Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia

Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia

Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia

Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia


Rooted in the latest theoretical debates about nationalism and ethnicity, yet written in an accessible and engaging style, Islam and Nation presents a fascinating study of the genesis, growth and decline of a nationalist movement.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with nationalist leaders, activists and guerillas, Aspinall reveals how the Free Aceh Movement went from being a quixotic fantasy to a guerilla army in the space of a generation, leading to a bitter conflict in which thousands perished. And by exploring the complex relationship between Islam and nationalism, Aspinall also explains how a society famed for its Islamic piety gave rise to a guerilla movement that ended up rejecting the Islamic goals of its forebears.

Islam and Nation is a tour de force in the study of nationalist politics. It will be of great interest to readers concerned about Southeast Asia, Islamic politics, ethnic conflict and nationalism everywhere.


“Who is the governor of Aceh?” asked Military Resort Commander
A. Y. Nasution, during a discussion with a group of children….
“Abdullah Syafi’ie, Sir,” piped up Mustafa, a grade five elementary
school student. the commander was shocked and surprised, then
quiet for a moment. Then he explained to the children that the
governor of Aceh was Abdullah Puteh. “That Abdullah Syafi’ie, he’s a
gam rebel” he explained, prompting laughter from the villagers.

Analisa, April 27, 2004

This uncomfortable scene, in which a child in a village in North Aceh confuses the name of the head of Indonesia’s provincial government with the name of the (deceased) military leader of Aceh’s rebel movement, occurred almost a year after the Indonesian government declared martial law in Aceh. the government had intended to exterminate the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM) “down to its roots,” but military officers’ encounters with Acehnese school children suggested that this was easier said than done; the incident just presented was not the only one of its type recorded in the press. a few months earlier another officer found that students at a different school in North Aceh did not know the date of Indonesian army day, yet could quickly recall the anniversary of GAM’s declaration of independence. “Education has failed,” he lamented, apparently good-humoredly (Kompas, October 28, 2003). a little later, Colonel Nasution was angry when a patriotic song competition was attended by students from only thirty-five of the ninety schools invited. Schools that did not send students, he said, had likely been . . .

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