My Friend the Fanatic

Jun 13th, 2008, in Society, by

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.

Fanatic Islamist

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:

University of Islamic Studies (IAIN)
Sabili style.

  • Belajar Islam dari Yahudi (“Learning Islam from Jews” – seems to be a critique of the Orientalist approach to Islam)
  • Mossad (Behind every conspiracy)
  • Kebangkitan Freemason dan Zionis di Indonesia (“The Rise/Resurgence of Freemasonry & Zionism in Indonesia”)
  • Jejak Freemason dan Zionis di Indonesia (“Acts of Freemasons & Zionists in Indonesia”)
  • Lobi Zionis & Rezim Bush (“The Zionist Lobby & the Bush Regime”)

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.)

Sadanand Dhume
Sadanand Dhume

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.

143 Comments on “My Friend the Fanatic”

  1. John Prior says:

    Interesting journalistic book. There have been a number of attempts at the Arabisation of Indonesian Islam over the centuries; to date none have succeeded in becoming mainstream. Sadanand Dhume ignores the human rights Muslims, both NGOs and also government sponsored bodies such as the National Commission on Human Rights and the National Commission on Women’s Rights. The latter is preparing a series of booklets on the cultural and theological transformations needed in order that cutting-edge legistation on women’s rights made into law over the past 10 years can be implemented as designed.

    So, while Herry and his friends are busy “Arabising” Islam through their schools, mosques and militias, so mainstream thinkers and politians have implemented human rights laws and are now working on cultural and religious transformation.

    Dhume contrasts the five-star clubbing set (with whom he feels at home) with a fanatic grassroots movement. I think it would have been more interesting to contrast “Herry” with human rights Muslim legislators, NGOs and other elements of civil society.

    Both of the largest of the Muslim State Universities (UIN) in Jakarta and Jogja are largely ecumenical in character.

  2. kinch says:

    JP: And you think ‘progressive’ Muslim legislators and NGOs (perhaps these are what *you* feel at home with – being obviously a westerner and perhaps NGO staffer/academic) are going to make a difference when faced with Saudi money, satellite TV, the Internet, the gradual implosion of the Indonesian unitary state, etc.?

    The spread of Arab Islamism in Indonesia has been inevitable ever since one became able to do the Haj by steamship.

    Who really gives a damn what happens in the UIN? The new legitimacy comes from below (pesantren) and from Arabs of a decidely non-ecumenical view. Events in China and Iran last century suggest that the fellaheen will always have their day – eventually – and despite the incessant chatter of the chatterers. Of course they will make a complete hash of things but in the natural order of historical develpment, it’s fated to happen.

    Trot down to Depok and see how many female UI students are wearing the Jilbab. Then jump in your time machine and go back 20 years and count again. That’s all you need to know about where things are headed. The rest is bubbles and fluff.

  3. Richard Oh says:

    Hi Sad

    A friend of mine who also recently launched a book on the trend of popular culture Ariel told me he met and your ‘wife’ in Melbourne. Best wishes for your book, which seems to have created quite a buzz there already.

  4. Richard Oh says:

    Hi Sad

    You need to correct the perception though about you and my friends hanging out in posh, ‘degenerate’ clubs in Jakarta. I can’t recall any places we used to traipse through as qualifying for being ‘degenerate’. Or this sort of detail will help boost the sales of the book, or prick the interest of Western readers about Indonesia? As I recall, we have yet to visit the all night nude bars or other unsavory joints in the Kota area. What we used to visit are by any modern standard very ho-hum wine lounges.

  5. djoko says:

    Dhume I think has the same “problem” as this site sometimes has – an over pre-occupation with what is still a fairly minor party.

    He does like to rant about PKS, that much is certain. I know I’ve said it on other posts about PKS before, but even its ‘rise’ is often misunderstood as an ‘overwhelming’ groundswell of support for Islamism. Over time I’ve noted at least 2 things that muddle this theory reasonably easy:

    1. The PKS itself, despite bearing Islamic symbols and the like, is for the most part ambiguous about its stance on an Islamic state. Talk to secular nationalists, and they’ll tell you that the PKS are hiding their ‘real’ agenda for establishing a Taliban state, then go talk to pesantren in West Java and generally speaking the more conservative ones loathe the PKS for ‘selling out Islam’ at every available opportunity in parliament. They’re still hardly trusted at the main ground level of the conservative end of the Muslim community.

