Netherlands, other Western countries poor advisers for Indonesia
The Jakarta Post 19 May 2017, Marjolein van Pagee, Rotterdam
As a Dutch journalist and historian I believe that Dutch-Indonesian relations are completely damaged by the past, but instead of stepping back my fellow citizens take every opportunity to teach Indonesia a lesson about human rights. The latest incident was when nonactive Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was recently sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for having insulted Islam. It was not difficult for Joel Voordewind, a Christian member of the Dutch parliament, to get the full support of other members of parliament and urge Foreign Minister Bert Koenders to call on Indonesia to release Ahok.
What is wrong here?
Basically Dutch people think that they are superior to Indonesians when it comes to human rights. They seem convinced that past Dutch human rights violations are no longer relevant, since then foreign minister (Bernard Rudolf “Ben” Bot already expressed “regret” in 2005 for them. The Netherlands is also about to start a new investigation into the Indonesian independence war of 1945-1949. The Dutch therefore seem to think they have the right to speak out.
Recently I received a message from Yusuf, a Muslim friend from Madura, East Java. In 2014 I did research in Pamekasan on the history behind a mass grave dating from 1947. At that time hundreds of young Madurese men died in a battle against the Dutch, in a war that the Netherlands long dismissed as a “police action”.
Armed with swords and bamboo spears, the Madurese attacked Dutch Marines who returned fire with machine guns. In Dutch sources it is suggested that they did so only because they were “whipped up” in the mosque — as if resistance mixed with religious motivation only makes people crazy. No doubt, it was indeed a jihad for many of the strictly religious Madurese, especially the Hizbullah and Sabilillah fighters saw it as a holy war against imperialist infidels.
Since my visit to the island, Yusuf regularly sends me Islamic texts and videos; he is the only Indonesian Muslim I know who tries to convince me about his truth. Not surprisingly, Yusuf believes that Ahok deserves punishment. According to him Ahok should not have misused the Quran. Most of my Indonesian (Muslim) friends do not think that way; they go on to the streets to protest against Ahok’s conviction. Yet, I am sure that Yusuf is not alone.
Remarkably, Yusuf is familiar with the name Voordewind; he also knows that this member of parliament asked the Dutch foreign minister to demand the release of Ahok. He questions this as follows: “The country that colonized the Indonesian archipelago for 350 years only goes into action because Ahok is a Christian. Why is the West only protesting when it comes to a Christian governor? Why don’t we hear them when millions of Muslims in Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and so on, become victims of American imperialism in their fight against ‘terrorists’?”
No matter whether you agree with his statement, Indonesia is facing a growing number of people who think like Yusuf. I can imagine it is a huge challenge for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to deal with such divisions in the country.
Actually, back in Europe, the Netherlands is a divided country as well. A growing number of citizens think that the politician Geert Wilders has a point and that Islam is a threat. The Netherlands, which is pointing the finger of guilt to Indonesia now, in fact allows a political party, Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV), that demands the closure of mosques and frequently denounces Muslim believers.
From my view, a country that is so proud of having freedom of speech and religion is actually the opposite of a religiously tolerant nation. No matter how sad and unfair it is for Ahok as a person I do not believe Indonesia needs the advice of a white “Mr-Know-it-All” like Koenders.
Certainly not given the extremely hypocritical way the Netherlands is still dealing with its colonial history. When talking about Indonesia, the Dutch should not ignore their colonial past. Most of my fellow citizens may have forgotten about it, but Indonesians know much better how black that page was. That Dutch military used extreme violence on a large scale during the independence war might be shocking for Dutch people, but it comes as no surprise to Indonesians.
During the national commemoration of the end of World War II on May 4 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands’ hypocrisy became clear. Apparently Ben Bot’s expression of regret and the announcement of a new investigation are meaningless. I listened to what was said during this commemoration. In principle, the Netherlands commemorates ALL Dutch nationals.
But when it comes to the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies, the figure of 24,000 victims is cited, while in fact a total of 2.45 million Dutch “subjects” died during World War II — people who were considered part of the Dutch Empire and who had to pay respect to the Dutch Queen on her birthday.
The Dutch national commemoration also paid attention to the Indonesian independence war (the term “police action” was avoided this time), however only the figure of 5,000 Dutch soldiers was mentioned. The Indonesian deaths caused by the actions of these soldiers were apparently not worthy of commemoration.
Who cares about the hundreds of young men buried in the mass grave of Pamekasan in 1947? The ceremony did not even bother to explain that this was a war initiated by the Netherlands itself. For the ignorant Dutch people, who have never learned in schoolbooks about their colonial past in Indonesia, it must seem as if the Dutch were also victims in Indonesia. The Japanese and the Germans were the bad guys.
Even after so many years the national narrative still depicts the Dutch as victims and never as the perpetrators.
Conclusion: The Netherlands is a country with a very selective memory and, above all, double standards. I support my Indonesian friends who are now going on to the streets to show their solidarity with Ahok. However, I do not support Voordewind’s proposal. Hypocrisy does not make things better.
After all, the law that convicted Ahok has its origins in the Dutch colonial law. When the Dutch want to criticize injustice in Indonesia they should start there. Dutch member of parliament Voordewind has to do his own homework first — for example, meeting the Dutch National Committee of May 4-5 to discuss a proper commemoration of colonial history. I would love to join him.
The writer is a Dutch journalist and historian, and a founder of the Histori Bersama Foundation focusing on Dutch and Indonesian historical perspectives