the mass rapes seemed to impact on the representation of the riots. Once the stories of rapes unfolded, discourse on rapes submerged the other gloomy stories such as those who were burnt to death in the shopping centres. During that time, "anti-Chinese" became a lexicon that is often used to understand the riots.

Indeed, anti-Chinese sentiment was played up at that time. But one should bear in mind that political marginalisation towards Chinese people throughout Indonesian history may have contributed to Indonesian peoples’ understanding of their identities. Anti-Chinese sentiments, in this respect were constructed in order to lay foundation of what constituted Indonesia or pribumi. When the riots took place, the anti-Chinese sentiments were played up in order to represent the violence as something natural which stemmed from the tension between pribumi and non-pribumi.

In other words, these urban poor were dead when they would like to loot things from Chinese stores. And the rapes were merely manifestation of frustration derived from imbalance economic status between Chinese and non-Chinese.

As one crucial element to understand violence are the victims, the existence of victims who died in shopping malls and Chinese victims could help us to deconstruct the representations of May 1998 violence. Yet, in doing so we should not be differentiating them based on racial lines as this will only perpetuate the New Order logic. What we should look at regarding the May violence is that race can be a powerful discourse in producing the knowledge of that violence. Only radical understanding of victims of May Riots which weighs much on the interrogation of dominant discourse may lead to a better comprehension on what happened in those three days of atrocities.

137 Comments on “May 1998 Jakarta Riots”

  1. avatar kinch says:

    Re Naipaul: I stand possibly corrected. According to Wikipedia he’s been saying nice things about Hindutva. If so, then should be locked up in the communal crapper for a week without a bar of soap in sight.

  2. avatar spew-it-all says:


    Interesting that your Indonesian friend maintained that amok did indeed exist. I am against any idea of cultural categorisation as it happens to malay and amok. Holligans do not get labelled ”running amuk” although they may show similar behaviour to bonek. If one educated Indonesian told you that amuk does not exist, would you whisper–could he be right?

    If amuk is adequate to explain what happened in May 1998 and any violence in Indonesia, then we should not be worried about building peace and democracy for Indonesians. Well, it is pointless, isnt it? Indonesians and their cultural-bound syndrome will stuff it up again.

    In Javanese colloquialism, kung-fu movies are often called ‘Cina Ngamuk’. I presume the expression is used to describe a state or an act rather than cultural identity.

    I was wondering, though, why discussion has moved away from May Riots to VS Naipaul. I was expecting to have a discussion on the topics i.e was the significant of TGPF report? Is the stereotype telling the truth about the Chinese? What is the impact on the idea of Indonesia, if violence like May 1998 and others haven’t been solved?

  3. avatar Marisa says:

    Since the debate is a bit strayed off topic and some might find it confusing, allow me to pull out few important excerpts:

    Although these unspeakable acts were as you say ‘a manifestation of frustration derived from imbalance economic status between Chinese and non-Chinese.’ it really is not an excuse and certainly don’t make it right.

    I agree with kinch on most things but especially on his last paragraph about the Chinese. The fact is, we are all Indonesians, but more important we are all human. The atrocities committed in the May riots are acts of animals, there is no excuse and it should never happen again, to anyone.

    Secondly, the riots are often seen as a culmination of tension between pribumi and non-pribumi. It’s naturally anti-Chinese violence that occured during the transition period. Again, is that really true? If there is an intense hostility toward Chinese people why did violence break out spontaneously in several cities? Coincidence seems inadequate to explain this phenomenon.

    ..and the interpretation of the 1998 riots as a simple expression of “frustration”, prompted largely by economic inequality between “pribumi” and Chinese is at best far too simplistic, and at worst completely inaccurate… right?

    In Indonesia’a case, I am unsure who started the whole riot thing rolling. Before the riots started, I was told, singaporeeans stayed away from indonesia, and some of them were airlifted out including from places like Pekan baru, with some local elite chinese, by their armed forces.(cannot be verified)

    aftermath of the riots, indonesians were forced to sell their assets for peanuts, incluidng those owned by the govenrment and local chinese businesses as part of IMF bailouts. The biggest investors in indonesia presently just happens to be singapore government.

