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Capsule Review

Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto's Coup d'État in Indonesia; Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia

In This Review

Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto's Coup d'État in Indonesia
By John Roosa
University of Wisconsin Press, 2006 328 pp. $50.00 Purchase
Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia
By John T. Sidel
Cornell University Press, 2006 296 pp. $55.00 Purchase

These two books examine in fascinating detail the rising level of violence in Indonesian politics. Roosa tells the story of how, in the fall of 1965, the word was spread that a secret communist "movement" was plotting to take over the government -- sparking a life-and-death struggle to kill off those in the "movement" before they gained power. The triggering event was the kidnapping on October 1 of six right-wing generals, which prompted a search for members of an underground communist organization. Within the army, General Suharto soon took command and called for an all-out campaign against communist suspects. The result was the mass killing of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indonesians. Roosa's detailed examination of what happened led him to the conclusion that there never was an organized movement and that the propagation of the idea of such a thing was used to justify mass murder.

Sidel's analysis of religious violence in Indonesia picks up the story with General Suharto in command of the government, but with a restless population prone to expressing its discontent by rioting. The conspicuous wealth of Chinese merchants made them easy targets of pogroms, and the identity-building process made many Indonesians conscious that they had a rightful leadership place in the Islamic world -- and hence an obligation to participate in jihad. Thus, the historically peaceful Indonesians, as they expanded their worldview, came to recognize increasingly the importance of violence in both national and international politics.

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