Islam and Nation: Separatist Rebellion in Aceh, Indonesia


Edward Aspinall

Studies in Asian Security


Stanford: Stanford University Press

Available From: Stanford University Press
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8047-6045-4
Binding: paper
Pages: 312


Winner of the ASAA Mid-career Researcher Prize for Excellence in Asian Studies 2010, sponsored by the Asian Studies Association of Australia.

Islam and Nation is the twelfth book in the Studies in Asian Security series sponsored by the East-West Center and published by Stanford University Press. Rooted in the latest theoretical debates about nationalism and ethnicity, yet written in an accessible and engaging style, Islam and Nationpresents a fascinating study of the genesis, growth and decline of a nationalist movement.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews with nationalist leaders, activists and guerillas, Aspinall reveals how the Free Aceh Movement went from being a quixotic fantasy to a guerilla army in the space of a generation, leading to a bitter conflict in which thousands perished. And by exploring the complex relationship between Islam and nationalism, Aspinall also explains how a society famed for its Islamic piety gave rise to a guerilla movement that ended up rejecting the Islamic goals of its forebears.

Islam and Nation is a tour de force in the study of nationalist politics. It will be of great interest to readers concerned about Southeast Asia, Islamic politics, ethnic conflict and nationalism everywhere.


Details and ordering information at
Stanford University Press

Preface and Acknowledgments
  1. Nation, Islam, War, and Peace
  2. Aceh, Islam, and Indonesia
  3. Birth of Nationalism
  4. Rural and Global Networks
  5. The Nationalism Moment
  6. Violence, Money, Insurgency
  7. Islam to Nationalism
  8. From War to Peace
  9. Conclusion


"Among the much that has been written on the recent history of Aceh, this will clearly remain the definitive account. The range of its argument is impressive with the discussion moving smoothly from the detail of an interview to a general feature of the society or a telling international comparison. Theoretical treatments of nationalism, the role of Islam, resistance movements and so forth are used where helpful, and criticised where not. The dispassion of the academic voice does not hide the very substantial commitment and dedication of the author as interviewer and observer. Much of the fieldwork data was clearly gathered under difficult circumstances. The lucidity of the prose is outstanding."

--Asian Studies Association of Australia


"This book tells the story of Aceh's armed nationalist movement with unprecedented authority, thoroughness and clarity. It will be the standard account of the Aceh rebellion for a long time to come. Those seeking explanations about why nationalisms form, why rebellions start, and why they often end short of their goal, will find Islam and Nation a reliable guide."

--Anthony Reid, National University of Singapore


"This is a rich, insightful, beautifully crafted work that explains a nationalist movement through the individuals who created and sustained it even as it challenges conventional wisdom on identity formation and Islam. It manages to be at once persuasive political theory and compelling narrative."

--Sidney Jones, International Crisis Group, Jakarta


"Islam and Nation makes a persuasive argument about constructed nationalism and the path-dependent way a secessionist movement evolves. Aspinall weaves together well his high-quality research findings of the Aceh case with comparative social science literatures. He also writes well--what a relief to read a lucid scholarly book! The overall result is a model of how in-depth research can inform, and be informed by, social science debates in a cogent, intelligible form."

--Benedict Kerkvliet, Australian National University


"This is the definitive book on the separatist conflict that raged in Indonesia's western-most province from 1976 to 2005. Aspinall's expertise makes for a rich account of this heroic yet tragic episode of Indonesian history. By placing various generations of resisters in their social context, Islam and Nation goes beyond simplistic generalizations about 'the Acehnese' and presents a study that has big implications for the entire debate about nationalism."

--Gerry van Klinken, The KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute
of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies