Postscript: Additional Indonesian Impressions
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 7 May 2018
1 May 2018 – It occurs to me that two additional impressions of Indonesia seem relevant enough to be worth a short supplement to my post of a few days ago.
Multituli, Max Havelaar, or the coffee auction of the Dutch trading company (Penguin Classics, 1866)
Multituli is the pen name of Edouard Douwes Dekkar, a 19thcentury Dutch civil servant who worked in the East Indian Civil Service as a colonial official. Multituli produced an extraordinary critique of the colonial mentality from the standpoint of a disenchanted colonialist with eyes wide open, who eventually resigned his position out of disgust, returned to Holland, and subsequently lived in poverty despite an upper class marriage, while trying to survive as an author.
This novelistic treatment of Dutch colonial rule is deservedly viewed as a literary masterpiece, written in an engaging style that has a contemporary feel, especially by inserting illusions and subtle qualifications pertaining to scene and character. What makes this novel worth reading so long after when it was written is its contemporaneous appreciation of the false consciousness that artificially sustained the colonialist sense of Dutch superiority. What Multituli shows so vividly is that the condescension of the Dutch toward the Javanese was pure racism, and that in fact it was the deep traditions of culture and civility native to Java that far exceeded in virtue and ethical quality the empty pretensions of the Dutch claims to be a vehicle for the dissemination of ‘civilization.’
A couple of quotations suggest the tone and direction of the novel’s critique. After discussing some of the functions of administration in a particular region of Java, Multituli writes: “All this, then, results in a strange situation whereby the inferior really commands the superior.” (italics in original) A bit later in the text is this reinforcing observation: “Even the lower-class Javanese is far more polite than his European equivalent—making this apparently difficult relationship more tolerable than it would otherwise be.”
I strongly recommend reading Max Havelaar not only for the pleasure of encountering an intriguing work of fiction reflecting a lively imagination, but also for its capacity to convey a strong sense of how the colonial mind manipulated reality to validate its exploitative relationship to the land, resources, and people of Java, achieved by distorting and deforming social relations between foreign intruder and native inhabitant., producing suffering and humiliation followed by resistance Max Havelaarcan be valuably read in conjuction with the wonderful quartet of Pramoedia, which addresses the evolving political consciousness of a native resister.
The President of Indonesia—Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wadido
Joko Wadido or Jokowi is the seventh president of Indonesia, elected in 2014 for a five year term, and the first president that does not come from an elite military or civilian past. Jokowi, riding his motorcycle around the country, creates the sense of ‘a man of the people’ and is given widespread credit for needed infrastructure reforms and a popular crackdown on tax evasion. His election, popularity, and governing style confirms the impression of a democratizing trend in Indonesia that is benefitting the population as a whole and runs counter to the rise of autocracy throughout Asia and the world. Despite this generally positive assessment of Jokowi’s leadership serious problems remain in the country, including treatment of refugees, corruption, poverty, class tensions, unmanageable traffic, serious pollution, an ethnic and religious grievances among non-Indonesians and non-Muslims.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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