No Play for This Boy: An Islamic Defenders’ Affront

By Novar Caine

Indonesia is full of many stark contrasts, disparities that border on virile hypocrisy. The editor of the short-lived Indonesian version of Playboy magazine, the vaunted American publication whose title aptly describes its infamous owner, Hugh Hefner, has been jailed for two years because after a furore by hardline Muslims the courts decided he breached the country’s newly enacted anti-pornography law.

Only there was no porn in the publication. He was judged guilty of indecency for editing a magazine that did not contain any indecency.

Unlike other-country versions that hold licences to publish Playboy, with its nude glamour photography and eye-full centrefolds, Indonesian Playboy was about as groin-stirring as headscarved mothers heading to the mosque.

At a leading bookstore in the tourist district of Kuta, pornographic magazines are on display. They’re encased in plastic so that furtive, non-paying hands can’t sneak a voyeuristic peak. The bookstore is one of a chain around the country and is one of Indonesia’s leading importers and distributors of English-language publications.

Not only there, however. The Indonesian-language market is brimming with porn. And pornographic DVDs are available almost everywhere. During the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan – when sex and other worldly desires are forbidden from dusk to dawn – that recently ended, one porn purveyor was quoted in the local media as saying that DVD sales hadn’t dipped that much. “People can watch it after they break the fast,” he was quoted as saying.

Then there’s the internet, a large slice of which is packed with porn. Indonesians increasingly have access to broadband internet, thanks to plunging subscription rates from the mobile providers. So large has Indonesia’s internet population become that Indonesians are now ranked as the top global users of Facebook and Twitter. It’s a safe bet they’re also clicking on to sexier sites.

So where’s the Islamic uproar over all this? There is not a whimper. Could it be that the hardliners were upset because a global-branded, US-based porn publication was being published in Indonesia, although dumbed way down to assuage the morally ethical – itself an oxymoron in this land – and in view of the porn legislation, an Islamic-backed law statute that has been ridiculed and cast aside in Bali because under it even its famous dances could be banned and its performers jailed (as well as topless foreigners sunbathing on the island)?

Indonesian Playboy did not contain any state of undress.

An internet video of Muslim man in Lombok did. He looks set to win an election for regional chief. If voters wanted to see what Suhaili Fadhil Thohir looked like, they could have seen more than expected at YouTube, where he was starring in a homemade porn film before it was removed. Perhaps that’s why he’s leading the race – at time of writing an unassailable almost 60 percent.

Other Indonesian Muslims – a rock star and two actresses – were also getting naked for the camera, prompting Communications and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring to try to staple a chastity belt on the internet, a doomed endeavour that has now been branded a failure. The porn stud, Ariel, is behind bars, however, awaiting trial. Yet we don’t hear anything of an uproar about these sex shenanigans from the militant-minded.

Perhaps it was the deviant West and its wayward ways that bothered them.

After the Islamic Defenders Front, a ragtag group of screaming, xenophobic militants but perplexingly with support from high officials and apparent immunity from the police, went berserk and trashed Indonesian Playboy’s office in Jakarta, the company, Velvet Silver Media, moved to Bali, a peaceful place of calm and tolerance. However the enterprise had caught prosecutors’ eyes and was imperilled; it folded shortly after.

The editor, Erwin Arnada, had been a fugitive. The authorities arrested him in Bali last weekend.

Initially, in April 2007, he was acquitted of the charge of indecency by the South Jakarta District Court (a place famously riddled with thieves), but on appeal in July 2009 the Supreme Court overturned the decision, and although Arnada is seeking a further appeal he must in the meantime be jailed.

Arnada told The New York Times by BlackBerry messenger after he was picked up in Bali: “I’ve been treated like a criminal, put in a prison car. I don’t yet believe there’s democracy in Indonesia; at least my case makes me think that. If there was democracy in Indonesia, then freedom of the press would be guaranteed and valued. The press and journalists shouldn’t be criminalised as I have.”

There are many travesties of justice in many lands. In Indonesia, this is one of them.

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