Confronting the Past in Contemporary Indonesia

The Anticommunist Killings of 1965–66 and the Role of the Nahdlatul Ulama

Author: Katharine E. McGregor


The collapse of authoritarian regimes and the emergence of new democratic spaces hold the promise of an opportunity to redress instances of past violence. Confronting violent pasts is never an easy task, however, especially when different interest groups stand to lose from such a process. This article explores the role of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in the 1965 killings and shifting views about this past within the NU today. It examines the dramatic move in 2000 of young members of the NU to confront this past and to try to improve relations between members of the NU and former leftists. The article focuses on the reasons for the emergence of Syarikat (Masyarakat Santri untuk Advokasi Rakyat, Muslim Community for Social Advocacy), the nongovernmental organization behind this reconciliation effort, and on responses to its work. As Syarikat’s experience shows, combining the dual goals of societal peace and historical revision has not been an easy task. In its efforts to reinterpret the past, Syarikat is trying to accomplish two somewhat antagonistic objectives: (1) rebutting dominant versions of history and raising awareness about the suffering of former political prisoners, and (2) producing a version of the past that senior members of the NU can live with. Its decision to confront one of the most delicate topics in the history of the NU has had a mixed reception and these responses help us measure the extent of the NU’s commitment to reform and tolerance.

Countries: Indonesia
Topics: Human Rights

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© UN Photo/UNHCR, Yangon, Myanmar