    Was there foreign power involved in the riots? If not, then which local warlord benefitted from the riots.

    on 19 May 2008, the Channel News Asia will present ‘the unfinish reformasi of Indonesia’ from May 98 to May 2008.
    In Indonesia ? after 1 decade away, people are silent and okay that there are no trials against the culprits behind the anti chinese riots. We see Wiranto, Prabowo are eyeing presidential post, Syafrie Samsudin doing his business as usual. In Indonesia, accountability as public servants are basically ZERO.
    It is okay to be an incompetent army general, unable to pin-point the riot master-minds at the expense of the minority citizen of Indonesia. It is okay to be the next Indonesia president who do nothing to bring the May 98 rioters into justice. It is okay to see people run amok without any prosecutions.

    Therefore, it is expected to see Indonesia continues under multi dimensional crises after 1 decade elpse time, it is okay to see the poor became poorer, and it is okay the indonesia chinese surrendering their green passports back to immigration offices for another better countries …

    Because it’s not ‘cultural behaviour’. Have you noticed the rest of the world – Americans in My Lai? killings in Sudan, Darfur?; the daily accounts of random murder, rape, torture in the mass media….it’s nothing more than human nature.

    Not sure that my opinion does matter in this place, but here’s what I have to say.

    Yes, at a point it was an expression of frustration based on social and economic injustice. We cannot simply omit the fact that the period of Orde Baru has its flaws as well, brutal ones. But there’s a difference between violence caused by anger, greed, and psychological disorders. Learning from the pictures taken from May 1998, we’d realise that it is not mere anger and frustration, it’s a sickness. May 1998 was never ever a patriotic war or a riot for the sake of justice. It has depicted a mental sickness. And up until this very day, issues on psychology might be one of the most dysfunctional aspects in the governing system, where religious morality is more popularly utilized as a psychological mass control. Ironically, the similar psychological disorder could still be found in this country only in different forms and shapes. There’s nothing more dangerous than when violence gets itself organized, and that is our present threat. Not mere hungry pribumis.

    The intellectual discourse here in Indonesia Matters compared to the practical reality out there can be quite different. From the debate, it sounds like Jakarta year 2008 is still very much a multicultural war zone. Out there, the prejudice has somewhat been minimized for every citizen that actively participates in the economic cycle of the country. For instance, it’s quite common to find an Indo-Chinese cellphone merchants in malls with their Javanese staffs, negotiating a price with a Malay descendant native. And they get along just fine and dandy. We’re not talking about those who present political or ideal causes here, this is more about those who are trying to keep the economy running.

    Even so, the Indo-Chinese citizens along with everyone that shares the cause (aside from May 1998, there’s also Tragedi Semanggi and Trisakti) have the ultimate right to seek justice, proper investigation, and fair trial. Their right to do so is an urgency, not only a choice. Sentimental reasons alone aren’t going to be enough to solve the problems.

    One crucial thing that we must remember though is to prevent ourselves from being intoxicated by hatred and violence. See, if this post would’ve been about an Indo-Chinese or an Arab that abuses a Javanese or a Malay domestic worker, our responses would be different. The person in this topic that said “I despise Malays, they tend to run amok.” is the very same person that has been presenting him/herself with exactly the same cultural prejudice. Surely, we are free to like or dislike people according to our own personal perception, but never ever present it in the name if intellectuality, humanity, or okay, religion, but that’s another case. Two wrongs doesn’t make a right, therefore each and everyone has the responsibility to introspect themselves before they judge others, that includes me a native Indonesian, a middle class expressing my frustration.

    Anyways, I remember years back, I participated in the Tragedi Semanggi tabur bunga commemoration in my campus and they played this song:

    When your day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
    When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well hang on
    Don’t let yourself go, ’cause everybody cries n everybody hurts sometimes

    Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it’s time to sing along
    When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
    If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
    If you think you’ve had too much of this life, well hang on

    ‘Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
    Everybody hurts. Don’t throw your hand. Oh, no. Don’t throw your hand
    If you feel like you’re alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

    If you’re on your own in this life, the days and nights are long,
    When you think you’ve had too much of this life so hang on

    Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
    Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
    And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
    Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
    Everybody hurts. You are not alone.

