Gaga Saga Is Over, But Reverberations Continue

June 10, 2012

The shouting, threats and moralising are over. The vicious little thugs of the 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 world-wide 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 Moslems, 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 Shariah 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 Qur’an, their hair forcibly being shorn before they are thrown into a lake as punishment for their personal mode of expression.

They see Shariah-inspired regional by-laws being enacted all over the nation, and the entire West Java city of Tasikmalaya being transformed into a fundamentalist Shariah 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 foreigner’s 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% 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 world-wide 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.

Now wouldn’t that be ironic?



  1. Although I do agree with most of what you have said here mate, I do think you put yourself at risk in saying what these things. Indonesia is not a “free” country so to speak. Be careful…

    • Yes.
      And there are some things that just need to be said.

      I believe that many Indonesians are saying and thinking much the same things, and while the country may not be ‘free’ in the sense you mean, I think that there still remains a climate of free speech that is both heartening and essential to a developing democracy.

      The concept of having ‘critical friends’ offering their opinions in discourse may be somewhat foreign here, but is one of the pillars of freedom that need to be encouraged.

      What I write is, after all, my opinion – it is neither right nor wrong. What I report about the articles in the world press in response to the Gaga debacle is theirs.

  2. Heavy read.. Very heavy read but how nice it is to read the reality. No trying to expose the dark truth, or some false sense of security and safety when entering into Indonesia. Just the truth, the truth that is so well hidden behind the “touts” and the “infected sex workers”.

    I have to ask though, do you get scared writing like this? I am thankful you do but you have just exposed so many things that need to be exposed. You refer to the facebook post, what a crock that whole case was but the reality was he was punished. We then look at the case of the misdiagnosis and Prita Mulyasari was charged under the 2008 Technology Law for complaining about the hospital treatment in emails.

    In the end, if something happens to you Ill be there guns blazing! I couldnt possibly run the risk of not being able to read your blogs.

    Thank you, thank you for telling the truth and not dramatising reality or sugarcoating reality. It is only once people tell the truth that things can start to change.

    • Thanks! No, I don’t get scared. Even here, where civil society is different and criticism of government and religious institutions is frowned upon, I believe there is still the freedom to write the truth – at least the personal truth that one sees.
      So far, no repercussions – except maybe that my PLN pulsa, which was around 300k in credit one day, suddenly became 0 credit on the next day 😉 Co-incidence, of course …

      • Depending on how Indonesian you have become it could hgave even been black magic 😛

        I hope you never get scared, I hope you keep writing the hilarious stories of day to day life in Indonesia and continue to write the hard hitting truths aswell.

        Thanks again but please dont wait so long for the next blog

  3. Love your work, and I agree with the other comments, be careful and watch out for the black magic!!
    No more Bali Times?? It is getting a bit thin on news, death throes??

    • Thank you. Re BT, I hadn’t posted anything for a week or two due to an attack of laziness, so they didn’t have anything of mine to print 😉

  4. A most courageous and well written blog entry, Vyt.

    I can’t help noting that while your blog entry has overwhelmingly highest votes of approval, most responses are urging you caution.

    Should anything necessarily be concluded from that?

    From where I sit, the Boogeyman of Islamic extremism is no less frightful or of less concern to the vast majority of moderate Indonesian Muslims, than they are to westerners.

    Personally, I think that lots of folks don’t understand or appreciate that.

    Ah, the Boogeyman. A western adaptation of the Bugis man, the most feared pirates originating in Southern Sulawesi, and who brought boundless fear into the hearts of all mariners of long ago. Who fears them now, aside from little western children who are still told stories about the Boogeyman?

    • Thanks Roy. All I can conclude is that readers are on the side of caution. That’s fine, and I appreciate their concern. However, as one who loves this country, foreigner or not, I don’t want to be yet another one of the silent majority. There are times when it is necessary to speak out, both for the welfare of the country and from my own belief in the need for tolerance and social justice.

      I will beware of the Bugis man … 😉

      • I understand Vyt. So many of our inbred and ingrained western ideologies are difficult to shed, once living in Indonesia, and calling it home.

        While the tolerance of Indonesians is practically world famous, even they have their limits. It seems to me, even as a recent member of the Indonesian community as a full citizen, that those of us who are western by birth and are either guests, or part of the Indonesian community, that we leave it to the Indonesians to seek and fulfill their own destinies.

        While I hold a valid voting card as well as a KTP I will not vote in Indonesia’s elections. While I’ve been a member of my village banjar for several years, I don’t vote there either. And, in the US, I’ve only voted for the office of President, and then only as a world leader, and not simply the leader of Americans.

        Just different ways of looking at the same horse, I guess.

  5. Well said Vyt.

    Having spent quite a lot of time in Indonesia in the early 1990s – and trying to do some business-kecil, I was rather astonished to see that “things” in general, and freedom in particular, have not improved.

