Sadanand Dhume's My Friend the Fanatic - Travels with an Indonesian Islamist.
My Friend the Fanatic - Travels with an Indonesian Islamist tells the story of Indian journalist Sadanand Dhume's journey across Indonesia and his meetings with political, cultural, and religious figures in 2004, and is written from the standpoint that the country is being torn between two forces, globalisation and Islamisation, with the latter being seen as the stronger.
The "Fanatic/Indonesian Islamist" of the title is one Herry Nurdi (who has cropped up on this site once before - for his railings against sodomising Christian evangelists on campuses), Dhume's paid travelling companion (he helps arrange access to interesting people and places), one time editor of the Muslim fundamentalist rag Sabili, and prolific author, with his published works showing a pre-occupation with Jews, conspiracy theories and George Bush, and including:
Although it seems Herry's works are rather thin volumes and there is a suggestion in the book that they involve some amount of copy-paste.
Herry is therefore firmly on the lunatic fringe, although an important question that the book brings up is whether people like Herry really are the "lunatic fringe", or to what extent their views are shared more widely among Indonesians.
On Herry and his type, and remembering that it is 2004, before or during the election, Dhume recounts the loathing such people seemed to have for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - Herry has secret information that the Yudhoyono presidential campaign is powered by a "Christianity motor", an Indonesian Christian (military)/American (and no doubt Jew) plot, and he even puts about a story that SBY's mother was once a member of Gerwani, the practically satanic (in New Order propaganda terms) communist womens' movement, and to advance his career SBY had disowned his mother and, er, gotten a replacement mother - one nasty attempt at a below the belt blow. (Herry and co. seem to have preferred General Wiranto, because at least his wife covered herself head to toe, unlike, say, Amien Rais' spouse, who only wore a headscarf, and a colourful one at that.)
But, and it is an important but, Dhume's portrait of Herry is told with some empathy and there clearly developed a friendship between the two of them, the devout Muslim and Islamist, and the atheist son of polytheists. Herry does not come across, usually, as the raving lunatic that the foregoing suggests but as an ordinary person with his share of contradictions, and he often seems quite likeable and reasonable.
People & Places
Dhume hears sort-of sexy singer/dancer Inul Daratista proclaim that she and her entire family are religious fanatics; hangs out with the avant-garde author Djenar Maesa Ayu and literary man Richard Oh in posh, degenerate Jakarta clubs; goes on a road trip across western Java with flabby Din Syamsuddin and an entourage of annoying young people; meets toothy Abu Bakar Bashir in his jail cell.
In Makassar the hard men of the Preparatory Committee for the Application of Sharia Law are interviewed; still in South Sulawesi he journeys to the district of Bulukumba (if Tangerang in Banten has "sharia lite", Bulukumba can claim the heavier version); while a chapter on Batam begins with an almost moving, snippet-like description of the lives of two types of "Batam girls", those who work in the factories, and those who work in the bars; ...and plenty else besides.
What isn't likely to endear this book to a lot of its target audience, i.e educated westerners, is the author's evident disdain for at least some aspects of the Islam religion-culture, and one might not be able to help but think of V.S. Naipaul (Dhume brings the subject up himself), given that both Dhume and Naipaul are Indian writers who made good abroad, and with both, when they happened upon Indonesia, taking a fairly dim view of orthodox Islam's gradual but, so it seems, quickening obliteration of the older cultural mix in the country, with I suspect in both authors' cases this approach arising not from any real affinity for say, Javanese culture, but instead more from, again, a dislike of orthodox/Arabist Islam.
The jilbab (headscarf) issue comes up repeatedly, and unflatteringly:
...the cheaply earned moral smugness of the jilbab.
...shorthand in my mind for some education and little imagination
Visits to several Islamic schools are made, they being Gontor, Ngruki, one in Bulukumba, and the impression one gets is of people spending so much of their energy building more and more mosques, then walking to the mosques, going through the prescribed motions in them, and walking back from them, many times a day. Meanwhile the peoples of comparable nations like Vietnam, China and India are said to be beavering away learning science and building factories.
Preacher-entrepreneur AA Gym is interviewed, at a time before he disgraced himself by taking Alfarini Eridani for another wife, and comes across as a charlatan, if a not unlikeable one - if only people would look after their qolbu (hearts/souls), AA says, not just their brains,
everything is getting better
At Parangtritis beach, Yogyakarta, what to Dhume might be some of the last followers of Ratu Kidul, gather before
globalisation and Islamisation drive them to extinction
Boys at Gontor school say they have never seen Reog dances because the spectacle is to be avoided, it's
Herry is one who embodies this
shrinking from their own culture
But perhaps to people like Herry, whether they think about it in these terms or not, Islam is simply a preferable, more complete, more appealing culture to what existed previously (and Islam is culture). Fine, but another, opposed view, what you might find in this book and in other places..., is a legitimate value judgement about culture-religion as well.
The overall message of the book is that Islamist political and cultural forces are gaining the upper hand in Indonesia, most starkly seen in the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Justice Party (PKS) - the PKS is mentioned again and again, Dhume I think has the same "problem" as this site sometimes has - an over pre-occupation with what is still a fairly minor party.
It is said that South Sulawesi is a "stronghold" of the PKS, however it would be far more accurate to say that the province is a stronghold of Golkar, - and then it might be useful to examine to what extent Islamism has penetrated the ostensibly non-Islamist parties, but this aspect of political developments is not explored - it's PKS this and that.
Amien Rais is said to have only placed fourth in the 2004 election "despite being backed by the PKS" - as if the support of the town-based university crowd of the PKS was ever going to get him anywhere near winning, ever going to win him votes in the Javanese parts of Java where the numbers are, and then, party backing is of little importance anyway in high turnout elections, that are essentially about personalities, which candidate is more manly, handsome, murah senyum, has the better PR machine, more funds, etc.
But a minor complaint. And the aspects of the book detailed here represent only small parts of the whole and, partly because it generally gels with my own views, and because it is a highly well written and entertaining read, My Friend the Fanatic is more than recommended. Available for pre-order at Amazon.