    — Everybody Hurts, R.E.M.

  4. avatar kinch says:

    ‘Amok’ is used in colloquial English to describe individuals or crowds (of any race) behaving violently. In modern usage it is not used exclusively to describe Durian Wranglers Run Wild.

    Nonetheless, we thank you all for contributing this little linguistic gem. 🙂

  5. avatar tomaculum says:

    Amok” is originally a javanese word and describe an individual reaction of a mental decompensation. A
    This reaction is usually seen in form of anger against the environment and neighborhood in which the person feels a rampant impulse to eliminate and to kill everybody nearby.
    The cause is, as above mentioned, a physical decompensation (based on frustration).
    The typical character of “amok” is that this person cannot remember anything he/she have done after the amok is over.
    So what the hell has the riot of 1998 to do with amok?


    “May 1998 was never ever a patriotic war or a riot for the sake of justice.”

    Who argued like that??
    Is there any riot for the sake of justice? Is there any riot as a part of a patriotic war?
    It was simply a crime, which, like many other misdeed, aren’t persecuted, so that some people ask: is there actually any law in Indonesia?
    The riot of 1998 is not the last!

  6. avatar Hitam Tapi Cina says:

    Just to refresh our memory.

    The Indonesian history documented that the first anti Chinese riots begin in Batavia 1740. Here is the story.

    At that time tens of thousands of Chinese had lived in Batavia (inside the city wall). They were also the people who build the city and build the trading network in the city. These were all good citizens. Thousands more chinese live outside the city wall. Because the Dutch were outnumbered, they became afraid that these chinese would start to rebel against them. Then they made a law that every chinese in Batavia had to have a kind of ID card. Whoever don’t have it will be deported to China.

    After that, many chinese with or without ID card were caught and shipped back to China. Then there were rumours that the Dutch killed these chinese prisoner and threw them to the sea. This of course anger the Chinese in Batavia especially those who lived outside the city wall because most of them didnt have ID. Then they started to group among themselves and fight against the Dutch. At the beginning the Chinese who live inside the city wall were not involved in the fight.

    One evening, as the Dutch got ready for the next attack by the Chinese fighter, rumours spread on the street (on Gajah Mada street today near Juanda road) that the Chinese were going to attact Batavia. Many people (non Chinese Batavia dwellers) gathered on the road to see what’s going to happen.Rumours also said that the Chinese were going to kill non Chinese Batavian, rape their wives and sell them as slaves

    As time went by and night came, more people gathered on the road. Suddenly there was a fire from a nearby Chinese restaurant near Kali besar street. The fire sparked rumour among the crowd on the road that the Chinese were attacking and then the crowd started burning the chinese houses inside Batavia city wall, not only that they also kill the chinese, men and women, adult and children. That night, there were widespread bloodshed which turn, the river water to blood now called Angke and a bridge flooded in blood now called Jembatan Merah. These killings went on for days, The Dutch just let the crowd killed the Chinese because it’s what they wanted. The killings would not happened if the Dutch would not let it happen.

    Before this, Chinese and Pribumi had live together in harmony for hundreds of years because the Chinese came only to trade, not to mingle with the local politics.

    From then until 1998 the pattern repeats all the time. Whoever the ruler during those riots, let them happened whatever the reason were. For sure the reasons were political ones.

  7. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    Leaving behind the – although very interesting in itself – intellectual overkill debate about dominant discourse and historiography, let’s get back to reality and examine the question whether running amok is an endemic Malay phenomenon or not.
    I think it is. Anyone who ever witnessed a Balinese Calonarang play where the onying work themselves in a frenzy, become entranced and attack themselves with krises will realize that running amok has even been elevated to the status of culture. Even when one could pretend that the whole event is staged, the intensity with which it is performed leaves nothing to the imagination. I have videos to prove it.

