Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Beware theocracy in Indonesia

The Straits Times


June 7, 2006

By Thang D. Nguyen

JAKARTA - FOLLOWING the fall of former president Suharto in 1998 and free elections since, Indonesia, the world's largest-Muslim majority nation, has become a young, promising democracy. Amid global debates on whether Islam and democracy can co-exist, Indonesia has, indeed, been an inspiring success story.

Although most Indonesians are moderate Muslims, there are, however, radical, hardline Islamic groups that are not happy with the country's democratic transformation.

These hardline groups want, instead, to turn Indonesia into a theocracy based on syariah, or Islamic law. And they have made several attempts towards that end.

In 2002, a motion to institute syariah in Indonesia was put before the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), but it was rejected. Hardline Muslim Indonesians have not, however, given up their pursuit of a syariah-based society.

More recently, these hardliners have taken to campaigning for the passage of an anti-pornography Bill, and are taking action against those who criticise it.

The Bill, still being considered by the MPR, is reportedly designed to end the sale, distribution, and consumption of pornographic products in the country. But this is not why critics of the Bill are against it. Among the many clauses of the Bill, one prohibits kissing in public; another prohibits women from wearing 'provocative' clothes that expose parts of their bodies, including the belly button; and another prohibits the reading of poems or documents in public with a 'sexy' expression or tone of voice.

For opponents of the Bill, the issue has become not pornography per se, but limiting their personal freedoms as individuals - as though they had to live under syariah. They have held rallies to protest against the Bill.

Unfortunately, these protests have met with attacks from extreme Islamic groups. Playwright Ratna Sarumpaet and dangdut (a form of Indonesian pop music) singer Inul Daratista, for instance, received personal threats from the Betawi Brotherhood Forum for participating in a rally against the Bill on May 3.

Likewise, when former president Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, a Muslim leader who headed the influential Nadhatul Ulama (NU), was about to give a speech in West Java, it was disrupted by members of the Islam Defenders\' Front (FPI) because he had come out against the Bill.

In response, Gus Dur supporters - mainly members of the NU - called on the government of Indonesia to arrest FPI members who were behind this insulting incident and to disband the group altogether. The proposal for the FPI should be considered seriously because of its violent acts towards others.

Even though groups like the FPI are a minority in Indonesia, their extremism gives Islam and the Indonesian Muslim community as a whole a bad image.

But the question remains: Should the anti-pornography Bill be passed?

There are several reasons why it should not. First, the Bill itself cannot eliminate the porn industry in Indonesia, as its proponents claim.

With the Internet, it is impossible to stop sales and distribution of pornography, even if pornographic DVDs (digital video discs) and magazines are not sold in the market. As a matter of fact, the passing of the Bill would do the porn industry a service, as scarcity would drive up prices of pornographic products.

Second, the Bill itself cannot stop the consumption of pornography.

Lest we forget, pornography had existed for centuries in many cultures, including Javanese and Balinese, and in various forms of the arts, way before the making of 'blue films' and the invention of the video and DVD players.

Indonesians - like many individuals in other parts of the world - will continue to consume pornography, with or without the Bill being passed.

So, there is no point trying to stop it; in fact, it is counterproductive to do so because, as human nature dictates it, the more we are told not to do something, the more we are likely to want to do it.

And who knows how many of those who support the pornography Bill are actually consumers of porn themselves?

Third, the Bill is basically an application of syariah across Indonesian society.

Let's not forget that Indonesia is a nation of diversity and was founded on the concept of 'unity in diversity'. Although Islam is the main religion in Indonesia, the country's Constitution recognises other religions, namely Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Confucianism and Hinduism.

Therefore, to pass the pornography Bill is to impose a set of Islamic laws or regulations on Indonesians of other faiths.

But most importantly, the passing of this Bill will, de facto, turn Indonesia into something close to a theocracy.

This is the last thing that should happen to Indonesia after it has taken a long, hard journey to become the democratic nation that it is today.

The writer is a Jakarta-based columnist and the editor of The Indonesian Dream: Unity, Diversity, And Democracy In Times Of Distrust. His writings can be read at .


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7:44 PM  

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