    2. If people look at percentages of seats in parliament or percentages of the national or regional vote tallies in elections, the PKS’ jump (and rise again next year possibly) does look impressive. But if you look at actual numbers of supporters, and then again at actual numbers of cadres, they seem a lot less threatening. The only reason why PKS’ percentages look impressive is because unlike other parties they are actually able to motivate people who have a general interest in the party to get off their asses and into polling booths on election day. Recent ‘wins’ in West Java and North Sumatra show this best (see how before election day the PKS-backed pair in West Java were actually ranked LAST in surveys and polls put out). Furthermore said motivation to go to the polling booths, if you look at PKS’ campaigns is largely more on promises of ‘clean government’ than ‘kill the infidels’ or whatever.

  6. kinch says:

    If you want to boil a frog, don’t throw it into a pot of boiling water, it will just jump out again immediately. Far better to put it in a pot of nice, comfortable, cool water and then slowly warm said pot… by the time the frog notices that he’s being boiled, it will be far too late.

    Even better… find yourself an intellectual frog – this little green genius will be able through the judicious use of big words to convince himself that he’s icy-cold even thought the water around him is bubbling and he smells the distinct aroma of poached frog.

  7. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Halo All My Seksi Friend !

    Can’t help thinking Mr. Dume, rumored to be a high-caste Indian, is squeezing Indonesian Islam into a slot to which it just doesn’t fit.

    The real story about Indonesian conservatism is tricky, murky, and hard to craft into a narrative suitable for personal narrative of the “New Journalism” mould.

    Yes, there’s a rising tide of conservative, even radical Islam as a reaction to the global neoliberal order.

    But Indonesian Muslim leaders are too prone to bickering amongst themselves, and the Bpk Syndrome of each wanting their own little mosque, party, prayer group, branch etc.

    Then there’s the 300-pound gorilla at the table: Wahabiist Islam is just too much hard work for most Indonesians, who let’s face it, aspire to a peaceful, fun, relaxing life, without too much stress.

    Bottom line: to sell a book about Islam or about Indonesia in the U.S. the “theat” of Islam has to be in thesis. Like V.S. Naipaul, Mr. Dume is all too happy to buy it. Those wine bars just aren’t the place to learn about ordinary Indonesian Muslims.

  8. kinch says:

    I think there is no doubt that most Indonesians are too happy-go-lucky and indolent to go the whole Salafist hog (to coin a phrase).

    However, when a smallish group of bad guys have a strong will to power and a willingness to use violence, all that is required is that the rest of the population stay uninvolved.

    Remember that ‘Bolshevik’ comes from ‘minority’ – and they really were a tiny insignificant minority – just they were willing to kill to gain power. They did. Then it was a bit too late for all the nice guys.

  9. dewaratugedeanom says:

    kinch said

    However, when a smallish group of bad guys have a strong will to power and a willingness to use violence, all that is required is that the rest of the population stay uninvolved.

    The classic way to power. Here and there, everywhere.

  10. Richard Oh says:

    I read in the pages of Sad’s book with dread. He has written a book and gotten consent by insinuating himself as a friend and yet the portrayal of us as some shallow caricatures in a puppet show. Thus, lies the problem of this book. While he disputes convincingly about his disagreement with V.S Naipaul’s preset notions about Indonesia, he attempts with his subtle sardonic bend of mind to inculcate in us to believe that his views are balanced. They are, alas, views of an uninformed journalist who propounds the dooms and glooms of Indonesia. His views in my opinion cater what most Westerners would love to hear about this country, degenerate, shallow and hopelessly entangled, and he would like to be seen as if he is the conveyor of the confirmation of this news to the rest of the world (or at this stage only Australian can read his book). What is most disturbing is that a bunch of us with whom he forged what we thought as friendship to be in the end portrayed as some kind of fools in his gallery of clowns. Such are his transgressions that one can’t help but think here’s another Indian trying to sound smart with his world view and ivy-league credentials, in reality he’s just written a comic-strip account of a nation.