  8. avatar timdog says:

    @Kinch – Naipaul, the old bastard, does like to cosy up to the Hindutva fascists, mainly I imagine because he sympathises with their superior arrogance rather than because of any religious sentiment. He’s a f*cker and I’d poke him in the eye if ever I met him…

    @ Spew – I don’t agree that “amok” is a unique Malay/Javanese trait; I provocatively whispered the suggestion that it could be merely to foster debate, as I think the idea is interesting.
    “To run amuck/amok” is a very well-established and widely used English phrase – google Manchester + Rangers + amok to see an example of both the usage and the phenomenon from just a couple of days ago. It’s one of very few Malay words to have entered common English usage, the other notable one being – ahem – orangutan…

    @dewa – it’s not uncommon – particularly in older writings – to come across the slightly distasteful theory that all Balinese dance-drama, particularly the barong and calonarang, serve the principle purpose of creatively channelling the innate Balinese urge to “amok”. Personally I think it’s patronising and pointless to make this suggestion – ceremonies and institutionalised performances all over the world take the form of ritualised mock violence – it’s clearly nothing uniquely Balinese or Indonesian. It’s a far from fanciful suggestion that all sport is ritualised violence as a channel for that innate urge in all of humankind (even though it doesn’t always successfully channel it all – google rangers+manchester+amok…)
    Still, dance-drama didn’t manage successfully to channel and dissipate the “amok urge” in Bali in 65-66, did it?

    On that subject:

    The typical character of “amok” is that this person cannot remember anything he/she have done after the amok is over

    In that case, one could certainly argue that 65-66 was a collective national “amok”…

    Personally I do believe that “amok” exists, but I don’t for a moment think that it is in any way a uniquely Indonesian/Malay phenomenon; it would be ridiculous to suggest such a thing. Quite clearly it is a universal trait, whether you take “amok” to be – as tomaculum does – the individual frenzied trance, or the less “mystical” mob-rampage…

  9. avatar tomaculum says:

    In that case, one could certainly argue that 65-66 was a collective national “amok”…
    You got it, Timdog.
    In javanese areas, such people would be named as “gendeng”, “edan” or “kesetanan”.
    Apakah orang Indonesia makin lama makin gila?
    Amok as a symptom of a mental decompensation exists certainly, it is not typical javanese, Malay, Indonesian or like that. It is just a not so uncommon reaction under mental pressure, no matter you are brown, yellow or white.
    Remember the killings in some schools in the USA? It was also amok. Not with a Kris, but with a gun. Also those Valentine massacre in Illinois last February or those in December 2007 in Omaha.

  10. avatar spew-it-all says:

    I would shift the focus from amok to several facts found in the investigations which may dismiss the notion of amok as major contributing factor.

    Strategically, pro-dem supporters should avoid ‘amok’ analysis as its campaign should be directed to the government responsibility of proctecting as well as fulfilling the needs of its citizens.

    TGPF, an official comission formed by the government to investigate the riots did not include amok in its report. One important recommendation was to demand the government to investigate further the meeting in which the Indonesian elites, including Syafrie Syamsudin and Golkar member Fahmi Idris while the riots took place. One should note that during the riots the security seemed to be ‘loose’. This was surprising given that the politics escalated through the increasing number of demonstrations.

    During the interview with Kivlan Zein, a member of the Indonesian intellegent body, when he was asked why didn’t Bakin as professional body do something to anticipate the riots. To which he replied that Bakin already knew and in fact ‘bancakan abis’ (big party) would begin with martyr from Jogja. At that time there was a student died during demonstration but did not roll into riots. It was Moses Gatutkaca.

    If we look at the report of the fact finding commission (i can only find Indonesian version, however), it is clear that the riots were orchestrated.

    What is more frustrating is that Komnas HAM formed Fact Finding Commission to investigate the riots and reported to the parliament. Sadly, parliament abused its power by making a legal judgement on that case. It was concluded that what happened in May was not gross violation of human rights. Since when the DPR functions as legal body?

  11. avatar Rob says:

    My only comment on this relates to the idea of opinion as much of the substance has already been teased out!

