[By Dani Mulyanto]
“And whoever does evil, or wrongs his own soul, but afterwards seeks Allah’s forgiveness, will find Allah is Forgiving, Compassionate.” Surat An-Nisa [4:110]
I guess that verse of Holy Qur’an is what motivates Gus Dur, by publicly asking apology toward the victims of atrocities that took place in 1965. The extra sensitiveness, bitter memory and massive consequences of this tragedy make this apology seemingly impossible to do. Moreover, it can be said that Gus Dur did it on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Indonesia and Indonesian Muslims, due to his position as the President of the country and one of the most prominent Muslim leaders at that time. Therefore, it is not strange that this apology has been stirring big controversy, harsh criticism, and total denial, even until today. Yet, Gus Dur, not only holds firmly his faith on that verse, but also deepens it to seeking forgiveness from other fellow humans.
The 1965 tragedy refers to the mass killings of the members and suspected members of the Communist Party of Indonesia. The precise number of people caught and slaughtered is unclear and varied, from 70,000 to 3 millions. This fact shows both that there is still a lot of hidden reality to dig out, also it implies how the authority does not do enough to clarify the event. As a matter of fact, the preceding events, such as the assassination of the six generals of army, that was considered as the main trigger of the massacre, are never explained well. Also, the succeeding events, for example the authority transfer from Sukarno to Suharto, and arrest and detention of millions without trial, are still obscure. The efforts to elucidate the mist over it have been continuously done by several local and foreign researchers, including the effort to disseminate the results to the wider public and to ignite more open debate. One of important issues is the involvement of influential religious organizations, like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) through its youth group, Ansor. The NU, a Muslim organization whose members is the largest in Indonesia, is claimed to actively participate in wiping out thousands of alleged communist members. Responding to this, the NU as supported by its leading religious figures deny, saying about the imbalanced accusation on NU and historical context as the main justification.
Nevertheless, Gus Dur on March 14, 2000, asked an apology for the 1965, which was broadcast by a national television. Later, when meeting with Pramudya Ananta Toer, an influential writer who was jailed for years due to his activity with a communist cultural organization, Gus Dur reiterated his apology. He was born and raised in the strong Islamic tradition, although it was rejected by Pramudya. Then, his apology was further crystallized into several concrete actions, inter alia dissolving unit for discriminating the ex-communist party members, encouraging reconciliation between NU and the victims, spurring the legislation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and suggesting to annul the People’s Consultative Assembly Decree of XXV/1996 about the ban on Marxism and Leninism. Beside his belief in democracy and human rights, all of these efforts show his sincerity. Moreover, his position as the first elected president after an authoritarian regime which was considered to be the master mind of the massacre was not an easy one. Gus Dur also comes from strong Muslim tradition, in which his grandfather, Hasyim Asyari was a great ulema and the founder of the NU. He himself used to be the chairman of the NU for three terms, during 1984 -1999. His actions were not only unpopular and against the mainstream opinion, but also were thought too extreme, inviting strong opposition from religious groups, the previous regime people and military. This led to his removal from presidency, along with other issues.
His courageous and truthful act of asking apology may be regarded as controversial. Yet, it does have positive and significant impacts for Indonesia. First, it helps Indonesia to recommit to and reestablish human rights values and framework. After Suharto period which was criticized a lot because of its abuse of international human rights law, Indonesia has been involved in several violent conflicts. East Timor and Aceh are two examples. Gus Dur actions were a signal to international and local public that Indonesia was still committed to human rights. Second, it created a bridge to reconciliation, particularly between the NU and the communist party members. The polarization of Islam (the NU) and communism has been quite strong in the past. However, statements of apology from Gus Dur facilitated the process of bridging differences. They also opened up the door of national reconciliation for other stakeholders, as the conflict against communist party members also involves other religious and nationalist groups. Third, it affirmed the state ideology, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), that accepts and appreciates differences. The reality is that differences in ethnicity, belief, ideology should not mean that every dispute ought to be solved by violence. Non-violent methods are the way to go, as shown through Gus Dur’s apology. His apology became the foundation of democracy that has been growing rapidly and steadily in Indonesia since Gus Dur’s period of presidency.
There is one Indonesian Muslim tradition that is not found in other places. This tradition is the culture of seeking forgiveness and apologizing at least once a year. On the celebration day of Eid al-Fitr this is an informal convention. People visit parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends with the purpose of forgiving each other. Even, when people are not aware of their faults, proactively asking forgiveness is highly suggested. In fact, it is not easy to ask for forgiveness first, especially if we feel that we are right. It is also not easy for those who have higher social status or hold greater power to make themselves humble by asking for forgiveness. However, it does build the bridges among people through compassion and brings reconciliation between humans and God.