Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Book Proposal Indonesia: The Political Journey

By Andreas Harsono

To publish a book in English on the growing regional movements to have self-governance and to seek justice as well as the recognition of one’s identities in many troubled parts of Indonesia –a few of which demanded independence from Jakarta but mostly questioned the notion of “bangsa Indonesia” (Indonesian nation) in this world’s largest archipelagic country.

The book’s temporary title is “Indonesia: The Political Journey.” It is a political travelogue with historical, political, and anthropological backgrounds, but written with the story-telling technique. Some chapters will include a reconstruction of an event but others will use the first-person naration. It will involve literature researches, interviews, and travelling into the areas to be covered.

It is not a Lonely Planet-styled travel book nor an academic survey of Indonesia’s nationalism. It will be more of the same category of V.S. Naipaul’s Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey or Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu. Time magazine also provides good examples through its annual “The Asian Journey” cover stories. I will learn their structures and the “engines” of the stories to make my book engaging readers, from chapter one to the last chapter. I will try to write a book that can help its readers peek underneath the surface of things, finding the deeper meanings in every strange word, glance and sight, I will encounter.

There will be nine chapters. Each chapter will focus in one particular area on the question of nationalism in Indonesia: (1) Aceh in northern Sumatra where a separatist movement had grown since the 1950s; (2) Flores-West Timor whose area is next to newly-independent East Timor; (3) the legacy of the sectarian conflict in the Moluccas and North Moluccas; (4) the Dayak-Madurese conflict in Kalimantan; (5) the so-called Chinese minority in Indonesia; (6) the dominance and compromises of the Javanese as well as the bombing in the neighboring island of Bali organized by some radical Muslim terrorists; (7) the emergence of Malay nationalism in Riau; (8) the secessionist movement in Papua; and (9) the bitterness of the Permesta rebellion in Minahasa, northern Sulawesi, which will also include a visit to Miangas Island, the northernmost island of Republic of Indonesia.

I will travel to these areas and spend about two weeks each, indeed, after doing intensive research and some preliminary interviews over the phone. It will take about one year, which is a very tight deadline, to finish the book. More or less, each chapter will be produced in six weeks. The English manuscript is to be finalized in one year. It will be published probably two months after the submission of the manuscript.

I hope the Bahasa Indonesia version can be partly translated and partly written with some degrees of adopting to the local Indonesian dialects in respective area soon after the English version has been completed. I have discussed publication of both the English and Indonesian versions with Mark Hanusz of the Equinox book publishing house.

In his classic, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, the political scientist Benedict Anderson argued that a nation is an “imagined community.” By definition, a community has members who are aware of each other's existence. But even for a lifetime, members of an imagined community do not meet or come to know a substantial number of the other members.

Indonesia is an imagined community. Let’s take an example. Most Sabang citizens, the westernmost tip of Indonesia, have no idea what Merauke looks like in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua. Yet through a number of media, which include the Indonesian national song Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke, these members acquire a sense of belonging to this larger group, thinking that “bangsa Indonesia” exists from Sabang to Merauke in Papua.

BBC journalist Michael Ignatieff wrote in his book Blood and Belonging: Journeys Into the New Nationalism that culturally, nationalism provides men and women with their “primary form of belonging.” Morally, it can serve to be an "ethic of heroic sacrifice, justifying the use of violence in the defence of one's nation against enemies, internal or external.”

Ignatieff identifies two types of nationalism: (1) civic nationalism, in which the predominant belief is that all those within a nation who subscribe to the nation's political creed should be its citizens; and (2) ethnic nationalism, in contrast, holds to the idea that belonging and attachment to a nation is inherited, not chosen. “It is the national community which defines the individual, not the individuals who define the national community.”

Most Indonesian elite members consider ethnic nationalism to be their nationalism, for instance, by producing and using the notion that there are “pribumi” and “non pribumi” to differentiate between Indonesian of Chinese descent and other Indonesian citizens.

It turns out that this kind of nationalism has also spread to the troubled regions where people identity themselves as, for example, “bangsa Aceh” versus “bangsa Jawa” in Aceh, or “pendatang” (immigrants) versus “orang asli” (indigenous people) in Papua, or “merah” (Christian) and “putih” (Muslim) in the Moluccas, and in northern Sulawesi, the Minahasans have set up an organization whose name is “Persatuan Minahasa” (Minahasa Association) –the same name used by the Minahasans in the 1920s to advocate stronger position against the Dutch colonial administrator.

I will try to take a look into this big question by travelling into the eight areas, writing not only about the conflicts but also the historical backgrounds, e.g., how the Portuguese or the Dutch had conquered local sultanates or tribes in the 18th or 19th centuries and thus united the archipelago.

The book will have 110,000-120,000 words or around 380 to 400 pages. Each chapter will have around 12,000-13,000 words divided into five or six parts. Each part will consist of about 2,500 words. Each page will have 400 words more or less. But the chapter on Java will be longer than the other chapters as it will also include the Bali bombing.

I like the sizes and physical appearances of books published by Anchor Books, a division of the New York-based Random House Inc. One particular book whose format I like is Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev. Paperback: 384 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.87 x 8.14 x 5.22.

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