    An opinion is just that, an opinion! It is not a survey of the available literature and a regurgitation of facts. Both of these might play a role in an opinion piece but it is waht you say about the facts and the literature that makes it an opinion!

    I am not sure that I see the balls (or ovaries — whatever the case may be) to the wall attitude that would make this an opnion piece! It provides some background and in essence says make up your own minds or opinions on this!

    Informative to a degree but not opinion!

    The “smiling assassin” categorized as needing to be placed in the ‘amok’ box is somewhat bizarre! The underlying theme for the “Bali Bombers I” was not any need to run amok or to create chaos but to further an agenda in which the pepertrators had been convinced to believe in!

    The reason Amrozi was smiling was because the attack had been a success in his eyes. He had done what he had set out to do. He was pleased with his efforts and he is probably already thinking about the 72 virgins that await him (not quite sure he felt the need to re-marry his ex-wife at this stage of the adventure though)…

  12. avatar Marisa says:

    Is there any riot for the sake of justice? Is there any riot as a part of a patriotic war?
    It was simply a crime, which, like many other misdeed, aren’t persecuted, so that some people ask: is there actually any law in Indonesia?
    The riot of 1998 is not the last!

    Yes, I know. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.

    Peace to the world.

  13. avatar ultratupai says:

    What! Not a SINGLE word about how these riots were instigated and manipulated by elements of the Indonesian Army. While the results and the tragedy of the riots are obvious after ten years passing the truth behind all those terrible events is still not fully know and until it is known and until those involved are brought to justice ANY analysis of those events is incomplete.

  14. avatar ultratupai says:


    f we look at the report of the fact finding commission (i can only find Indonesian version, however), it is clear that the riots were orchestrated.

    Sorry, I missed that. That is where the focus should be.

    You might also want to take a look at this. From Reuters, May 16, 2008

    U.N. body says torture widespread in Indonesia
    Fri May 16, 2008 12:00pm EDT

    GENEVA, May 16 (Reuters) – Indonesia’s police, armed forces and intelligence services routinely torture and degrade criminal suspects to extract confessions, with almost total impunity for those responsible, a United Nations rights body said on Friday.

    The U.N. Committee Against Torture said it was “deeply concerned about numerous ongoing credible and consistent allegations” of abuse in the Indonesian justice system.

    Military officials and “morality police” were also found to use disproportionate force and violence, particularly against women, in the Aceh province and other areas of conflict, the 10-member independent panel said in a report released in Geneva.

    It cited “grave concerns over the climate of impunity for perpetrators of acts of torture, including military, police and other state officials, particularly those holding senior position.”

    “No state official alleged to have perpetrated torture has been found guilty,” the committee said in its 14-page findings, which are not legally binding but carry diplomatic weight.

    The report expounded upon the concerns raised in November by U.N. torture expert Manfred Nowak, who said torture of detainees in Indonesian police custody was rife despite efforts to combat rights abuses after the ouster of autocratic president Suharto.


    The U.N. panel called on Jakarta to take immediate steps to uphold legal safeguards for those taken into custody, including ensuring all detained suspects get the right to access a lawyer, notify a relative, be informed of the charges laid against them and be brought before a judge in a timely manner.

    It told Indonesia to “ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly, effectively and impartially investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted in accordance with the gravity of these acts.

    The committee added state officials should publicly announce a zero-tolerance policy for perpetrators of acts of torture and support prosecution.

    Particular concern was raised about “morality police” in Aceh — riven by separatist violence for decades before a peace pact in 2005 — which the panel said had an undefined jurisdiction and unclear supervision by public or state institutions.

    “The necessary legal fundamental safeguards do not exist for persons detained by such officials, including the absence of a right to legal counsel, the apparent presumption of guilt, the execution of punishment in public, and the use of physically abusive methods (flogging, caning, etc),” it said.

    “The punishments meted out by this policing body have a disproportionate impact on women,” the committee added, also raising alarm over a high incidence of rape and sexual violence committed by the military in conflict areas, and sexual abuse and forced labour against female migrant workers in the country.

