Jihad Guerrillas In The Dutch East Indies

NII_KartosoewirjoDarul Islam was on the run in late 1949. The jihadist army’s jungle camp was a hive of soldiers in short-sleeved shirts and Dutch army helmets. They slept in bivouacs under the palm trees and leaned their old rifles in tripods. The perimeter was strung with rattling tin cans strung on wire.

Down time was spent crouching around cooking fires watching cassava boil. On a good day the jihadists would get an extra pinch of sugar or salt but sometimes food was so scarce they ate leaves. A pack of Escort cigarettes was the kind of luxury that could make a man feel like a king.

The 15,000 strong Islamic army was trapped in a shrinking triangle of territory down in Pasundan’s south-east, a state in newly independent Indonesia. Some locals supported them. Others waited until the green Darul Islam flag with its crescent moon wrapped tight around a star had passed out sight, then contacted the authorities. If the soldiers of Darul Islam discovered the disloyalty they would return and exterminate the village, leaving houses in ruins and crops polluted by bodies and blood.

A Simple Man

Somewhere in the centre of this jihad army was its founder and leader, a dehydrated forty-four-year-old ascetic called Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo. His bivouac was always neat and uncluttered. A typewriter on a wooden crate. A few books of Islamic theology. A radio. A thin-faced wife and three children.

He was a very simple man,’ said one of his bodyguards. ‘When he needed something and could not get it, he did not become angry. He was not particular about his food; he accepted what was available. When he had rejeki [something to live on], he would share it with his followers rather than reserve it solely for his own family. He was a very strict and harsh disciplinarian, like a Spartan. When we bathed in the river, we were not allowed to use soap. Those who defied his instructions were punished’.

Kartosuwirjo had been committed to an independent Islamic Indonesia since the 1920s. He tried protest, democracy, law-breaking, and collaboration with the Japanese. Nothing worked. In 1948 he formed Darul Islam. For the next year his Islamic army controlled a chunk of western Java and fought off any competition, from the Dutch colonials to other Indonesians.

The Dutch were preparing to go home at the end of ’49 and had effectively already handed power to veteran nationalist Sukarno. The president-elect decided to wipe out his rivals. Republican troops of his TNI poured into the area and pushed Kartosuwirjo’s men from hilltop to hilltop, plantation to plantation.

Sukarno had once been on the same side as Darul Islam’s founder. Now he was determined to destroy him and his private caliphate.

Islam and Nationalism

Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo was a pair of angry brown eyes perched in-between a thinning side parting and an anorexic-looking body full of stringy muscle.

The future Darul Islam leader grew up middle-class in the Javanese oil town of Cepu. His father was a minor civil servant in the state opium service, rich enough to fund his son’s dream of becoming a doctor.

Kartosuwirjo met the man who would derail his medical career at the Nederlands-Indische Artsen School (the Dutch Indies Medical School) in Surabaya. The neatly moustached and middle-aged Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto was an important figure in the world of Indonesian Islam. He led the Partai Sarekat Islam Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic Union Party – PSII), a native-run group that wanted to kick out the Dutch and bring in the Quran. Kartosuwirjo signed up and became a devoted activist. Soon afterwards he got expelled from medical school for anti-colonialist politics.

Kartosuwirjo and Sukarno moved in the same circles back then. The future president of Indonesia also followed Tjokroaminoto and would soon marry his daughter.

In 1918 Kartosuwiryo was a dear friend,’ Sukarno told his biographer. ‘We worked side by side with Tjokro [Tjokroaminoto] for our country. In the ‘20s in Bandung we lived, ate, and dreamed together. However as I progressed on nationalistic principles, he worked solely along Islamic principles’.

The PSII survived Tjokroaminoto’s 1934 death but began to split between the pragmatists and the fundamentalists. Kartosuwirjo found a perch on the PSII’s more radical wing. His beliefs blended pan-Islamism with a mysticism that owed something to the Sufis. He preached that ‘complete obeisance to and fulfilment of the commands of God and the Prophet by the Muslims’ was more important than politics.

