Jean Gelman Taylor
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Indonesia
Sultans and the state
in Monarchies and decolonisation in Asia
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Decolonisation in Indonesia was a repudiation of two pasts, indigenous and foreign. Nationalists rejected Dutch governance where political power was lodged in the Netherlands. They also rejected the pre-colonial pattern of myriad principalities headed by hereditary families. In its first years, Indonesia dissolved the three hundred or so principalities that had coexisted within the colonial state, allowing only two sultanates to survive. The framers of Indonesia's first and subsequent constitutions did not resolve the question of whether government should inherit the historic role of the archipelago’s sultans as enforcers of Islamic law, or leave religious observance to each Muslim’s conscience. Today, some descendants of royal families have resumed the use of the title of sultan. The central government understands them as symbols of the diverse ethnic cultures within the nation-state, but it has crushed separatist movements, whether based on ethnic particularity or Islam. It has also banned organisations, such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Hizbut Tahrir, that champion universal Islamic government under a caliph. The Republic of Indonesia stands for a nation-state whose borders are those of the Netherlands East Indies. The chapter argues that the legacy of colonialism is one state, not many.

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