    The U.N. panel stressed that attacks on ethnic and religious minorities remained a problem in Indonesia, a former Dutch colony that is home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

    It further called on Jakarta to fully cooperate with international efforts to investigate, prosecute and extradite those responsible for abuses in East Timor, a former Indonesian territory that became independent in 2002. (Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Janet Lawrence)

  15. avatar Lairedion says:

    Running amok instigated by our “beloved TNI” is surely an Indonesian phenomenon.


    Thanks for the Reuters link. Not surprising yet very disturbing. 🙁

  16. avatar Rob says:


    Any relation to Roy Tupai?

  17. avatar Lairedion says:


    Thanks for the Reuters link. Not surprising yet very disturbing.

    Sorry, ultratupai.

  18. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Sorry, I missed that. That is where the focus should be.

    Well, that’s my ‘keprihatinan’ really, ultratupai. Violence in Indonesia is simply seen as amok phenomenon. In some cases, even though acknowledging the role of the Indonesian army in the violence commentators here tend to subscribe to the idea of ‘amok’ when it comes to analysing violence.

    This reminds me of the Indonesian elites who often say: ‘bangsa indonesia sedang sakit’, ‘massa tak terkendali’, ‘keganasan massa’ and so on when violence takes place. I don’t know what makes them to have this kind of view.

    I am not sure how many people here who ever meet survivors of violence and had a talk with them about the violence. Did anyone have a heart to ask these ordinary Indonesians who went to loot: did you run amok? Isn’t it barbaric? How many people here who really followed the news about May violence?


    I can flood this forum with data if it is needed. TGPF reports can be accessed online as well as The Volunteer Team for Humanity’s report.

    But if any important issues like May Riots, 1965 violence, Priok, and so on really matter to readers here, it wouldn”t kill them to spend 10-20 minutes to do some online research. I suppose all of commentators here are not from lower class background who can’t afford to access internet on regular basis.

    The name of this forum is indonesiamatters, but important to raise the question for whom the Indonesian issues matter? To what extent, it matters to middle classes Indonesians (i am part of it)? or what matters Indonesia to any Indonesians who have the privilege to live overseas? And to what extent it matters to expats who know little about Indonesia and their encounter with the Indonesian culture only because of satisfying their cultural perversion or being a tourist? What matters Indonesia to expats who are going to the country because of work and stay for 3-5 years claim to know alot about the Indonesian culture?

    We will get various answers from any of these group of people. I believe that expats who know little about Indonesia can have a better understanding of violence and the Indonesian culture. I believe that even ‘native’ Indonesians can have a very patronising and condescending view on their fellow Indonesians such as calling the ordinary Indonesians are running amok.

  19. […] rape riots denied but not forgotten 2. Komnas HAM Pertanyakan Kasus Mei 1998 3. Bulan Mei Itu 4. May 1998 Jakarta Riots | Post viewed 5 times. Tags: kerusuhan kerusuhan mei 1998 mei 1998 mei kelabu […]

  20. avatar Rob says:


    My point was not that what was written was uninteresting or unworthy. Quite to teh contrary I believe I said it was informative. My beef, and it is not really a big one, is that restating facts and the views of others does not really constitute an opinion, at least in my mind. I am nobody special and I was merely relaying my point of view or take on the matter.

    I agree if people are really interested then they will do the research for themselves! There is no need to dump the facts into the forum…Your post indicates the research done but my point in short was that based on that you never really pulled the trigger and said this is what I think! You invited us to draw our own conclusions based on the literature you read…

    My comments should not be construed as being a criticism per se as I was pointing out only what I thought would constitute an opinion. It is the same thing that I say to my students on a regular basis. I trust that they are all good researchers, but at some point you have to stop researching, analyze, and then make your case (give an opinion — based on this research this is what I think!)…

    That’s just me! I am sure others have different views on this and that is fine with me, open and transparent debate is a good thing!

