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Location in Asia.
Indonesia such a big country, such a diverse country and so many different people there, and it reminded me that we have to have a broad view of the world and recognize that we all are connected.
—US president Barack Obama.[1]

Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country and largest archipelago (group of islands) in the world (estimates between 8,000 to 18,000 islands, don't ask) roughly between mainland Asia and Australia, known to Australians and Americans tourists as Bali. Its 250 million people are mostly Sunni Muslim of the Syafi'i branch with local outcrops of other religions (e.g. North Sumatra, predominately Protestant; Bali predominately Hindu, East Nusa Tenggara predominately Catholic, etc.). Despite demographically being the largest Muslim country in the world, culturally Indonesia has its roots embedded deep in animist beliefs, stemming from an assimilation of Hinduism and Buddhism.

In its long and complex history, Indonesia has come under the sway of various empires, most importantly almost three centuries of Dutch rule, specifically under the Dutch India Company (VOC).


End of Dutch rule[edit]

Japanese naval landings in Java, 1942.

Dutch colonial rule came to an end in 1942 when the Japanese Army invaded South-East Asia. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the surrender of the Japanese Army, Indonesian nationalists used this opportunity to achieve independence, which was proclaimed in 17th August 1945 under the leadership of Soekarno (westerners insist the spelling is Sukarno) and Muhammad Hatta, whom later would become Indonesia's first president and vice president. The Dutch with the support of the Allies (i.e. the British Empire) tried to re-take Indonesia, initially landing in East Java, however heavy guerrilla fighting and a threat by the US to end Marshall Aid to the Netherlands (crippled by the war) forced the Dutch to recognize Indonesian independence. The Dutch aggression also helped Indonesia gain favorable diplomatic support in the international arena of diplomacy.

An attempt at democracy of sorts was made by the new leader Soekarno, in the form of democratic dictatorship guided democracy. With Indonesia's economy in turmoil, with inflation rates up to 500%, in a bid to distract the citizens from the hardships they faced, Soekarno created a common enemy in the newly federated states of Malaysia, under the guise of labeling them a puppet state of the British with the "Ganyang Malaysia" (roughly defeat or destroy Malaysia) movement. The Indonesian-Malaysian confrontation was an undeclared war, which involved a failed attempt to seize control of oil-rich Brunei and Malaysian Borneo using guerrilla warfare in 1963. Malaysian territories were well defended by primarily the Malaysian armed forces complemented with British (which included the Indian Gurkha) and Australian special forces, defeating numerous skirmishes by the Indonesian army (the many defeats are unknown to most Indonesians and is not taught in the history curriculum). While Sukarno publicly portrayed himself as an anti-colonial and a key protagonist in the non-aligned movement, in reality he was aiming for a greater Indonesia (Indonesia Raya). This involved not only the eventual occupation of Malaysia and Brunei but also the invasion and incorporation of Papua New Guinea (East Irian) and Australia (South Irian). In 1965, a failed communist coup which left several top pro-Soekarno army generals dead was blamed on the only communist party (PKI) in Indonesia and the ethnic Chinese destroyed the delicate balance of power between the military and the communists. This led to a widespread purge that killed at least half a million people. Soekarno was overthrown through a coup d'état by then, the Commander of the Army Strategic Command (Kostrad), General Suharto.

Suharto and The New Order[edit]

Suharto in 1983.

The rise of Suharto led to a thirty-two year period of one-party right-wing rule under Golongan Karya (Golkar), which became known as the New Order (multiple political parties were allowed, but only if they had the same policies as the government). Suharto's rule was marked with human rights abuses, an invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste in 1975 (which resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 East Timorese), and the annexation of Netherlands New Guinea (renamed Irian Jaya, and later renamed Papua) in a fraudulent "Act of Free Choice" in which Papuan tribal elders were forced to cede their territory at gunpoint in 1969. Over 100,000 Papuans are reported to have died under Indonesia's military occupation.[2]

The Transmigration ProgramWikipedia was a key policy of the The New Order - in effect movement of people from densely populated areas of Indonesia to less populous areas of the country. This reduced the proportion of native populations in the target receiving regions, and significantly weakened separatist movements. It remains a key cause of conflict and violence between settlers and indigenous populations.[3]

Suharto's rule also enabled some of the most astonishing corruption that the world has seen. No head of state has ever leeched more off of his country's economy: Even the late Nicolae Ceauşescu of Romania (who devoted 40% of his country's GDP to building a hideous palace) and the late Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines (whose still-living widow Imelda is best described as a bad caricature of an 18th century French princess mixed with a dash of Lady Macbeth) look like nickel ante amateurs next to Suharto. Just how much he and his (military and military-affiliated) cronies stole is unlikely to ever be known, as the Suharto clan still holds many of these assets, but the figure is estimated to lie somewhere between the GDP of a smallish African country and Bernie Madoff. That Indonesia survived his pilfering as well as it did--which is to say, not very well--is a testament to the country's sheer raw potential.[4]

Reformation era[edit]

Riots in Jakarta during the 1998 financial crisis.