While touring Malangbong, in West Java, Kartosuwirjo met and married the daughter of a local PSII leader. It did not stop him resigning from the party in 1937 after the pragmatists took control and opened negotiations with the Dutch.

The Muslim group which lives in Islamic Society does not wish to be devoted to Mother-Indonesia or to anyone else,’ said a disillusioned Kartosuwirjo. ‘Rather they wish only to be devoted to the one and only God’.

He set up a madrassa called the Institut Suffah among the coconut plantations near the Malangbong to Blubur Limbangan highway. It made money but Kartosuwiryo remained a peripheral figure in Indonesian politics. It took an invasion by Japan to revive his fortunes.

Banzai Dai Nippon

The Japanese crushed Dutch resistance inside three months in early 1942. Indonesians lined the streets to greet Emperor Hirohito’s troops.

Banzai Dai Nippon,’ they shouted and waved homemade rising sun flags.

japanese DEIFor some, the victory celebrations would turn bitter when the Japanese began rounding up locals for forced labour. Others never lost their love for Japan and its ‘Asia for the Asians’ propaganda which seemed to encourage Indonesian nationalism.

Kartosuwirjo turned collaborator. The Institut Suffah became a military training camp where young Muslim men learned how to fight in Japanese-controlled Hizbullah militia groups. He wrote articles for Java newspapers urging locals to work for the new order. In June 1943 he set up the Bair al-Mal to support the poor.

But the Japanese disbanded the Bair al-Mal in November, not happy with Kartosuwirjo’s enthusiasm for independence or the fundamentalist tone of his religious writing. An organisation called Masyumi replaced the community treasury. Kartosuwiryo did not find a place there but remained loyal to Emperor Hirohito. In April 1945 he was an instructor for the Barisan Pelopor, a youth group based in West Java.

The Japanese surrendered in August 1945 after atomic bombs turned Hiroshima and Nagasaki into molten glass. Kartosurwiyo sloughed his collaborator skin. He formed a 4,000 strong Islamic militia from Hizbullah militia veterans to stop the Dutch reclaiming their islands.

Kartosurwiyo started the independence struggle on the same side as Sukarno. But he hated the TNI leader’s secularism and willingness to compromise with the Dutch. Soon they were enemies.

A political adventurer who always dreamed of power just for himself,’ wrote a bitter pro-Sukarno journalist about his hero’s Islamist rival.

In February 1948 Kartosuwiryo created the Majelis Umat Islam (Council of the Islamic Community) at a meeting near Tasikmalaya. The council declared itself the Islamic government in West Java. Kartosuwiryo was its Imam. Hizbullah merged with other groups to become the council’s armed forces as the Tentara Negara Islam Indonesia (Indonesian Islamic State Army – TNII).

Everyone called it Darul Islam.

Face the Attack

Kartosuwiryo was smart enough to stir a generous portion of pragmatism into his jihad. In the autumn of 1948 he approached the Pasundan government about an alliance.

The Dutch had created Pasundan on 24 April 1948 after a military drive known as the First Police Action pushed Sukarno’s republicans out of the area. The men in Amsterdam looked for collaborators. They chose Raden Adipati Aria Muharam Wiranatakusuma, a solemn sixty-year-old from a long line of Indonesians who made careers in the civil service.

Kartosuwirjo_17_August_1950_KRWiranatakusuma was a devout Muslim who had issues with the secular nature of Sukarno’s republicanism. That gave the Dutch enough wriggle room to persuade him of federalism’s benefits. Only after he took the post of Wali Negara (state leader) did Dutch spies discover Wiranatakusuma had some radical ideas of his own.

His real ideal is an Islamic, completely independent and sovereign state of Pasundan,’ said a Dutch report.