  21. avatar Merah says:

    However fair game any published article is in this forum, and no matter the intellectual approach assumed in constructing it, the writing and writer should be afforded at least a modicum of common courtesy. They are making an offering- unpaid and unsolicited. People do not have to agree- they can even be disagreeable in their disagreement. But to savagely attack? Enlightenment, truth, and rightful thinking are simply concepts some of the deranged detractors whose venal bloodlettings are scrawled across this forum use in order to skewer those with whom they disagree.

    Their only ideal is verbal violence.

    The vitriol poured liberally atop the head of the author in question is especially cruel because is not meant to kill, but to maim- such that the victim is left conscious in order that he may continue to suffer.

    These violent detractors are simply dyed-in-the-wool school yard bullies who have traded in their axes-to-grind from childhood for an entire arsenal of smart weapons so trained on anyone who offends their self-righteous sensibilities. They have squandered they intellectual goods and are left with only true ability- to taunt, tease, humiliate, and “deconstruct” through verbal decapitation.

    Oh yes, and we can hear them sneer with derisive laughter, saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.” So what is it they are really cooking up in that proverbial kitchen? Certainly nothing none could possibly stomach and live to tell about it. Apparently, it is their customary sustenance.

    Such sniper fire as issued from the removed anonymity and remote comfort of their computers by mean spirited, self-styled critics abuse their own considerable talents and learning- and to what end? Simply in an effort to cast aspersions at those with whom they disagree- whether it be in terms of substance or style. What an abominable waste.

    What is especially insidious is that the author’s first language in not English, whereas his detractors are native speakers. If only the tables could be turned.

    One can take issue with the author’s reliance on post modern deconstruction, or whatever the modality of discourse. But to viscerally attack someone for simply putting their honest effort up for consideration?

    There’s is just another form of running amok- and a cowardly one. These detractors are their own worst enemies and will end their days casting pearls unto their own swine. One is what one beholds. They would only want everyone else to experience their own wretched suffering.

  22. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    Kinch said in his first post

    I doubt it, because that would require actual thought rather than mindless parroting and random insertion of po-mo phraseology for extra brownie points.

    Pardon my ignorance but what is po-mo phraseology?

  23. avatar Rob says:

    Unfortunately, this is part and parcel of the territory in which Indonesia Matters operates and for that matter the Internet. It allows people to post with a degree of anonymity if they choose.

    Civility and common courtesy are not always afforded to arguments. Perhaps it is a heat in the kitchen argument, but no matter how reasoned a post maybe, including this one, I do not think that ultimately it will change the rules of the game or level the playing field. Simply, there are those among us who revel in and enjoy their ability to slay from behind a pen name. Some of the things said are designed to wound and to vilify on a personal level and not to address substance of the arguments or views put forward. This is indeed cowardly!

    Merah, nice post in terms of illuminating what any long term visitor, commentator, or poster already knows about Indonesia Matters — it is indeed a tough place and it is not always civil or courteous, although there are posters and commentators who are generally civil and courteous, and these people should not be ignored because of a minority of posters and commentators.

    Perhaps it is time some people were a little more thick-skinned and learned that it is fair to give as good as you have had to take. This is not a language issue although native speakers would seem to have an advantage on this front…but a careful reading of the postings indicates that there are Indonesians posting on the forum who have English language skills that are equivalent (maybe even technically better) than some of their native speaker counterparts. There are very few Indonesians posting here that fail to make their points in English — that is something that must be respected!

  24. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    Indonesia Matters is a multicultural forum where people of many nationalities take part. I would like to propose – especially to native English speakers and those with an educated intellectual background – to be moderate in their discourse and choice of words. Let us not make IM into an literary arena where those who are more fluent with words always have the edge and scare others who also have valuable ideas away.

  25. avatar Enigmatic says:

    Spew, thank you for this article. It came 10 years and 3 days after the riots and the event must be remembered and cannot be repeated. We must remember the importance of racial harmony.

    Till this day there is no accountability for the riots. May the truth prevail.

    Oh and IM, please keep this particular post up till the Presidential Elections at least. We cannot elect an idiot who is probably responsible for the riots in the first place to be our president. It will be a great injustice to those who perished because of the senseless acts.

