This article investigates the narrative of Islamic nationalism in twentieth-century Indonesia, focussing on the experience of, and discourse surrounding, the self-identified Islamist Darul Islam movement and its leader, S. M. Kartosuwiryo (1905–1962). I offer a narrative of the independence struggle that counters the one advanced by Indonesia's Pancasila state, and allows us to capture subtleties that old discussions of separatism—with their assumption of fixed centres and peripheries—cannot illuminate.
The article unfolds three historical threads connected to ideas of exile and displacement (physical and intellectual), and the reconstitution (successful or failed) that followed from those processes. Starting from the political circumstances under which Kartosuwiryo retreated to West Java after the Dutch reinvasion of 1947—in a form of physical exile and political displacement from the centre of politics to the periphery, from a position of political centrality to one of marginality and opposition—I then transition to an elaboration of Kartosuwiryo's ideology. His political strategy emerges as a form of voluntary intellectual displacement that bounced between local visions of authority, nationalist projects, and transregional imaginations in order to establish the political platform he envisioned for postcolonial Indonesia. Lastly, I argue that the elision of Islam from the reconstructed narrative of Kartosuwiryo's intentions, characterised as separatist and anti-nationalist, was a key aspect of Indonesia's nation-building process. It is my final contention that official Indonesian history's displacement of Kartosuwiryo's goals away from Islam and into the realm of separatism allowed for two reconstitutive processes, one pertaining to political Islam as a negative political force, and the other to Kartosuwiryo as a martyr for Islam.