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Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem Paperback – May 22, 2006
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Read author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more at the Amazon Book Review. Read it now
"There is hardly a better way to respect the memory of those tens of thousands of Acehnese who lost their lives in the tsunami, and in the preceding conflict, than to open their history to the outside world. One wishes to see that this book will be followed by a range of Aceh studies that will also look beyond the conflict and violence and see Acehnese people and their everyday lives."―Journal of Contemporary Asia
"This collection raises important questions of broad interest to policy makers and students of conflict resolution in divided states, as well as specialists in Southeast Asian history and culture."―Journal of Asian Studies
"Balanced, well-researched studies of the Aceh conflict are hard to find. This is one of the many reasons why Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem is sorely needed. Its core strength is the diversity of its 14 authors in terms of their backgrounds, explanations, and even sympathies. . . . [this] is the definitive collection on the Aceh conflict, offering unrivalled depth and breadth."―Pacific Affairs
"This volume is testimony to the intractability of conflicts of this kind throughout the world. Recommended."―Choice
From the Publisher
"Verandah of Violence is the most comprehensive attempt to understand the underlying causes of conflict within Acehnese society and between Aceh and other states that have vied to control it." -- Terance W. Bigalke, East-West Center, USA
"Anthony Reid has done an excellent job of drawing together a balanced picture of violence, both in its contemporary garb and as the violence that has been manifested historically." -- Barbara Leigh, Institute for International Studies, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Top customer reviews
It is appropriate that the book takes a few chapters to study the history of the Aceh region considering that interpretation of history is such a large portion of the separatist narrative. But if the reader is looking for a definitive answer to "true" history this book is not meant to correct any "false" Aceh perceptions. The Aceh region sits at the crossroads of East to West trade routes and therefore an attractive landholding for empires through the centuries. Internal Dutch and British diplomacy used parts of Malaysia and Indonesia (including Aceh) as pawns to global land swaps: specifically in the 1824 and 1871 treaties.
Unlike the rest of Indonesia, the Dutch exerted more force upon Aceh in order to colonize it. In fact it was described as the "... gravest Dutch strategy mistake of the century" (pg. 97). Thousands lost their lives on all sides. "Dutch colony" on paper and later "Indonesian" according to maps, the fierce Aceh separatist cause takes offence to claims that they had ever been conquered, which adds to their argument for independence.
Aceh's chief complaint (along with its Islamic exceptionalism) is that history is being rewritten, or at least misinterpreted. It's an interesting accusation considering the entire history of the Indonesian archipelago. Various narratives and historical events are used to instill unity in the diverse 17,000 island nation. The ideology of Pancasila (which, while mandating religion in concept, human dignity and democracy, does not specifically endorse Islam) is the foundation of Indonesia's solidarity, not to mention school curriculum core.
Even in the case for Indonesian solidarity, the reader may get the feeling that Aceh is the exception. The authors feel the need to qualify and explain strong showings of Indonesian nationalism at points in Aceh's history, as if to undermine the importance of nationalist movements.
After leveling a number of justifiable accusation against TNI, the book finally covers the atrocious realities of some of GAM's (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka) rampages, which included the torching of 600 schools; the propagandist of "false" history and brainwashing. These chapters do provide good coverage of the violent tactics of Aceh's separatist movements. The belated, if perhaps random placement of GAM's dark side in this collection does give the reader the perception of a justified rebel group, resorting to violence as a last resort.
Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the description of Indonesia's various military (TNI) strategies. The TNI along with its many civilian and paramilitary proxies were an important force to quell uprisings throughout the islands, especially in locations such as East Timor, Papua and Aceh which not only resided on the border extremes of the state but also the cultural, religious, linguistic and apparent "historical" borders of Indonesia's dominant identities.
Suharto, a military man himself, knew the dangers of an overly powerful and influential military that was not on his side. Towards the latter end of Suharto's power, he grew increasingly wary of his own military, continually sharpened through internal conflicts and growing to address internal separatist threats.
The book describes different ideas within Aceh's activists. Some want full independence from Indonesia, which to them is tantamount to Java. Others prefer greater regional rights within a federal Indonesia. The reaction of the Indonesian military to both has been suppression. There is an interesting parallel between Aceh and East Timor. In the latter, the people were mostly Christian. While Aceh is Muslim. But the predominantly Muslim military used many of the same methods of suppression against both regions. The military saw its primary duty as holding a disparate nation together, by whatever means necessary.