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Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

We must remain vigilant

The 1965 tragedy in the eyes of a Muslim

Born on 23 January 1944 in Kotagede, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the informant in the following narrative, with the pseudonym Asnawi, was the youngest of three in his family. His family was traditionally Muhammadiyah, like Suherjanto in the previous chapter. His father was a Muhammadiyah activist at the branch level and active in various social activities. When the 1965 tragedy occurred, he was 20 or 21 and a member of the Muhammadiyah Youth (Pemuda Muhammadiyah). At the time he was a student in the Economics Faculty of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), Yogyakarta.

The following is an edited version of an interview conducted by Mohammad Subkhi Ridho, a young Muhammadiyah activist and almuni of the Masters program in Religious and Cultural Studies at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta. The interview was conducted on 17 September 2009 at the office of Baitul Mal wa Tamwil (BMT) an-Nikmah in Kotagede, Yogyakarta.

My name is Asnawi. I was born on 23 January 1944 in Kotagede, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I was the youngest in the family. The oldest was a girl, who now lives in Wonosobo, central Java, and then there was a boy, but he died in 1999. I have one daughter. My son-in-law is from Pekalongan, central Java, and they have just given me my first grandchild.

I was born into a traditional Muhammadiyah family. My father was a Muhammadiyah activist, even though only at the local branch level, not at the central level. My father was active in social activities. For instance in the neighbourhood (kampung) cooperative. My father was head of that.

When the 1965 tragedy happened, I was 20 or 21. I was still a student in the Economics Faculty of UGM [Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta]. At the time, I had just started my studies, but then lectures stopped because of the Gestapu [30th September] incident.

At that time, all activities at UGM stopped for one semester. Lectures started up again in 1967. I finished my bachelor’s program in 1972. After I started out as a student, I got active in the Muhammadiyah organization, namely Pemuda Muhammadiyah. I was even head of the Pemuda Muhammadiyah around 1968–1970, before I graduated from UGM.

After finishing my bachelor degree studies in 1971, I moved to Jakarta at the end of 1972 and worked there. I was away from Yogya for about 30 years, and became a civil servant in Jakarta, and in 2003 I returned to Kotagede. In Kotagede I was asked to manage activities at Baitul Mal wa Tamwil or BMT.

Yes there was tension

As far as the 1965 tragedy goes, both before and after it I was merely an ‘extra’, to use the term from the world of film. Meaning my role was way below a supporting role, neither an intelletual actor or an activist. Yes, every night I was on the nightwatch rounds, but still no more than wandering around and joining in, not actively involved, let alone knowing in detail about all kinds of things. At the time I was still small fry. I was not yet active in the Muhammadiyah organization. I had already joined the Muhammadiyah Youth, but only as a member.

What’s more, from 1960 to 1965 I was still young. I was just a pup. I became a member of the ‘Sanggar Bulus Kuning’, an art group run by Muhammadiyah in Kotagede. I became a member of the Publications Division. My duty, amongst other things, was to make banners, to make pictures using wood or paper. The art group was made to ‘compete’ with the arts programs of Lekra, which was close to the Communist Party.

In Muhammadiyah there were lots of arts events. Particularly among the Pemuda Muhammadiyah and Nasyiatul Aisyia (NA). NA was a Muhammadiyah organization for young women. Their activities included playing angklung, and they were organised to keep up with Lekra’s activities of ketoprak performances and Genjer-genjer dance. But as to exactly what the Genjer-genjer dance was, I don’t know. I only know that in the years leading up to the 1965 tragedy it was well known. It used to be performed in Jalan Sopingan here in Yogyakarta.

At that time in Kotagede, Gerwani (Gerakan Wanita Indonesia, the Indonesian Women’s Movement) was not prominent. The one that was prominent in the arts was Pemuda Rakyat. So NA was not a competitor with Gerwani. And NA was really famous at the time. NA were the ones who got angklung going in Kotagede. Every time there was a big Islamic holiday, apart from lectures and the like there was usually musical entertainment. The music was angklung and Islamic dances. It was the people from Kotagede themselves who performed the Islamic dances, particularly from east Kotagede, like Mertosanan, Jampitan and Piyungan.

As for specifically how Muhammadiyah treated the ‘reds’ [leftists or Communist Party members, ed.], I don’t really know. What I know is that before the 1965 tragedy there was indeed tension. What I am talking about is the tension that happened when Muslims held prayer events (pengajian) and so forth, and the ‘reds’ held other events like ketoprak performances, gatherings and so on that were meant to ‘compete’ with the activities in the mosque.