Six months into his rule Wiranatakusuma agreed to talk with Kartosuwiryo, the warlord who had carved out his own little caliphate in the south-west of Pasundan territory. The pair liked each other but Wiranatakusuma could not afford to lose Dutch support by going rogue. The discussions came to nothing.

In December, Amsterdam launched a Second Police Action to arrest Sukarno’s top men. Kartosuwiryo thought it a ‘gift from God’ that got his rivals out of the way. He proclaimed Darul Islam the only legitimate government of independent Indonesia. His group had always been violent but now it began sabotaging telephone connections, destroying bridges, burning villages, and kidnapping anyone with a few rupiah in the bank.

Kartosuwiryo’s thinking turned apocalyptic. He was sure a Third World War was coming and awaited it impatiently. Some of his followers regarded him as an incarnation of the messiah figure known as the Ratu Adil, or Imam Mahdi, a similar figure of supernatural justice from Islamic tradition. Officially he discouraged the mythologising but military men noticed his increasingly aloofness on the battlefield.

One day we were in the vicinity of Gunung Telaga Bodas in Tasikmalaya,’ said the bodyguard. ‘We were resting, but Kartosuwiryo was having his lunch. Suddenly an attack was launched from the direction of Cisayong. When we reported this to him, he said: “They are males, and you are males too. Face the attack.” With that remark, he continued eating and the battle continued to be fought.’

The Dutch were not the only enemy. Sukarno’s troops had flooded back into West Java, plotting to liberate their leader. The men of Darul Islam seemed to welcome them and shared their food. TNI men discovered too late their bowls of cassava had been dosed with poison. Those who survived the meal found themselves captured and disarmed. Kartosuwiryo had no intention of sharing his powerbase.

Pro-Sukarno journalists spread the word that Darul Islam had done a deal with Amsterdam and claimed the group’s initials should stand for ‘Dutch Infiltration’. Muslim intellectual Mohammed Natair ran a campaign in the spring of 1949 arguing that Kartosuwiryo’s beliefs were a perversion of Islam. It was convincing enough that many Darul Islam men defected. TNI troops who had avoided the poisoned cassava took more direct action and started shooting.

Darul Islam’s connective tissue decayed under the assaults, giving inexperienced lower level leaders more autonomy. They exercised it poorly: requests became orders, donations became seizures, political opponents were murdered. At the same time, the Dutch realised they could not hold back independence. They began to negotiate with Sukarno, regarded as the voice of Indonesian nationalism. When Darul Islam tried to push centre stage by declaring an Islamic Republic on 7 August 1949 it was dismissed as an irrelevance.

The Republicans tried to bring Darul Islam back into the fold later in the year as independence approached. But Kartosuwiryo refused.

I cannot swallow my spittle again,’ he said.

He was happy to talk when Pasundan leader Wiranatakusuma reached out in October of 1949. Over the last year the newly-created state had fallen apart in the crossfire between Republicans, the Dutch, and Darul Islam. A disillusioned Wiranatakusuma had given up on federalism. He wanted Darul Islam’s support in establishing Pasundan as an Islamic state, independent of Sukarno’s coming Indonesia.

Kartosuwiryo accepted an invitation to Bandung. Wiranatakusuma wanted him to meet someone. Kartosuwiryo turned up wearing his usual colourful short-sleeved shirt and black peci fez. He was introduced to a muscular white man who spoke fluent Bahasa Indonesia.

It was Turk Westerling.

The Dutchman had an idea for a coup that would make Pasundan independent and destabilise Sukarno’s government. Kartosuwiryo agreed to listen.

If you want to show some love for this blog then feel free to buy my books in paperback or ebook:

Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion [or amazon.com]


Katanga 1960-63: Mercenaries, Spies and the African Nation that Waged War on the World  [or amazon.com]


Franco’s International Brigades: Adventurers, Fascists, and Christian Crusaders in the Spanish Civil War [or amazon.com]


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