  11. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    Om Richard Yth,

    Halo My Seksi Friend !

    Hmm. I think it might be worse. I think he is (italics) informed, but has mentally edited out all of those uncomfortable things that don’t fit his thesis. Point to sell a book in the ‘States about Indonesia, you’d have to have the clash of civilizations, or at least with radical Islam somewhere in there.

    The condescending Indian thing is a part of it. That explains the artistic pretensions (I want to write a creative non-fiction book, and be a stylist). Joel Tesoro did the same thing — beautiful, intricately crafted book, (The Invisible Palace), that he spent a year researching. Guess what ? Hardly anyone bought it. (Informed sources say it’s down to one copy a month sold out of Equinox).

    As for being taken in, well dear boy, my sympathies. On the other hand, you are a novelist, a writer, a businessman and former advertising executive (or so they say). You also sound like a nice guy, but perhaps Sad could indeed be forgiven for thinking you’d be able to hold your own in the poker-game of non-fiction reporting.

    As Clive James said, never trust a writer — they always want to write the last chapter. Also, I’m kind of wondering, were there real-life people in your novels who weren’t too happy about their depictions ?

  12. Shloka says:

    @ Djoko,

    We don’t know whether PKS will keep their promise once they attain their position of power- do we? A similar situation had happened in Iran . Pre Revolution, Khomeini had promised women they would not be forced to wear headscarves and their liberties won’t be taken away. Look, how it turned out…

    And I agree that the book was in bad taste and a callous betrayal of a friend. However, as a fellow Indian of Naipaul and Dhume, I found famous Islamic preacher Amien Rias of Indonesia say the following of India, China and Islam, …”What was worse, Amien went on, there were only two developing countries that were able to manage globalization successfully – China, a country of atheists, and India, a country of cow-worshippers. Indonesia, a country armed with the Pancasila doctrine, couldn’t even compete with Godless people and cow-worshippers,” he said.

    The problem was that Muslims lacked self-confidence, he said, and that was why they were hopeless in the globalised world economy. Amien also hoped that Muhammadiyah could improve its educational efforts, so that Muslims were no longer being beaten by atheists and pagans presumably. Science and technology were the key, he said

    This extract is from another thread of Indonesia Matters. So if Rias can use derogatory terms for Hinduism,” cow worshippers” Naipual and Dhume can also draw negative conclusions about Islam and Indonesians, can’t they? Freedom of speech for all.

    Ironically, both Rias and Naipaul, Dhume have reached the same conclusion, that Indonesia is not able to adjust to globalization as well as India & China. But they have different solutions for it. While Naipaul and Dhume propose less Islamization, Rias proposes more.

    However, the combined annual exports of Saudi, U.A.E.,Kuwait and Qatar remain under $430 billion. All four are devout Islamic nations, women don’t wear colorful headscarves, more often than not they wear they niqab. Netherlands’ GDP alone exceeds this and Buddhist Thailand exports goods and services worth $ 429 billion. Draw your own conclusions…

  13. timdog says:

    I’ve not read Dhume’s book yet so will not be commenting on it (though I have a bad feeling about it)…

    I’m with Mas Achmad on the other stuff though and I agree entirely that if you hang around with a pretentious “literary journalist” with a book to write and some pre-conceived agendas, then you ought to know you’re likely to get stung…
    Interesting to hear that “the Invisble Palace” is selling so poorly – it’s a rather good book…

    Indonesia is not able to adjust to globalization as well as India & China.

    Absolutely right, but both VS Asshole and Amien Rias are wrong about why – and it’s got nothing to do with Islam (or at least has no oppertunity to get as far as discovering if Islam is a help/hinderance in those respects)… I’ve alluded to the reason elsewhere… I could do so again here, but I’m thinking of cooking up an opinion piece on that very topic, so I think I’ll save it…

  14. kinch says:

    Actually there *is* something mildly amusing about Richard Oh getting done over by this Indian writer… it’s the fact that Whitey could/would never have dared/presumed to pull such a dirty trick and would have been tarred and feathered if he did…. but it’s somehow acceptable back in Whiteyland for an Indian to do a shaft job on a different species of ethnic.

