By Vyt Karazija
The shouting, threats and moralising are over. The vicious little thugs of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) got their way, of course – there is no one left in Indonesia with the balls to stand up to these extortionists. They employed their usual tactics – threats, the promise of violence and lies about the performer’s supposed personal affiliation with the Devil himself.
Using the smokescreen of religion, they browbeat an ineffectual police force into delaying a permit for the Lady Gaga concert to try to force the promoters into staging a watered-down version suitable for their sixth-century sensitivities. Minds like that are incapable of understanding the logistics involved in re-costuming, re-lighting, re-scoring and rehearsing a major concert.
The FPI, despite their “moral and religious” aversion to all manner of commonplace activities, seem to readily forget their objections if they are paid enough bribe money. Just look at the dangdut venues, the brothels and strip joints, the venues where drugs are freely available and where the under-age children of the elites frolic with impunity. Pay the FPI, pay the police, pay a bunch of corrupt officials, and the pathway to Hell magically transforms itself into the pathway to Heaven.
But this time they blew it. Their own bully-boy antics, the traditional “hands-out” feet-dragging by the police, the knee-jerk opposition by an assortment of religious bodies and the smarmy sermonising by a certain fundamentalist-controlled English-language newspaper all combined to get the concert cancelled.
But they all forgot about the Law of Unintended Consequences. Gaga is a worldwide media phenomenon, and once the spotlight had swung onto Indonesia, the country’s demons could no longer be hidden inside a pretty cocoon spun from the threads of political double-talk. Journalists from all over the world saw the cancellation for what it was – interference in artistic freedom of expression – and looked deeper.
What they uncovered, and published, was not at all flattering to a country that claims to be a secular democracy. They noted with interest that the FPI acts as a paid goon squad for the police, and when not under instruction from their masters freelance as a mafia-like mob specialising in stand-over tactics and protection rackets. They discovered that the head of the national police, Timur Pradopo, is a founding member of the very same FPI that enjoys such an astonishing immunity from arrest and prosecution. They unearthed the intriguing fact that Indonesia’s somnolent president has referred publicly to the FPI as his “brothers.”
They have found that Indonesia’s much-vaunted religious tolerance is a sham, and that any crackpot regional head or mayor has more power than the president, being able to defy rulings from the Supreme Court, closing and burning Christian churches and harassing, intimidating and physically beating their congregations using FPI mobsters. They have reported on numerous cases of the apparent breakdown of the rule of law and have asked why it is that the police stand by – doing nothing – while these atrocities are committed.
They have been asking why the Ahmadis, amongst the most peaceful of Muslims, have been systematically marginalised, brutalised and even killed by rampaging mobs of FPI-led fanatics, and the survivors herded into obscene concentration camps such as those in Lombok. They write with disbelief about the killers of Ahmadis getting three-month sentences for murder, while their surviving, badly injured victims get six months for “provoking” the violence by merely existing.
They have written about violent attacks on Canadian author Irshad Manji during her visit to Indonesia, where she tried to talk about her book, which ironically promotes tolerance.
They have commented about the rigidities of the sharia law-dominated province of Aceh, where new laws prohibit sale of “tight clothing,” women are forbidden to be alone with men, public canings are customary and where punks are marched off to “re-education camps” to recite passages from the Koran, their hair forcibly shorn before they are thrown into a lake as punishment for their personal mode of expression.
They see sharia-inspired regional bylaws being enacted all over the nation, and the entire West Java city of Tasikmalaya being transformed into a fundamentalist sharia city-state by religious zealots in direct contravention of Indonesia’s constitution. The FPI, of course, supports these moves towards a totalitarian theocracy without question.
It’s all supposedly about morals, you see, which the self-appointed vigilantes of the FPI are determined to police. Tight clothing is immoral. Lady Gaga is immoral, and a “Satanist” to boot. Christians and Ahmadis, Shi’tes and most foreigners are immoral. Authors with a libertarian viewpoint are immoral. But apparently FPI extortion rackets, violence and murder are not immoral. Apparently corruption in government, where literally hundreds of billions – that’s dollars, not rupiah – are stolen is not immoral, nor is unilateral termination of foreigners’ contracts and mining leases, or ad hoc changes to the divestment rules of foreign corporations. And Arabian belly-dancing or near-naked local dangdut performances are not immoral either. No wonder the world’s media is getting confused.
This country still has blasphemy and apostasy laws. It has punished a man who wrote “God does not exist” on his Facebook page. It allows only six “approved” religions, but marginalises all but one. People of the Jewish faith, at least those with Israeli passports, are not even permitted to enter the country. It has a Ministry of Religious Affairs, which deals almost exclusively with Islamic affairs. Despite the overwhelming evidence of a huge rise in religious intolerance, its minister, Suryadharma Ali, recently described Indonesia “the most tolerant country in the world.” No one seems to believe him, not even in Indonesia.
One good result of the FPI’s self-righteous posturings – and the official dithering over Gaga – is that the government of Indonesia has inadvertently been put under the microscope. The world has discovered that the beleaguered and endemically corrupt ruling party relies on the support of the radical Islamist parties for its survival. People are beginning to understand why the government so regularly appears to cave in to every religious-based whim and fantasy from these minority power-brokers, no matter how much it damages the country. They are beginning to suspect that because those fundamentalist parties have only ever managed to scratch up 25 percent of the vote, they will do anything to mobilise the religious vote in order to consolidate their constituency before the next election.
Meanwhile, the world’s media, human rights organisations and foreign investors are all now trying to understand why Indonesia is allowing itself to be held hostage by a group of radical Islamists whose ideology is not religious, despite their purported piety, but political. They grapple with the dissonance embedded in nationalistic government rhetoric about undesirable foreign influences, while the same government embraces a foreign pseudo-religious culture, one whose attire, attitudes and modes of political action are not of Indonesia, but Saudi Arabia, the source of its funding. The oft-stated agenda of these imported radicals is the creation of a world-wide Islamic caliphate – and if that means the destruction of the beautiful Indonesian culture of yesteryear, then so be it. They don’t really care.
The most powerful weapons than can be deployed against the creeping radicalisation of Indonesia is worldwide media scrutiny of the fanatical religious elements within the nation, and a subsequent growth in awareness amongst its own populace as to what is really happening to their country. In some pockets of Indonesian society, this epiphany is already happening. With luck, it will spread to the silent majority too, especially those tired of being lumped in with extremists and terrorists as being the face of Indonesia.
And if this attitude prevails, when reason and tolerance finally reclaim their rightful place in Indonesia, we will have both the FPI thugs and Lady Gaga to thank.
Wouldn’t that be ironic?