After the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis weakened the economy and made people angry, and student protests led to Suharto resigning from office and ushered in the Reformation Era to re-establish democracy in Indonesia, such as having open legislative and presidential elections, lifting restrictions on political parties, and devolution of powers to the provinces.

The 2000s was marked by various terrorist acts by homegrown extremist Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah (affiliated with Al Qaeda).

The result of a negotiated peace in Aceh Province in Sumatra has been the elevation of many Free Aceh Movement leaders to positions of power in the provincial government. Consequently, a form of sharia law is now enforced in Aceh with regular public whippings. It is considered lenient because there are no stonings.[5] The Free Aceh Movement has also inspired Islamic political groups to take a harder line in Indonesia on crime and punishment.

Joko Widodo was elected president in October 2014 on a populist platform of law reform including enforcing a compulsory death penalty for drug trafficking.[6]

In 2015, Indonesia's military budget was increased to US$8.1 billion[7], despite the country receiving substantial foreign aid from Australia (A$606 million) and New Zealand (NZ$48 million).

Religious extremism[edit]

The Ritz-Carlton hotel after the 2009 bombingsWikipedia

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation, with Islam accounting for 87% of the estimated 255 million population. Of that, some 99% are thought to be Sunni muslims. [8]

The Islamic Defenders Front or Front Pembela Islam (FPI) was a radical organisation group, notorious for thuggish hate crimes, and used to be the extreme Islamic group most likely to be encountered by local Indonesian communities before they were banned by the government.[9] There have been loud calls by Indonesians, including from moderate Muslims, for the group to be officially banned. Groups of FPI thugs have attacked various churches, popular culture events such as a Lady Gaga concert, minority non-Sunni Muslim communities, and bars, clubs and retail outlets in several cities. [10] [11]

Particularly since the election of Joko WidodoWikipedia as President in 2014, Islamic political parties are pushing to have the consumption of alcohol banned throughout Indonesia but this move has received little support.[12] The province of AcehWikipedia is under sharia law.


While Indonesia is generally (and correctly) regarded as a moderate Muslim nation[note 1] there are extreme local groups which have perpetrated acts of terror. Jemaah IslamiyahWikipedia (JI) is a transnational militant terrorist group led by Indonesian national Abu Bakar Bashir which is dedicated to the establishment of a regional Islamic caliphate. Terrorist atrocities committed by JI include two bombings of tourist areas in Bali, the Marriot Hotel and Stock Exchange building in Jakarta, and co-ordinated bombing of Christian churches across Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000. In 2013, JI called for the deaths of all Australians living in Indonesia, after it was revealed by Edward Snowden that the Australian government had hacked the mobile telephones of Indonesian politicians, and Australian teachers living in the country were being used to spy on Indonesia.[13][14]

On January 14th 2016, six explosions rocked Jakarta resulting in the death of two bystanders and five of the perpetrators. Daesh claimed that it's "crusader alliance" was responsible for these attacks. Indonesian police confirmed that at least one of the attackers was a known local radical who had previously served 7 years in jail for attending militant training camps in the Province of Aceh. [15][16]

Human rights[edit]

Indonesia's House of Representatives.

LGBT rights[edit]

Indonesian law does not prohibit private, same sex relations between consenting adults. A national bill to criminalize homosexuality, along with cohabitation, adultery and the practice of witchcraft, failed to be enacted in 2003 and no subsequent bill has been reintroduced.[17].

Despite condemnation by right-wing religious groups and/or individuals, Indonesia has had a homosexual Minister of Tourism (Joop Ave), traditional entertainment such as Kuda Lumping (traditional Javanese dance) which is rumored to have homosexual screening, and several successful transgender celebrities in the entertainment industry.