    Having said that, it’s not good form to do a takedown on your hosts (I’ll leave old Vidia out of it, TD) – kind of thing a low life like Paul Theroux would pull.

    But… with writers as with journalists: lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

  15. Lairedion says:

    I could do so again here, but I’m thinking of cooking up an opinion piece on that very topic, so I think I’ll save it

    Can’t wait to read another PC Bule exercise that all is not bad with Islam.

  16. kinch says:

    Careful Lairedion, sounds like we might agree on something. You’d best reconsider quickly.

  17. Sadanand Dhume says:

    Hi everyone. Just one quick clarification: at no point was Richard Oh unaware that I was writing a narrative nonfiction book about Indonesia. He sometimes chided me for scribbling too much in my notebook instead of relying purely on memory, and often spoke of publishing the book himself.

    None of this detracts from his criticism of the work or even from his right to feel betrayed because the final product was not what he he had in mind. But there’s an important distinction between feeling let down by a journalist whose tone of voice or political conclusions you disagree with and implying, as Richard does above, that you are unaware of the journalist’s purpose.

  18. timdog says:

    Curiously enough Lairedion, it would have absolutely nothing to do with Islam – bad or otherwise. Unlike you I do not have a one-track mind…
    If you had actually read what I wrote up above you might have noticed that I had already stated that. However, it seems you are no longer capable of reading anything I write carefully enough to be sure of where you stand before leaping up shrieking “PC bule Islam-lover”… like your laughable misconstruing of something I wrote about FPI on another thread a couple of days ago… get a grip Lairedion…

  19. Shloka says:

    @ Timdog,

    Writing about Islam here doesn’t mean a “one track mind” or a “one horse pony” you seriously need to look at what the IM site says about itself. “The site’s primary theme is cultural change. Most often this means we look at issues of what might be called Islamization” Obviously bules\ expats interested in Islam or Indo are going to post, and more often than not their posts will deal with Islamization

    Then you go on to agree that Indonesia aren’t able to cope as well as India\China but, “both VS Asshole and Amien Rias are wrong about why – and it’s got nothing to do with Islam” You’re so sure everyone’s wrong and you’re right? Come on Timdog, everyone who differs with you is either “apeishly stupid”, “a raging bull”, ” a gibbering baboon” or better still “part of the problem” along with and as much as Osama bin Laden, nevermind if they’re victimized by Osama or his ilk’s terrorism. Much of the world, from the Christian West, to Buddhist Thailand to Hindu India and Zoroastrians in Iran\India have a poor perception of Islam you know, and have as much right to express it as you do.

    You remind me so much of Karen Armstrong, a self proclaimed feminist and apologist for Islam. She’s quick to chide the West and Christianity for violating rights of women or non believers, but maintains a pragmatic silence on the same issues for Islam. You’d dig out every illegal act of misogyny or intolerance in India, even criticize your Methodist Church’s intolerance, but when it comes to the much greater acts of terrorism,intolerance or misogyny, which are very legal and everyday occurences, and happen in areas which have never hurt Muslims like Bali people have to be more understanding. Otherwise, they’re part of the problem. Interesting, that in the Good and Bad citizens’ thread, you acknowledge that you have no solution.

  20. Shloka says:

    @ Timdog,

    You accuse Lairedion of no longer reading everything you write carefully enough, however you say you have no energy to read others’ posts in detail if and when they contradict with your opinion. If you don’t show others’ the courtesy of reading their posts, since your ideas don’t agree with theirs why do you expect others to read yours? I read every long post Djoko writes, don’t reply to him\her with abusive words and expect the same. And when was Lairedion shrieking? You positively shriek when you call others baboons, bulls and apes and even hope your shrieking may have scared them off.. Incidentally, I’m interested and knowleageable about loads of other thing-Ancient Egyptian, Mesopotemian, Chinese and Indus Valley history, Soccer, Disney animations and European royals, but of course those interests are shared on threads which don’t deal with Islamization.

  21. Richard Oh says:

    Dear Achmad,

    I can certainly hold a poker game or two with fortitude and with much humor. The reality that galls me is here’s a stranger from another land coming to my country, recently out of a job with Far Eastern Review. He asked to interview me for a book. At first I turned him down, then when he insisted, I agreed to meet with him. Thereafter, he was welcome into my circle of friends which included writers, filmmakers, painters and philosophers. There was something in this stranger that I and my friends appealing. A gentle soul, soft-spoken, carrying a notepad wherever he went with us. Years passed and he finally finished the book, so he told us. And he never showed a draft to anyone of us. He came in and out of the country and when he last came he brought with him a piece of paper, a letter of consent he said, so mindlessly like a true friend who would never think twice about signing anything to a friend, I signed it.

    Even as recent as his book launch I still supported him, congratulating him. Meanwhile his lay on a pile of books on my table. I had told him I’d review it in a magazine where I contribute a monthly review of books. I had read summarily the first chapter which he proudly says it’s got me and my friends in it. I scanned through again with good humor, although not liking what I read, being described as some mad man propounding some truism about a country in the midst of a rowdy book launch. But again I haven’t read the rest of the chapters. Then I started reading the rest of the book and found to my consternation, and to what I initially thought was an ironic twist of mind, that disguised under this mask of wry humor is in fact a sensationalist journalist trying to pass off as a keen observer of our country. Chapter after chapter are full of barbs written fluently and disguised through ironic statements, depicting a cast of characters that seem shallow and mindless. Maybe he thinks that we Indonesians don’t read English so well, or wouldn’t mind at all the hell anyone writes about us or our country, thus this aloofness and holier than though attitude. I’ve read books and books written about Indonesia. The most recent book written by an Australian journalist by the name Cameron Forbes. He wrote a book about the people in Bali titled Under the Volcano. It’s a book that is so balanced and well-written that I suppose even the Balinese would consider Mr Forbes one of their own. Bear in mind that Mr Forbes blames the Balinese for their Bali Ajeg attitude and the Indonesian as fearlessly as he does to his own country. And Mr Forbes, a veteran journalist, made only four visits to Bali during the writing of the book. But what a great and insightful book. One any discerning writer would deem an excellent piece of journalism anywhere in the world. Unlike Sad’s book, which adopts this so-called one-side view, in this case the Westerner’s traveling journalist’s view of the country, and worse in his aim to be sensational he intentionally brings up the flotsams and jetsams of this country for laughs, trying all the time to pass off as a scholarly study.

    As soon as I realized I’d inadvertently boarded in a ship of fools, I responded to him on Facebook about my objection. He continuously tried to reassure me that he had been respectful and generous in his portrayal of me. He thought, again patronizingly, that it was an issue of emotions. That I must have been ticked upon learning that someone had commented on his hanging around with me to all these ‘degenerate’ places in Jakarta. Well, it was the statement which got me to read all the rest of the chapters carefully. And found myself in a book that as I described above is not balanced but based on a cast of caricatures.

    I’m all for freedom of expressions and wacky interpretation of this country. But I would be the last person to want to be included in any such books. This might somehow suggest to others as my feeling of self-importance or anxiety over my image etc., it’s far from that. My reason is simpler, I’d as soon shy away from anything that is of poor taste or of poor judgment.

    Upon being criticized by me vehemently, he warned me in Facebook that unless I stop throwing false accusations about him, he would start flinging filth in my way and in his words it won’t be ‘pretty.’ That is of course another insult to my intelligence or to the intelligence of most people living here as if we are so easily buzzed off by some toothless Indian tigers. He also mentioned that if I don’t like his book, then I can simply dismiss it without being so vicious. He also said that how I like it if he started on my novels? Well, to this I’d like to say Sad, in my novels there is not a person called Sad, nor it’s about any Indian or set in India. He should be smart enough to know the difference. If freedom of speech is a universally acceptable maxim for all liberated people, then I’m allowed to say the hell I want when I feel offended by a person who I once deemed as a friend and confidante and who then betrayed that trust and wrote a book that basically placed me in a context and situation I feel totally ashamed of. I have been, you see, made fait accompli in a project that is in my opinion of poor judgment and taste.

    He also kind of gave me a warning that I should state in this blog about the fact that he had already had my consent prior to publication. But to him I’d like to say, yes I had. Foolishly so. To a friend whose judgment and discretion I trusted and from whose serious bend of mind I expected, if not a better quality output than the one written by V.S Naipaul, which might naturally be a bit beyond his ability, then at least one written with great sympathy and kindness about friends and a people who are still in search of a state of equilibrium in a nascent democracy.

    He’s also told me that his book has been reader by what he described ‘neutral minded people’ and deemed unoffensive. That is of course open for others’ interpretation. But from my point of view, as an ex-friend who had been inserted in this sensational comic-strip account, and as an Indonesian, I seriously doubt you’ll get raved reviews. Already from I’ve heard from friends from Australia listening to him talk in a book festival and on the radio, they have premonitions of a malice intent.

  22. Sadanand Dhume says:

    Richard: Nobody begrudges you (or anyone) the right to dislike a book or to feel that you (or your country) have not been portrayed fairly. But you should not play fast and loose with the facts. I was–as you belatedly acknowledge–always upfront about writing about you and our experiences. And your written permission was acquired before I left Indonesia and not on a visit back years later as you claim above Other than that I have no problem with any of your observations even though for obvious reasons I don’t agree with them. Finally, one more tiny clarification: the reviews thus far really have been quite positive. Check them out at if you get the chance.

  23. timdog says:

    Wow! A bone fide literary spat on Indonesia Matters! I’m excited, and Patung must be rather proud…
    Richard and Sad, please continue, and ignore the following which is addressed only to Shloka…

    @Shloka – I am slightly disturbed by the sensation that you are now doggedly pursuing me from thread to thread; honoured that I should have provoked such a reaction, but slightly alarmed nonetheless. Perhaps I will have to go into Salman Rushdie-like hiding, pursued by dogmatic forces, intent on doing me in (unlike you, by the way, I think Salman Rushdie is fabulous).

    Shloka, as I have said before, and as you might recognise if you read some of my posts elsewhere on this site, my position on Islam is far more complex than I believe you think it is (and a very, very long way from overwhelmingly positive – thanks to my upbringing I always have to struggle against an innate hostility to all religion). However, as I have also said before, I see absolutely no point in simply adding my voice to the chorus of occasionally hysterical anti-Islam voices here…

    At some point I appear to have said I couldn’t be bothered to read one of your posts, and this apparently has rather irked you. I sincerely apologise: it’s a childish thing to have said, and what I probably meant by it was that I couldn’t be bothered to respond, not that I actually hadn’t read the thing… anyway, sorry for that – I mean it…

    “You’re so sure your right and everyone else is wrong?” Hah! The ultimate line of the hypocrite! They’re opinions Shloka – if I didn’t think they were right I wouldn’t hold them – and the same goes for you and your opinions (and in any case, why don’t you wait to see what I have to write about Indonesia re. globalisation etc. before you pass judgement on it – you never know, you might agree)….

    With regards what this site is about, yes indeed it does claim to be about “cultural change”; it does not claim to be about Islamism, and if you look you’ll notice that the most popular threads tend often to be about sexy Indonesian ladies and dirty bules…

    I first came across Indonesia Matters a couple of years ago, and at first thought it might prove a very interesting place (I had recently shifted definitively away from the Subcontinent to Indonesia, and was looking for such a place). However, after watching it silently for a couple of weeks I came to the conclusion that it was peopled largely by self-indulgent – and sometimes scarcely literate – people who did nothing more than form an affirmative chorus around “news” stories deliberately and selectively chosen to foster the “erroneous” impression that Indonesia was about to fall to the Taliban (Sorry Patung 😉 I’ve largely revised that impression now by the way). I decided to leave it well alone.