    Deng Xiao Phing Says:

    May 16th, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    on 19 May 2008, the Channel News Asia will present ‘the unfinish reformasi of Indonesia’ from May 98 to May 2008

    Alright will catch that. No doubts about it.

    If you have access to Channel News Asia you should catch that too!

  26. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    @ Merah

    I wholeheartedly agree with your remarks. What strikes me however is that the behaviour you denounce usually coincides with certain Western-styled – in many cases Anglo-Saxon based – dialectics where personal satisfaction from slaying or maiming an imagined enemy seems more important than the ideas or opinions one hopes to convey. Being triumphant is the main goal, convincing is secondary. And he who draws first blood is usually the winner.
    An American anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, has even coined a term for it, ‘asymmetrical schismogenesis’, ‘asymmetrical’ because the Western paradigm is based on competition rather than cooperation, and ‘schismogenesis’ because the same paradigm is individualistic in nature and tends to drive a wedge between the community, resulting in further alienation of its members. A product of this culture is the creation of the ‘lonesome cowboy’ type, the Rambo role model, who after defeating all those he feels threatened by – only because they seem to possess competitive qualities – vanishes into the distance, followed by the admiring gaze of the bystanders.

    Sorry spew for this little digression.

  27. avatar spew-it-all says:

    Rob, thanks for your advise. I will bear it in mind.

    Merah, that was very great post.

    Dewaratugedeanom, you don’t need to sorry for little digression.

    As for your point on the exchange of ideas between native-speakers and Indonesians in IM, i was thinking of writinng a short article (even shorter than the May Riot) about ”what matters to readers and commentators in IM”.

  28. Amok especially in Indo (may as well in other places) only happened because the government let it happened.
    As all know that common Indo people would not dare to go into mass Amok unless provoked or encouraged and that the government benefit from it.
    The pattern is repeated everytime. Read your history book.

    All these discussion, to my eyes is only self-indulgence.
    The reality won’t changed although we will get some satisfaction out of these.

    I dare you all, to take this discussion into the lower class public and the political arena because that’s what counts (they are the one who would be provoked to run amok). Indonesian public does not like to discuss unpleasant issues no matter how urgent it is and so the unexpressed emotion then build up and explode into amok.

    I bet no one dares.

  29. avatar Raden says:

    I dare you all, to take this discussion into the lower class public and the political arena because that’s what counts

    …. so Indonesia should not take the reformasi toward liberal democracy 10 years ago, it was a wrong path. 10 years is a significant period of time which proved we have zero or negative progression. I doubt the next election will significantly change Indonesia landscape at all.

    Back to the matter of May 1998 riot.
    If you are chinese (even though you looks ‘hitam’ skin) with chinese attitude & way of life, the continuing human rights violation against chinese in Indonesia, the unspeakable terror during May 1998 riot without prosecution to the culprit should be more than enough to convince you that Indonesia gov’t is ignoring the chinese minority citizen existance.
    Then why are you still living in Muslim Indonesia ? It is dump & stupid to do nothing but continue to hold your green passport, pls sell all your assets & bring them out from Indonesia ! we will see how long Indonesia will stay as a republic democracy, soon it will fall into the hand of Muslim militant like Afghanistan / Pakistan

  30. avatar Oigal says:

    The Dutch just let the crowd killed the Chinese because it’s what they wanted. The killings would not happened if the Dutch would not let it happen.

    Yep, yep, yep and it was the TNI and it was the evil white fellas, it was MUI who issued the Fatwa, and the World Bank and the mutli-nationals …

    Just when do the barbarians and those who stand aside happen take responsibility…Where is your outrage as they burn this weeks Mosque, church, home and subject another poor bugger to the abuse of the morons who roan freely around the countryside.

    Nothing has changed! and its not the sub-species who commit the violence who are the true evil, its the ones who pretend to be such up standing citzens, who pretend everything is just fine and dandy…

    Still in the fine cultural tradition “I ok Jack..Screw you and the future generations” Wee alls ok..we are fine…unless you happen to be…

    Offended..I hope so..Pick up any newspaper and prove the theory wrong)

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