zondag 31 januari 2016

The philosophical discourse of Franz Magnis Suseno

On 21 Jnauary this year I wrote on the chapter in a book by Heinz Schütte, Dialog, Kritik, Mission. Franz Magnis-Suseno, ein indonesischer Jesuit aus Detschland (Berlin: Regiospectra, 2013). Now I have read much more in this rich book and it a rich contribution to the biography of the most influential Catholic priest in the country after Mangunwijaya. It is a little bit strange that after Indonesians like Soegijopranoto and Mangun, now a German-born receives so much attention, but it may be a sign for the openness of Indonesian society.

Schütte (born 1937, social science, much experience in East Asia, especially Vietnam, lives now in Paris) was commissioned by the Goethe Institut of Jakarta to write this book. His special source were about 1000 letters of Magnis to his family (most to his mother), German writings of Magnis and interviews. In 29 chapters and 445 pages he gives a quite detailed image of Franz Magnis, from his turbulent youth: rich in Silezia, poor in relatively 1946 West Germany (the family still owned two houses a chapel and 130 hectares of land), education with Jesuits in Sankt Blasius and Pullach, Gymnasium and Philosophy), 29 January 1961 arrival in Jakarta. The 1960s were dedicated to study: Giri Sonta for Javanese, Kanisius College in Jakarta as a teacher, 1964-8 study of theology in Yogyakarta. In 1969 he was a first professor of in the Driyarkara School of Philosophy with eight Jesuits students (213)
It was quite a decision the beginning of Driyarkara. Back from Yogyakarta where the major seminary had begun in the 1930s, because that was the centre of javanese culture, far away from colonial politics. But in 1969 Jakarta was becoming political and cultural centre.
Chapter XII is on the 30 September events seen from Yogyakarta. In letters to Germany he gives some details about the feeling of liberation from Communism: erlösende Befreiung (134), with the Catholics students as the front soldiers against that evil Speerspitzei! P. 138-140 has a short image of the former Australian Baptist missionary Clive Williams, who became English teacher to Soeharto and lived close to his house in Jalana Cendaa later (much more on Clie Williams in the Shades of Grey by Jusuf Wanandi). This section also tells about the enormous increase in conversions in the later 1960s. But also support for prisoners, sometimes in a minimal way: just hear confession to people who later were taken to the execution (144)
Between 1971-4 took his PhD in Munich. In fact he began in October 1971 and finished the first draft of his thesis in May 1973. It was a continuation of his fascination for the young philosopher Karl Marx: the exploited classes, in order to let themselves be exploited, have to be sufficiently oppressed (246).
Returning to Jakarta he was happy to see two more philosophical centres: Harun Nasution at the Islamic University (still IAIN at the time) and Takdir Alisjahbana at UI (209).
In 1981 Magnis published a book in German, which was translated in 1984 in Javanese. It is about Javanese Ethics (or in German: Javanese Wisdom and Ethics). At that time I was teaching at the Islamic institutions in Jakarta and later Yogyakarta. I regretted that he acknowledged with Koentjaraningrat and Geertz that there are wo subcultures in Java: Islamic and 'Javanese' (in fact abangan. Heconcentrated not on the Islamic stream, but on the Javanese. That was the general Jesuit strategy: not Malay and Islamic, but pure Javanese as long as possible. In the 1993 of my book Duch Colonialism and Indonesian Islam (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1994: 147) I wrote about the Jesuits Jan Bakker, Franz Magnis and J.B. Banawiratma that "Again and again Javanism is cited as partner in dialogue, while Islam is not considered as a proper or even a possible candidate." This was then read by Nurcholis Madjid, who prepared his return to Indonesia and used in the polemic. I was at the time already teaching courses of Western approach to Islam and preparing what later became the four books on the common reading of the religious past by Muslims and Christians: the books on Adam and Jesus, the commentary on Juz 'Amma and the commentary on Surat Baqara.
In retrospect I have to correct my statements of 1993: Magnis took not the difficult path of formal Islamic doctrine, but the common interest in philosophical thinking and practical ethical discourse. That is not only an easier path, it is also more productive.
Mucvh more could be said from this rich book about this inspiring personality. In quite a few places Jusuf Wanandi, besides father Beek is described as too close to Soeharto. Page 274 writes that in 1981 fellow Jesuit Johannes Müller was expelled from Indonesia because of too open criticism of the Soeharto regime. Müller has, with Banawiratma, been teaching ion Yogyakarta. Magnis was not so direct (at that time, now he is open in opinions about MUI, Jokowi, but nevertheless received this great award in 2015). Fellow Jesuit Baskara Wardaya is also quoted on page 274: 'One of the great merits of Magnis is that he saved the Catholics from a too close identification with the Wanandi brothers, with Beek and CSIS'.

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