    However, earlier this year I found myself in the unusual and not entirely pleasant situation of having a reliable internet connection, a lot of time on my hands, and not much I could do with it…
    I watched the site again for a couple of weeks, and decided, largely given the presence of characters like Achmad and Ross, that it was well-worth a dip… I decided to stay away from the “Islamism” threads as best I could, knowing from past experience that there’s “no talking to these people”… I thought it might be interesting to try to foster some discussion about real “cultural change” in Indonesia that did not involve the FPI, and to that end wrote THIS… people liked it, but there was no way that it was going to get as much discussion as “church destroyed in Java”, or “sexy dangdut singer scandal” (a lot of people around here seem to have TWO-track minds)…
    Still, there’s always enough going on elsewhere, and some of my more enjoyable debates here have involved the morals of prostitution, communism, the literary qualities (or lack of) of Pramoedya Anata Toer, the creation of national mythology, approaches to writing history, and the use of the term “bule”…

    Still, as they say, hang out in a whore-house long enough, and no matter how innocent your original intentions… so from time to time when I stumble across a particularly frenzied bit of Islamophobia, against all my better judgement, I have to throw in a quick response – and inevitably, I end up regretting it (I will state one more time, it is not by any means that I think Islam is all wonderful; more that I think uncompromising Islamophobia is NOT wonderful)… but at the moment, I’ve had my fill of Indonesia Matters’ main bill of fare, and am returning to the to me much more enjoyable peripheral discussions.
    Shloka, if you find me making “erroneous” comments about India, by all means slip the Bharatmobile into gear; if you catch me making defenses of Islam, unleash your very worst, and absolutely, positively, if you would like to engage me on some other topic that I might be discussing here (communism, say) I’d be genuinely delighted – you write well and fight like a alleycat! But stop pursuing me with your pet themes to places where I am not discussing them…

    Purely incidentally, Karen Armstrong is a very, very odd woman, but her books about Islamic history are rather useful…

  24. Shloka says:

    @ Timdog,

    You worried about my posts, they’re not DEATH THREATS like Salman Rushdie received you know. Imagine how worried the Balinese and Indians must be from your faraway land-when for no rhyme or reason there are blasts leading to death or fatal injuries. Unprovoked bombings in Egypt, Algeria, India, Paris everywhere.

    That point I made about Islamization- its from the about page of IM, I didn’t make it up you know. Of course, the most popular threads are about girls and bules, but those threads seem fewer and far between compared to Talibanization threads.

    I just came onto IM when I was researching FGM and saw a Purba Negoro mistakenly claim it as a Hindu era tradition. I was hooked for a month, now I might quit as well.

    Of course, I can have TWO track minds when a thread deals with cultural change in India, I can discuss religion as well as Indian actors, but I’m hopelessly ignorant about dandnut singers.

    By the way, you wrote an extremely well informed opinion piece, but the Wetu Tulu deserve sympathy just like the Ahmadiyya, right? Both are made to lose their traditional practices, at least there’s no force applied on Wetu Tulus.

  25. Berlian Biru says:

    This is fun.

  26. kinch says:

    Karen Armstrong is a Silly Old Bint.

    Not to mention that she’s proof of the Law of Unintended Consequences – I don’t think the the boys in the red hats dreamed of her likes when they were congratulating themselves on getting rid of the Tridentine Mass.

    No-one has bitten re my theory that Richard Oh got blindsided because he had long been living in PC Lala-Land and had come to accept the rules of said Lala-Land as being immutable givens. To state it simply: A white person may not write takedowns of cosmopolitan bookshop owning, wine-bar frequenting, gallery opening attending Asian intellectuals. A white journalist/writer must write of such people in an approving manner. For a white person to do otherwise is to stray from the path of coolness, and might be construed as racism. A white person must certainly *never* imply that such enlightened individuals are engaged in nothing more than ever-so-self-regardingly-but-it-goes-without-saying-tastefully re-arranging the deck chairs on the good ship Titanic which be rapidly steaming toward some fellaheen iceberg. That would be uncool. And we wouldn’t want that.

    However, the good Richard didn’t compute that these rules do not apply to Indians. Indians are blessed with unwhiteness. They carry not the mark of Cain. Therefore they may speak of such things as the likes of my humble and guilt-of-the-ages-carrying self may not. Furthermore, they are having the gift of the gab. Bevare the viggly-necked pundits! (Doubly so if they happen to be laptop-toting Accenture consultants, but we’ll leave that one for another day.)

    Obviously, I don’t have a dog in this fight… but it *is* deliciously amusing. Carry on, gents!

    Notwithstanding all the above, and moving out of ironic detachment mode for a moment, let me state for the record that I have spent many a happy hour in Richard’s bookstores and their existence makes Jakarta a much more tolerable place for me to be in for any length of time. It is really a good thing that Indonesia has the likes of Richard and his milieu. I mean that.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Late Weimar Berlin.

    (Digression: Anyone visiting Bangkok, MUST go to German Tawandaeng to see the Thais crucify cabaret at 8:30pm 7 nights/week.)

  27. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    @ Richard,

    – Still, Richard. C’mon. You know the business. You’re a writer. You’re a publisher. You’ve been in advertising, so they say. Perhaps you shouldn’t take it so personally.

    Mr. Dhume is in business too. He’s got a profile to keep up in the U.S., a very expensive country. If he went to the Ivy League and is from India, there’s probably some well-heeled relative who funded the enterprise and wants to see a return-on-investment.

    Also, Mr. Dhume’s up against a big challenge: Indonesia’s off the map for the U.S. reading public. Sad had to find a way to whip up the excitement, and the Islam culture wars, through literary non-fiction was the best way to do it.

    Your place in Mr. Dhume’s narrative was to show Western-imported decadence, (or perhaps ancient Oriental decadence) to contrast against the Islamist’s purist vision for Indonesia. Everyone here knows Sabili is a joke and that its publishers, editors, and writers are also half-businessmen.

    Fair ? Perhaps not. But once again, aren’t you running a book chain that has supported big literary hits and new writers ? Can you really sustain this, “I was duped,” line ?

    @ Mr. Dhume,

    Two things:

    – Global narrative
    – Local Indonesian narrative.

    Haven’t read your book, so I can’t comment on the contents.

    But I put it to you that you are squeezing a local narrative into a perceive U.S. or global narrative just to flog your book ?

    – I also think you should be up front about your background — Hindu ? High caste ? Family history with Islam ?

    Djenar’s a bit of a cheap target, someone who’s main claim to fame is writing about her genitals. (Admittedly, I’ve done the same thing, but never wanted to be taken seriously).

    Clit, clit clit. C*nt, c*nt, c*nt. Um, yes, thanks Djenar. Can we move on now ? (Mr. Oh probably played a part in helping to market the “Sastrawangi” as they sell books).

    But also, why did you get Mr. Oh to sign a consent form if you weren’t expecting a sh*t-storm afterwards.

    I doubt Mr. Forbes did.

  28. Achmad Sudarsono says:


    The truth about Indonesian Islam just isn’t that scintillating to the U.S. public. Yes, conservative, even radical Islam is on the rise. But it’s so fractured and divided on ethnic, regional, and political lines, it’ll always be an amorphous tide. Hard to know what’ll get swept up in the wake.

    Books need to be written. Books need to sell. Writers need money, jobs, preferably prestigious ones that give them social capital to open doors.

    Why would Mr. Dhume risk writing a book about what’s really happening and risk sales, jobs, and future publishing contracts ?

  29. Achmad Sudarsono says:

    P.P.S — Timdog — what do u mean by “taking a dip” ?

  30. kinch says:

    ‘taking a dip’ – going for a swim (idiomatic, as you have correctly surmised). TD is saying that he thought it well worth ‘jumping in’ (as one might jump into the HI pool if one’s vaccinations were up-to-date) to the on-going debate/discussion/character-assassination/parade-of-fools/socratic-symposium that flowers in this wondrous hot house of debate.

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