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Paul van 't VeerCríticas

Autor(a) de De Atjeh-oorlog

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L’histoire se repète

“De Atjeh-Oorlog” is the classic account of an unending colonial conflict with great similarities to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Atjeh, or Aceh in the modern Indonesian spelling, is situated on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra where the tsunami struck on Boxing Day in 2004. Nicknamed “the Verandah of Mecca” its people are both fiercely Islamic and fiercely independent. The Dutch colonialists challenged its independence in 1873 and a fragile peace with the Indonesian government was signed only in 2005.

Just like the war in Iraq, the Dutch colonial army was dragged into the conflict on the basis of false information supplied by a local. The Dutch colonial administration used this to push the war through with the government in The Hague. The Dutch had hoped that the standard operation with substandard material would be enough to win this war, but that proved to be wrong. The use of relatively large columns of soldiers did not work against an enemy that used guerilla tactics and operated with contempt for death (gratification would come automatically when you died as a martyr for your Muslim faith) in forest and mountain areas. Later on the Dutch brought in better weaponry and developed counter-guerilla tactics with operations of small groups of mostly native soldiers deep into enemy territory. This and the use of money brought more or less peaceful times, after which the conflict re-emerged.

The Dutch went all out after 1884 when oil was discovered. Under general Van Heutsz (effectively the unifier of modern Indonesia) and his Advisor for Native and Islamic Affairs Snouck Hurgronje, the Dutch combined more guerilla tactics with a battle for what we would now call “the hearts and minds” of the local people. Snouck Hurgronje taught that according to his knowledge of Islam, the Acehnese would accept a heathen government only after a total military defeat. These tactics went out of hand under the next Dutch military leadership, when up to a third of the population was killed in certain areas during counter-guerilla operations. On top of that the war was very expensive, causing tax rises in both Holland and Java that delayed the latter's development.

The book looks at this war from a political perspective, rather than a military one. Also, the book pays limited attention to the Aceh population and its fighters. The author ends the book with the conclusion that this war could not be won based on Snouck Hurgronje’s strategy of winning over the Acehnese elite. Snouck Hurgronje underestimated the changes going on in Acehnese society, where feudal leadership was already being challenged by Islamic clerics, a process we currently see everywhere in the Islamic world.½
mercure | Mar 21, 2010 |
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