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Islam and Politics in Indonesia and Beyond

Against this backdrop, I spent the 1997-98 academic year based in Surabaya, conducting research on these 'riots'. The same months saw the acceleration of the Asian economic crisis, the unravelling of the dictatorship of long-time president Suharto (1966-98), and the onset of a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy. My preliminary investigations of the 'riots' of 1995-97 and my experiences and observations witnessing the dramatic political events of 1997-98 provided the basis for a decade of research and writing on Indonesia and on the role of Islam in the politics of the country, and, to a lesser extent, other countries in Southeast Asia and beyond, most notably my book Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).  

Against alarmist and Islamophobic understandings of "Islamist terrorism" in the heyday of Al Qa'ida, I argued that the shifting patterns of violence in the name of Islam should be understood in terms of the rapid rise and fall of Islam as a basis for political mobilization and representation in the context of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy, both in Indonesia and more broadly. I have explored the broader implications of this line of argument beyond Indonesia in my teaching and am working towards a broadly conceived book-length study along these lines based on a postgraduate course I have taught in the International Relations Department at the LSE, "Islam in World Politics" (IR461) since 2005. 


To date, my publications on this front have included the following:

“Men on Horseback and Their Droppings: Yudhoyono’s Presidency and Legacies in Comparative Regional Perspective,” in Marcus Mietzner (ed.), The Yudhoyono Presidency: Indonesia’s Decade of Stability and Stagnation (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015), pp. 55-72.


“Dangers and Demon(izer)s of Democratization in Egypt: Through an Indonesian Glass, Darkly,” in Fawaz A. Gerges (ed.),The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 226-254. 


“The Changing Politics of Religious Knowledge in Asia: The Case of Indonesia,” in Saw Swee-Hock and Danny Quah (eds.),The Politics of Knowledge (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009), pp. 156-192. 


“Jihad and the Specter of Transnational Islam in Southeast Asia: A Comparative Historical Perspective,” in Eric Tagliacozzo (ed.),Southeast Asia and the Middle East: Islam, Movement, and the Longue Durée (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), pp. 275-318.  


“The Islamist Threat in South East Asia: Much Ado About Nothing?,” Asian Affairs, Volume 39, Number 3 (November 2008), pp. 339-351. 


“The Manifold Meanings of Displacement: Explaining Inter-Religious Violence in Indonesia, 1999-2001,” in Eva-Lotta E. Hedman (ed.), Conflict, Violence, and Displacement in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program, 2008), pp. 29-59.  


“It’s Not Getting Worse: Terrorism is Declining in Asia,” Global Asia, Volume 2, Number 3 (November 2007), pp. 41-49. 


“On the ‘Anxiety of Incompleteness’: A Post-Structuralist Approach to Religious Violence in Indonesia,” South East Asia Research, Volume 15, Number 2 (July 2007), pp. 133-212.  


The Islamist Threat in Southeast Asia: A Reassessment(Washington, D.C.: East-West Center Washington, 2007).  

Indonesia: Minorities, Migrant Workers, Refugees, and the New Citizenship Law (Geneva: United Nations High Commission on Refugees, March 2007).  


Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006). 


“Other Schools, Other Pilgrimages, Other Dreams: The Making and Unmaking of ‘Jihad’ in Southeast Asia,” in James Siegel and Audrey Kahin (eds.), Southeast Asia over Three Generations: Essays Presented to Benedict R. O’G. Anderson (Ithaca: Cornell UniversitySoutheast Asia Program, 2003), pp. 347-382.  


Indonesia: Continuing Refugee Problems, November 2001 – August 2002. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, August 2002. 


Indonesia: The Limits of Democratization and Decentralization, January 2000 – October 2001. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, October 2001. 


“’It takes a madrasah’?: Habermas meets Bourdieu in Indonesia,” South East Asia Research, Volume 9, Number 1 (March 2001), pp. 109-122. 


“Riots, Church Burnings, Conspiracies: The Moral Economy of the Indonesian Crowd in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Ingrid Wessel and Georgia Wimhofer (eds.), Violence in Indonesia (Hamburg: Abera Verlag, 2001), pp. 64-81. 


Indonesia: Trends Toward Consolidation, Threats of Disintegration. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, December 1999. 


Indonesia: Transition and its Discontents, July – November 1998. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, December 1998. 


“Macet Total: Logics of Circulation and Accumulation in the Demise of Indonesia’s New Order,” Indonesia 66 (October 1998), pp. 159-194. 


Indonesia: Crisis and Transition, Catastrophe and Progress. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, June 1998. 


Indonesia: Economic, Social, and Political Dimensions of the Current Crisis in Indonesia. Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, April 1998. 


“Rewind, Pause, Fast Forward: Viewing the Ongoing Political Transition in Indonesia 1996-1997,” European Institute for Asian Studies Briefing Paper No. 97/01 (Brussels: EIAS, March 1997).

Riots Pogroms Jihad Book Cover.jpg

In the mid-1990s, I began to shift the focus of my research from the Philippines to Indonesia, a country whose language, history, and politics I had begun to study as an undergraduate and in which I maintained something of an interest as a PhD student as well. From the outset, I was especially intrigued by the role of Islam in Indonesian politics and in Islam as a rubric for mobilization and resistance of various kinds. In my undergraduate Indonesian language class we had read and discussed articles in the Indonesian magazine Tempo about the so-called "Tanjung Priok Incident" of September 1984, in which Indonesian Army troops massacred dozens of members of an urban poor community in the port area of Jakarta in response to rousing speeches by an Islamic scholar at a local mosque and subsequent anti-government protests nearby. 

When I visited the East Javanese port city and regional capital of Surabaya in the summer of 1994,  I was struck by the many reports of local land disputes in which scholars (kyai) affiliated with the Islamic association Nahdlatul Ulama played leadership roles, and I was similarly impressed by the effectiveness of the prominent Madurese scholar Kyai Haji Alawi Muhammad in resisting the Indonesian government's plans to build a bridge from Surabaya to the nearby island of Madura. Over 1995, 1996, and 1997 groups of Islamic students were involved in a series of 'riots' in towns and cities across Java and other islands of the Indonesian archipelago with government buildings, non-Muslim-owned department stores, shopping malls, supermarkets, and non-Muslim houses of worship as their targets. 


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