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10-08-2015, 16:42

INDEPENDENCE OR MODERNIZATION? THE NATIONALIST QUANDARY

Building a new nation, however, requires more than a shared sense of grievances against the foreign invader. By what means was independence to be achieved? Was independence or modernization the more important objective? What kind of political and economic system should be adopted once colonial rule had been overthrown? What national or cultural concept should be adopted as the symbol of the new nation, and which institutions and values should be preserved from the past? Questions such as these triggered lively and sometimes acrimonious debates among patriotic elements was the desired end, how could it be achieved? Could the Westerners be persuaded to leave by nonviolent measures, or would force be required? If the Western presence could be beneficial in terms of introducing much-needed reforms in traditional societies, then a gradualist approach made sense. On the other hand, if the colonial regime was primarily an impediment to social and political change, then the first priority was to bring it to an end. Another problem was how to adopt modern Western ideas and institutions while preserving the essential values that defined the indigenous culture. The vast majority of patriotic intellectuals were convinced that to survive, their societies must move with the times and adopt much of the Western way of life. Yet many were equally determined that the local culture could not, and should not, simply become a carbon copy of the West. What was the national identity, after all, if it did not incorporate some elements inherited from the traditional way of life? One of the reasons for using traditional values was to provide ideological symbols that the common people could understand. If the desired end was national independence, then the new political parties needed to enlist the mass of the population in the common struggle. But how could peasants, plantation workers, fishermen, and shepherds be made to understand complicated and unfamiliar concepts like democracy, industrialization, and nationhood? The problem was often one of communication, for most urban intellectuals had little in common with the teeming population in the countryside. As the Indonesian intellectual Sutan Sjahrir lamented, many Westernized intellectuals had more in common with their colonial rulers than with the native population in the rural villages.

 

 

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