Fates Sealed with a Kiss

By Novar Caine

It is extraordinary to think that while people cavort, oftentimes hedonistically, in Bali, at the other end of the country people are being whipped for minor transgressions, if even that. Things like kissing, an apparent shock-offence that saw an adulterous pecking couple publicly caned in Aceh last week.

Morality police in country’s northernmost province scooped up the amorous pair in October before they could engage in any further passion. Witnessed by a bloodthirsty crowd numbering in the hundreds the two – he 24, she 17 – were given eight lashes apiece at a mosque.

The medieval punishment follows the caning of two women in the decency-obsessed, tsunami-levelled province for selling food during the fasting period of this year’s Ramadhan.  

Lawmakers in Aceh caused uproar last year over their inhuman introduction of stoning for offences including adultery. Aceh’s governor has wisely refused to sign off on the legislation, but it may only be a matter of time before he caves in to Islamic pressure and the law comes into force.

Since the ordered era of the Suharto dictatorship ended over a decade ago, Indonesia has been caught in the flux of morphing into democratic modernity and hard-line Islam. There is no doubting the power and influence of fundamental Muslim groups in this country. They have our political leaders, nay our government, in thrall. At the same time the average Indonesian has little interest in religious zeal, preferring a life infused with internet-injected global values mixed with the country’s rich traditions and customs.

The danger is in the progression of hard-line organisations, some of whom want the nation run under Islamic law. This would be a peculiarity in Southeast Asia and Indonesia’s firm ties with Western powers such as the US and Britain, and especially Australia.  

Indonesia as an Islamic caliphate would turn it into even more of a magnet for terrorist elements. Jemaah Islamiyah, an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Southeast Asia responsible for much of the carnage in Indonesia over the past decade, including the Bali bombings, seeks to force the entire region into Islamic rule, a doomed strategy if ever there was one. But the Islamic organisations in our country are playing directly into the terrorists’ hands with their hard-line-religious goals. The electorate here would be wise to distance themselves come next election from any party currently enjoying the support of Islamic elements.

Otherwise we run the real risk of seeing barbaric punishments meted out right across Indonesia for so-called morality crimes. In Iran last week the supreme court upheld a sentence for a man to be blinded in an eye-for-an-eye verdict permissible under the country’s medieval, Islamic-based criminal code. Do we want that here?  

In our country there is so much fervour over what people are doing in private when the real problems dragging the country down are flourishing. Corruption is probably worse than it has ever been – under Suharto at least it was (allegedly) highly centralised – but now it has extended so far into every aspect of society and become so chronic that it has almost ground to a halt the wheels of government, justice and almost every other arm of authority. Some say the official clampdown on morality in places like Aceh is intended to deflect attention from official theft, and they may be right. As long as the media spotlight is focused on personal issues graft can grow unfettered.

So where does all this leave Bali? It’s not a Muslim place, we know, but increasingly people from all over the country are making their home here, largely for economic reasons because Bali is thriving with record numbers of foreign-tourist arrivals – way over two million this year – and that now means a sizeable Muslim population among us, evidenced in the growing number of mosques sprouting up around the island.

But unlike anywhere else in the country, ours is an island of peace, social harmony and tolerance. It is also a place of acceptance. Nowhere else in Indonesia are there such vast numbers of foreigners, for instance, holidaying and resident on the island. Bali is also the only location in the nation with a living culture that is based on Hinduism and aspects of tradition of it that are unique to Bali. All religions claim to be belief-sets of peace, we are told by their leaders and followers, but history and current headlines do not bear that out for all. The violent punishments of Islamic law dispel any notions of tranquillity.

For many, then, Bali is a haven from the ravages of hate-speak that fill other parts of the world, and our country. Long may it stay that way, even as others whip themselves into a froth-mouth frenzy for which there is no basis whatsoever in the 21st century.

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