Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 2

Indonesian – Keamanan

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Indonesian, Security


Relates to security

It would be a mistake to translate ‘keamanan’ simply as ‘security’. Significantly, the word ‘sekuritas’ is more commonly used in the field of finance, banking, insurance and computing. Keamanan’s root word ‘aman’ is aligned with ‘sentosa’ (strong), ‘tenteram’ (peaceful) and ‘tidak berbahaya’ (not dangerous) or ‘tidak dalam bahaya’ (not in danger). A synonym for the noun ‘keamanan’ (security) is ‘ketenteraman’ (peacefulness). In the traditional shadow puppet theatre (wayang) of Java as well as in Indonesian political discourse, the idealized/desired condition of a country is characteristically described, in Javanese, as ‘tata tentrem kerta raharja’ (orderly, peaceful and prosperous). The word aman has the same characters in Arabic script as ‘amin’ (the word to end a prayer both in Islam and Christianity): hence, aman suggests not only physical and worldly security, but also imbues a sense of cultural, spiritual and religious security and calmness. Contemporary religious preachers like to explain this connection between fiscal and spiritual security using folk etymology. Originally, therefore, the meaning of keamanan was less dominated by issues of nation-state territory and sovereignty, military occupation, and other geopolitical concerns. The referent for keamanan is not just the state, but also society.

Indonesian approaches to security are illustrated by the important events occurring in the post-Suharto period. In 2005, the media was preoccupied with debates about the re-establishment of territorial command operations, responding to a statement by President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono regarding escalating terrorism activities in Indonesia. The idea of reinstating a system of military territorial command generated negative reactions from NGO and pro-democracy activists, who argued that such a move would be abused to suppress dissenting voices, opposition groups and other democratic movements. It was criticised as a possible return to the security policies of the New Order era.

Since the end of the New Order, Indonesian perspectives on security have distinguished more finely between the policing and the military realms. The term ‘pertahanan’ is used in reference to external defence – which is widely acknowledged to be the sphere of military activity and responsibility. In contrast, keamanan has come to mean internal security in a legalistic and administrative sense and is the responsibility claimed by the police. The military, however, continue to assert their overall responsibility for this as well as external defence. One particular faultline concerns the use of the phrase national security. In the post-Suharto era, the lack of consensus surrounding this term has led to the stalling of the creation of a National Security Council, which is described as ‘Deawan Keamanan National’. To avoid the potential political pitfalls of these Indonesian terms, the English language phrase, national security continues to be invoked.

Opposition to the reestablishment of territorial command can be explained by different perceptions of the specific referents of security. Among NGO and pro-democracy activists, during the Suharto era, the referents of keamanan were understood as mainly the regime, the military, and the first family and their cronies. However, in the political discourse, it was during this era that increasing efforts were made to shift the referent of keamanan to encompass society as a whole – a society continually subject to the implementation of development programs. Disturbances and threats which were believed to hamper development were to be destroyed and suppressed, by the military which was assigned with the domestic task of guarding that society. Hence, the prerequisite for ‘keamanan’ was ‘ketertiban’ (order). The phrase ‘keamanan dan ketertiban’ (see ketertiban) captures the inseparable concepts of ‘security’ and ‘order’ – an understanding that reflects both Dutch colonial commitment to ‘rust en order’ and earlier Javanese political ideals. An illustration of how the concept of “security and order” was of primary importance is the establishment of ‘Kopkamtib’ (Komando operasi keamanan dan ketertiban, literally translated as ‘Operational Command for Security and Order’) which was the supreme body in charge of restoring security and order after the coup in 1965-1966, and the rise to power of General Suharto.

The term keamanan retains potency across Indonesia particularly because it can be used to justify a portfolio of impunities. While the term originates in the language of the state it is now become a key descriptor for other quasi-state security interests including moral vigilante groups. It can be used to justify almost any action that serves the interests of those who control its discursive deployment. Liberalism, pluralism, secularism and pornography have all been described as threats to keamanan. (See pluralisme)

It was during the New Order era that the word aman developed different meanings and connotations, some completely opposite to that described above. It is true that the social-economic and political conditions of the Indonesian population have always left them, in practice, devoid of rasa aman (feeling secure/safe) – aman has tended to be an ideal condition rather than a lived reality. ‘Rasa aman’ relates to ‘moral panic’. In the post-New Order, when the political system and the media liberalised, there was a transition from a state hegemony into a situation where ‘anything goes’. Therefore aside from rigorous political debate in the public sphere and communal violence – which terminated the media for the first couple of years of the Reformasi era – citizens and local communities attempted to grab a hold of something that could replace the role that had previously been played by the states. The sheer size of Western obligations and exhibitions of especially female bodies, has created moral panic, in particular among the Muslim population. This ‘moral panic’ has been used by Muslim activists and antagonists to produce Islamic commodities to feed the consumption of the Muslim middle class. This has taken form in elements of Muslim fashion, food, housing, as well as airtime on television and radio.

In the Suharto era, especially in the 1980s, when state penetration into the citizen’s private life was intensified, aman gradually became associated with tahan (force) and thus began to convey something threatening. The verb ‘mengamankan’ which could be taken as meaning ‘to restore peacefulness’ in fact carried the connotation of ‘detaining without proper legal procedure’ or ‘making someone disappear’.




No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment