Abdurrahman Wahid, former President of Indonesia, once told me a joke: ‘If God visited Indonesia and declared that Islam is erroneous, most Indonesians would continue following Islam, and expel God’. Abdurrahman Wahid, who was affectionately known by his nickname Gus Dur, was notorious for his humour; it gained him countless enemies. But his jokes were always pointed, never frivolous.
In a country where Communism has been illegal for well over four decades, he was suspected of being a closet Marxist. What is certain is that he was the first and only President of Indonesia who openly apologised to the members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and their relatives for the 1965/66 massacre carried out on behalf of the West, by the joint forces of the military and the largest Indonesian Muslim [Sunni] Organisation – Nahdlatul Ulama (NU). Gus Dar knew that history very well – he was the head of NU for many years. ‘We used Communists as scapegoats’, he told me. ‘I apologize, because I don’t want Islam to go down in history as a bigoted religion. I say this, because I am a Muslim.’