Robert Small's AT essay on the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Indonesian Islam reads more like a "Just So Story" than a "True Story."
As per article 2 of the founding NU Statutes of 1926, the goal of this association was:
To uphold one of the schools of (Islamic) law of the four Imams Imam Muhammad bin Idris As-Shafi, Imam Malik bin Anas, Imam Abu Hanifa or Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal -- and to do everything beneficial to Islam.
A 1952 "update" of these founding principles reiterated these goals:
To uphold the law of Islam, in accordance with one of the four schools of law: Shafii, Maliki, Hanafi, and Hanbali[.]
To bring about the application of the precepts of Islam in society[.]
The contemporary Netherlands scholar of Indonesian Islam, J. Boland, in his 1971 "The Struggle of Islam in Modern Indonesia," aptly summarized the implications of the NU's founding principles, adding the NU's own self-characterization:
Over against the modernists (ahli bidah), they (i.e., the NU) liked to call themselves the ahli sunnah wal djamaah, that is, the people who keep to the sunna (usage) of the Prophet, in community with the one great umma or djamaa, in short the orthodox...[A]ccording to article 1 of the by-laws of the NU, membership was dependent on the recognition of the authority of one of the four schools of law. This meant that the reformists or modernists who advocated a return to the Qur'an and Tradition in order to study these sources in an independent way (the so-called "new idjtihad") could strictly speaking not become members of the NU.
Indeed, the NU played a major role in the religious incitement of the mass killings of at least 100,000 non-Muslim ethnic Chinese -- all of whom were deliberately conflated with Communist insurgents during the mid-1960s. The NU and their "youth movement" ANSOR (from the Arabic al-ansar, the Medinan helpers of the Muslim prophet Muhammad) were in the forefront of these violent actions to exterminate the "Communists." Such orthodox Islamic religious incitement was epitomized by the issuance of an authoritative fatwa in November 1965 sanctioning an annihilationist jihad as "A RELIGIOUS DUTY (caps in original)," explaining:
This religious duty is not only recommended, but obligatory, even an individual obligation...And because this action and this struggle must be carried out by consolidating all our strength -- mental, physical, and material -- therefore this action and this struggle are nothing less than a HOLY WAR (JIHAD) [caps in original]. This Holy War, according to religious law, is not (only) recommended, but obligator.
Events of the intervening decades, since 1965, which included a period of direct governance of Indonesia by Robert Small's much ballyhooed Abdurrahman Wahid, provide no evidence that he, or the NU, was a successful "moderating" influence:
- During the 1980s, a frankly genocidal jihad was waged by the Indonesian government against the Christians of East Timor, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. Moreover, for at least the past decade, there have been intermittent Indonesian jihadist pogroms, which have also killed thousands, against the Christians of the Moluccas.
- The Indonesian government released the jihadist leader Bashir after a trivial sentence despite his role in the Bali bombings. This popular Muslim thug wants Indonesia to become, officially, a theocratic "Allah-cracy." Moreover, during a state-sanctioned visit to Indonesia, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was welcomed by throngs of adoring Muslim Indonesian college students.
- World Opinion Dynamics/University of Maryland polling data collected late 2006/early 2007 revealed that ~50% of the Indonesians surveyed desired both strict application the sharia and the (re-)creation of global Islamic caliphate.
- The female genital mutilation rate among Indonesian women persists at well over 90% in Indonesia (97% in Jakarta according to this U.N. report), and the NU opposes the banning of this misogynistic barbarity.
And for some five centuries ongoing, Aceh has been a hotbed of irredentist jihadism. Here is what the great Dutch scholar Hurgronje (who lived in Aceh and was a sympathetic but thoroughly honest student of Acehnese culture) wrote at the beginning of the 20th century (1906) about Aceh:
From Mohammedanism (which for centuries she [i.e., Aceh] is reputed to have accepted) she really only learnt a large number of dogmas relating to hatred of the infidel without any of their mitigating concomitants; so the Acehnese made a regular business of piracy and man -- hunting at the expense of the neighboring non -- Mohammedan countries and islands, and considered that they were justified in any act of treachery or violence to European (and latterly to American) traders who came in search of pepper, the staple product of the country. Complaints of robbery and murder on board ships trading in Acehnese parts thus grew to be chronic.
Finally, with regard to Indonesia, in present-day Aceh, where sharia law officially prevails, during September 2006, Muslim mobs razed a church in response to a forged (i.e., by a Muslim) advertisement inviting Muslims to a Christian revival service. Here is a published account of what transpired:
Witnesses said there were over 100 [Muslim] men present, many of them carrying swords. The mob poured gasoline over the building and set fire to it; they also attempted to burn a second building that was used as a church kindergarten. Some of the attackers came looking for Saragih and Netty at their home, which is nearby. The couple escaped into the nearby jungle and stayed hidden in the undergrowth. Many thought the couple had been consumed in the flames of the church buildings, but a friend found them at around 4 a.m. Christians in a neighboring province have provided shelter for Saragih [the pastor of the Mission Church which was attacked] and his wife, following reports that local police and Muslim leaders are still searching for the couple. It is uncertain when -- or if -- they will be free to return home.
Despite Robert Small's uninformed and heavily redacted apologetics, Indonesia's living legacy of Islam is hardly an advertisement for the so-called "peace-loving" efforts of the NU.