Policing and Religion: Policing Religion in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Asia
Time & LocationSession 2
Wed 11:00–12:30 Room 1.308
- Marieke Bloembergen Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
- Ruth Streicher Heidelberg University
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- Handbooks and the Policing of “Islam” in Southern Thailand Ruth Streicher Heidelberg University
Works that have examined the “religious undercurrents” of the ongoing insurgency in southern Thailand, one of the deadliest conflicts in Southeast Asia, have so far mostly focused on two questions: how insurgents refer to “Islam” in fighting for the independence of the former sultanate of Patani, and how Thai security forces rely on certain ideas of “Buddhism.” Much less attention has been paid, however, to how Thai state agencies produce certain notions of “Islam” in order to discipline the southern Muslim population.
Applying a broad Foucauldian notion of policing as a governmental practice that connects the management of the population to the order and strength of the state, this paper examines how handbooks for state officers that are to be deployed in southern Thailand have constructed certain notions of “Islam.” It uses historical examples of such handbooks, which have been produced since the beginning of the twentieth century, to trace the genealogy of key ideas about “Islam” that continue to be central to current Thai security efforts. It concludes by arguing that this state-led policing of “Islam” is key to understanding the ongoing conflict.
- The Javanese Policeman and the Indian Swami: Introducing Yoga to Indonesia and the Indonesian Police Force in Times of Non-Alignment, 1950s–1960s Marieke Bloembergen Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
This paper explores the endeavours of Indonesian’s first head of police (since 1948), Sukanto Tjokroaditmodjo (1908-1993), to use Indian yoga and Javanese kebatinan meditation practices as a means to morally and physically enforce the Indonesian police force and Indonesian elite society, in the 1950s and 1960s. To gauge the socio-political meanings and impact of Sukanto’s efforts, I situate this micro-history in a longer term, and inter-Asian perspective. I follow Sukanto’s formation as a (spiritually inclined) police officer in the colonial police force in the 1930s, across the Japanese occupation and decolonization war, and within inter-Asian knowledge networks – of policing, and of spiritual seekers – developing between India and Indonesia since the late 1940s. The paper aims to problematize the historiography of police reform in colonial and postcolonial societies, by questioning its strict paradigm of (rational) modernization, set by western colonial standards, and by going beyond the frameworks of state formation. This case history forces us not only to think in different ways about the history of police reform in colonial and postcolonial Asia, but also to recognize the artificiality of the borders between rational and religious/ spiritual knowledge therein. The modern police of Indonesia was (as it did in colonial times) not only dependent on local social knowledge but also inspired by embodied knowledge on spiritual power, developing within Indonesian Chinese and Javanese kebatinan networks, and between India and Indonesia.
Sukanto recognized the empowering force of yoga for Indonesia’s new generation of police men in the early 1950s. With his insight in the marketing value of Yoga, he built on the endeavours of (nationalist) Yoga entrepreneurs active – in India and in the West – since around 1900. Sukanto was inspired, in particular, by Swami Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963), founder of the then worldwide popular Divine Life Society (DLS). Sukanto embraced DLS in 1953, and, when he was stationed as military advisor to the Indonesian Embassy in Delhi (1953-55), travelled for DLS Yoga to Rishikesh. What was it that drove Sukanto, and how should we understand his endeavours in the longer term history of policing and cultural-political knowledge networks in colonial and postcolonial Indonesia, and between Indonesia and India?
- The Religious World of a Southern Thai Policeman Craig Reynolds Australian National University
I am completing a biographical study of Khun Phantharak Ratchadet (1898-2006), a policeman from the mid-south who hunted down lawbreakers with liberal use of lethal force. Policeman and the rural masculine types they pursued in the first half of the twentieth century risked injury and death. For protection they armed themselves with guns, knives, and farm implements, and they wore amulets, inserted charms under the skin, and inscribed their bodies with tattoos to ward off adversity and misfortune.
Defending oneself against injury or death is the physical side of protection. The mental and emotional side involves keeping fear in check with self belief. Magical thinking, like religion, belongs to the psychosocial dimension of human experience. It treats of the emotions and humanity's expressive needs. It is tempting to see some beliefs and practices in other cultures as superstitious or irrational. Reason struggles against unreason. In fact, the magical thinking we attribute to people in other cultures is little different from how modern people often interpret reality. "Most of us have a 'savage' mentality much of the time," says Richard Shweder. The policeman's repertory of magical and religious practices emboldened him and contributed to the ruthlessness in his character. He acknowledged his savage mentality, cultivated it, and defended himself with it.
Following the ideal of the secular state promoted by European imperial powers in Southeast Asia, the modern institution of the police and the modern category of “religion” emerged as mutually exclusive categories. Thus the bounded concept of “religion” enabled states to govern religious traditions, inter alia, by relegating certain aspects of “religion” to the private realm. At the same time, one of the central tasks of constabulary forces was to maintain “public order” – a precondition to guarantee religious freedom in the realm of the public. In this ideal, the police (impartial and public) has been opposed to religion (partial and private). Perhaps as a legacy of this political construction, literature on policing in Southeast Asia still largely ignores its religious undercurrents, and only few scholars interested in the religious traditions of this area have inquired into the security forces.
Notably, however, colonial police forces were manned predominantly by local subjects who were themselves formed by local religious traditions. Further complicating the picture, particularly during late colonial rule, were new transnational religious reform movements that developed along with anti-colonial movements in the Southeast Asian region: these all generated suspicion of, and policing by, colonial states while at the same time inspiring spiritual seeking amongst policemen themselves. How, in short, have policing and religion in late colonial and postcolonial Asia been informing and influencing each other?
This panel explores the tensions and entanglements between policing and religion through three or four case studies in Southeast Asia, thus exposing their intricate relationship and interdependence. Two of these case studies engage the role of religion in shaping subjectivities of police officers through historical biographies (Craig Reynolds, Marieke Bloembergen). One paper delineates how the construction of handbook knowledge on religion is key to the operation of security forces in southern Thailand (Ruth Streicher).