No physical clashes

I heard the information about the Gestapu Incident only a few days afterwards. I got the information that the incident was carried out by the Communist Party. I got this information from a member of my family who happened to work with the intelligence. He told me that the perpetrator of Gestapu was the Communist Party. He was the one who told my parents that there were such and such movements going on. Then he told my father, ‘But you do not need to worry, you do not need to take cover because this house is being well looked after.’ That’s what my older brother said.

The information that the perpetrator of G30S was the Communist Party was actually confused. I myself really did not know. All I knew was what I got from my older brother. He said I should not go out alone at night. That’s all I heard.

When the generals were murdered in Jakarta, there was indeed a kind of counter attack against Communist Party activities. So every night Muhammadiyah members did nightwatch rounds and held self-defence practice. Amongst Muhammadiyah youth, routine practice in self defence was pretty normal. Before [the G30S] it had not been very strict. But I didn’t join. Back then I preferred drawing and painting. Basically, activities that were closer to the arts. Because since I was small I’ve been thin, so I was never attracted to join self defence activities.

What is clear is that back then all activities were carried out with cohesion, both the arts and self defence activities. This cohesion could be seen in the nightwatch which was well coordinated. And then later the communal kitchens that the NA organized and located in mushola and nearby.

What I most remember in the arts and culture field that could be seen as confrontation with Lekra artists, was when we were both making propaganda using billboards. That was the worst it got. So it was merely a kind of war of words via what we made. There were no physical clashes.

Remaining vigilant

As for the policy of giving a special code on the identity cards of people considered to have been communists, I think that was necessary during the New Order. But now with advances in human rights it seems it is no longer right to give such codes.

Back then, not long after the 1965 incident, Muhammadiyah people in Kotagede tried to carry out reconciliation, through socialization and proselytizing (dakwah). This was done by meeting communist figures. But I was not involved in this, because I was too young. According to me, after the 1965 tragedy there was an upsurge in proselytizing in Kotagede. You could see it in the emergence of many mosques. Before the 1965 tragedy there were only two mosques here, the Mesjid Gede and the Mesjid Perak. But after the 1965 incident, every neighbourhood (kampung) had its own mosque and mushola. And that’s still going on today.

These days, I myself am active in proselytizing. And I also attend prayers at the Mataram mosque. The Mataram mosque is the very old one and it is right next door to the ruins of the royal graves. You still find a lot of superstitious practices going on there. Like spells to make people sleep (sirep) and so on.31 We have to fight against his kind of thing.

I think that one of the ways to banish these kind of beliefs is by community programs and by telling those who still make spells that this sort of thing is wrong. These practices are cultish, worshipping spirits and the like. This sort of thing is not in accord with the rules of religion. All religions are the same in that, aren’t they? So the way is through community education programs. I think we need those and proselytizing. We need sermons along the lines of those by Pak A.R. [A.R. Fachruddin], that’s the fresh and persuasive way.

The persuasive way is … for instance, if you say to your neighbour, ‘what, you haven’t said your prayers?’ Well … your neighbour will probably be resentful. You have to find other ways. For instance, through takjilan [the Muslim tradition of distributing food shortly before breaking the fast in the evening during the month of Ramadhan. Trs]

Or it could also be the economic approach. For instance, these days there are many people who are working for less than the minimum regional wage. There are workers who fit buttons on shorts, and they earn only Rp 4,000 or Rp 5,000 a day. That’s far, very far from the minimum wage. Just multiply that by 30 [days]. The total is between Rp 120,000 and Rp150,000. Even though the regional minimum wage for Yogyakarta is Rp 672,000 now. If someone earns less than this it means he or she is still poor.

Now this kind of poverty is very similar to the kind of poverty in the past. Many factory owners are extremely rich, but the workers are dirt poor. Situations like this must be overcome by outreach sermons. Apart from this, the economic means of the ummah must be improved, particularly those at the grass roots. I am convinced that if the people’s lives are prosperous, there will not be a re-emergence of things like before. People will not go all strange. If life is prosperous, people will think: ‘ah, why should I try to find work that is not lawful?’

I think that in the past the most dangerous thing was actually their ideology. Nowadays, the role of ideology is not prominent any more. There are still schools of thought, economic systems, capitalism for instance. But as for monotheism and anti-monotheism, believing in God or not – now it seems that people think more rationally. Even so, we have to remain on the alert, so that there will not be ways of thinking like before. Nowadays times are different. But we have to remain on the alert, so that the latent danger does not emerge. But yes, probably as long as Russia or other countries don’t bring ideas like that into the open [communism. ed], then there is very little chance of it emerging again. But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore it, does it?

31 Making people fall asleep so that thieves can steal their possessions.

Truth Will Out: Indonesian Accounts of the 1965 Mass Violence

   by Dr. Baskara T. Wardaya SJ