In the larger cities of Java and especially in Bali, the LGBT community is quite visible and can even appear to be loud and proud. However, conservative Islamic social mores tend to dominate within the broader society and periodically LGBT people become the targets of local religious laws or fanatical vigilante groups. For example in 2015, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) issued a Fatwa which stigmatised the LGBT population by declaring them “deviant” and an affront to the “dignity of Indonesia.” [18]

In 2002, the semi-autonomous Aceh Province was given permission to introduce Sharia Law, albeit only to Muslim residents. This resulted in a local regulation that punishes any Muslim caught having gay sex with 100 lashes. [19]

Prisoners and disappearances[edit]

Under former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Indonesian government failed to implement the recommendations that the House of Representatives (DPR) made on cases of enforced disappearances that occurred in 1997-1998. On 30 September 2009, the DPR recommended that the government: establish an ad hoc human rights court; investigate the disappearance of the 13 missing activists and pro-democracy students; provide compensation and rehabilitation to the victims’ families; and ratify the ICPPED. [20]

Indonesia’s third Universal Periodic Review took place in Geneva on 3 May 2017. During the review, Indonesia received 225 recommendations. The Indonesian government accepted 150 recommendations and said it would examine and provide a response to the remaining 75 by the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council, to be held in September 2017. Among the important recommendations accepted by the government were those that called on Indonesia to: ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED); criminalize torture and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OP-CAT); protect human rights defenders; and ensure that anti-terrorism laws and policies comply with international human rights standards.

With regard to the death penalty, Indonesia received 12 recommendations, most of which urged the government to abolish capital punishment for drug-related offenses, establish a moratorium on executions, and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR-OP2), aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. During the interactive dialogue, Indonesian Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly said that Indonesia had “always applied the necessary safeguards based on international standards” in the application of the death penalty. Yasonna labeled drug offenses as the “most serious crimes” in line with the interpretation of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. However, this interpretation is clearly inconsistent with that of the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR). The CCPR has repeatedly stressed that capital punishment for drug-related offenses is a clear violation of Article 6 of the ICCPR, to which Indonesia is a state party. [21]


Indigenous Sumatran religious ceremony, 1915.

The country officially recognizes 6 (six) religions: Islam, Protestant, Catholic, Buddha, Hindu (which is uniquely monotheist per 18th century), and lastly Confucianism, which was officially recognized in 2011. Woo has a strong presence, despite what religious statistics may infer. In rural areas especially (but by no means only), all manner of woo is accepted and practiced, usually unique to each tribe.

Despite Indonesian law requiring each citizen to declare an adherence to one of the six accepted state religions, all manner of animism, ancestor worship and other ancient beliefs are practiced. This manifests itself in witchcraft, specifically shamanism, traditional healing practices, psychic powers, personality cults, etc.

Many Indonesians, including the well-educated, believe in the peculiar concept of masuk angin (literally "entered wind"). In essence, wind entering the body makes you sick and must be expelled by burping, farting, or the rather scary practice of kerokan - drawing a coin across the back or chest of the victim so firmly that it leaves red welts reminiscent of the aftermath of a whipping. Masuk angin is truly the national illness of Indonesia.[22] In reality of course, this is just stomach gas or catching a cold.[23]

The Indonesian island of Bali has become something of a Mecca for western practitioners of woo. You name the brand of woo, Bali has it entrenched in its expat community. Any rational human being entering an expat cafe in the central Balinese town of Ubud could be forgiven for imagining they had arrived in woo-tastic pseudoscience hell. [24] It was bad before Eat, Pray, Love. Since then...


See also[edit]


  1. For instance, Jakarta, an 80% Muslim city of 10 million, recently elected a Christian governor (now imprisoned due to made-up charges of religious blasphemy laws).


  1. Indonesia. Wikiquote.
  2. Welcome to West Papua's War with Indonesia
  3. Transmigration in Indonesia: Lessons from its environmental and social impacts
  4. Politicians Are Rewriting the History of Indonesia's Most Corrupt Dictator
  5. Gay in Aceh? Brace for 100 lashes in front of a jeering crowd
  6. Siagian, Sandra (March 2015). "Indonesian President Unyielding on Death Penalty". Inter Press Service. 
  7. Grevatt, John (17 August 2014). "Indonesia increases defence budget 14%". IHS Jane's Defence Industry. 
  8. Sensus Penduduk 2010
  9. Indonesia bans hardline Islamic Defender's Front group
  10. Garut Police Take a Stance Against FPI
  11. Indonesia's Islamo-Fascists
  12. Danubrata, Eveline (14 April 2015). "Indonesian Islamic parties seek ban on alcohol consumption". Reuters. 
  13. Australia spied on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leaked Edward Snowden documents reveal
  14. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
  15. Jakarta attacks: Islamic State militants claim responsibility – as it happened
  16. Jakarta attacks: Convicted militant named as attacker
  17. Indonesia Seeks to Imprison Gays
  18. [ In response to anti-LGBT fatwa, Jokowi urged to abolish laws targeting minorities]
  19. Strict Shariah Forces Gays Into Hiding in Aceh.
  22. How to expel wind when you have masuk angin.
  24. Changing Lives and Perceptions in Ubud