    And from what you suggest in your excellent piece, may have become far worse.

    In Australia freedoms also are under great threat at the moment. The Gillard Socialists are even trying to install controls over the free press. However, as is usually the case in Australia, the marity of Australians are too apathetic to notice – or even if notice – too lazy or tired to do anything about it.

    I do not know if you have heard of Andrew Bolt. He is a columnist with the Herald Sun in Melbourne and also runs an excellent blog.

    The reason I mention Bolt and freedom is because he has been dealt with very severely under Australia’s existing racial discrimination laws, just for simply questioning the “aboriginality” of some taxpayer-funded people.

    You good work in Indonesia may be of some value in Australia, where as I say, people do not realise what a fragile thing freedom is.

    Do not get me wrong. I love Indonesia. I also love Australia. And most of all I love freedom.

    Keep up you good work

    Dave Wane

    • “Having spent quite a lot of time in Indonesia in the early 1990s – and trying to do some business-kecil, I was rather astonished to see that “things” in general, and freedom in particular, have not improved.”

      And that conclusion is based on a blog…an opinion, a so called “news item”* and without any first hand and current living experiences in Indonesia? By your own admission your experiences here are at least from 12 years ago!

      Why is it that so many westerners (Australians in particular) discuss issues such as these concerning Indonesia without EVER consulting an Indonesian to learn what THEY might think? Are you suggesting that Indonesians should be influenced by Australians? I sincerely hope not!

      *The Australian press – dominated by pure tabloid journalism and its papers regarded world wide as nothing more worthy than good wrappers to take home fresh meat and fish. The concept of Australian journalism is regarded in all recognized areas of journalism as an oxymoron… Rupert Murdoch is NO journalist, never has been, and obviously never will.

      • Hi Roy,

        I do not understand how you got the idea that I want to influence Indonesians.

        But, contrary to your assumptions, I do speak to Indonesians, both in Indonesia (where I currently am) and in Darwin where I live. The main point of my comment was to illustrate the fragility of freedom.

        Freedom is being eroded in Australia; and clearly in Indonesia what freedoms remain are under serious threat.

        Your view of Rupert Murdoch, or indeed mine, are irrelevant.

        What is relevant, or should be: is how fragile freedom is – whether in a western democracy like Australia or in a developing “secular democracy” like Indonesia.

      • “Hi Roy, I do not understand how you got the idea that I want to influence Indonesians.”

        Gee, maybe it has something to do with this:

        “I was rather astonished to see that “things” in general, and freedom in particular, have not improved (in Indonesia). And from what you suggest in your excellent piece, may have become far worse.”

        Clearly you haven’t been around here (in Indonesia) much in the years since Pak Soeharto was President. Maybe you should talk to some Chinese/Indonesians who could fill you in on their freedoms granted under Gus Dur, aka, Abdurrahman Wahid. Maybe you should talk to some Indonesian women about their new freedoms and roles in Indonesia. And maybe you should stop assuming that just because freedom in Australia is “under great threat at the moment” that has anything to do with Indonesia.

        What’s currently going on “down under” is of no concern or topic of discussion amongst the vast majority of Indonesians, and most of us only wish that what’s going on in our neck of the woods would be of the same level of disinterest to OZ, and in particular, its “press.”

      • Roy,

        Is it your view that the freedoms granted by Gus Dur to Chinese Indonesians and women are still in place?

        Yes I was here in the Suharto era, and also afterwards. I hear many and varied views about how things are at the moment, and whilst as you say there has been improvement in some areas, there are people I speak to who concur more or less with the obserevations of Vyt.

        I was in Makasser (formerly Ujung Pandang) before and after the burning of Chinese businesses. So I have some experience and knowledge in these matters – having had Chinese Indonesians amongst my friends and aquaintances.

        I also had a woman business partner, so am aware of some (albeit small) problems for women in those years. If Gus Dur improved things, then that is good news.

        Are you saying that Vyt’s article has no validity? Is it almost totally false? What are you trying to tell me?

        I would not have commented had I thought the whole article was untrue. Of course, and I say again, my own sources both in Darwin and within Indonesia, lead me to believe much of what Vyt has written to be accurate.

      • What I’m trying to tell you Dave is that Vyt’s article is an overstatement…and by a long shot.

        I’m also trying to convey (obviously with great inadequacy) that this blog needs more balance to have any sort of credibility.

        I haven’t spent the last 14 years of 24/7 living in Indonesia coming to the conclusion that things are all perfect here, but rather, I have (and so have many others like me) come to understand that this great country becomes a bit more great each and every year.

        I cannot even begin to compare the country I arrived in to live 14 years ago to the country that Indonesia is today. Lots of work needs to be done, no argument there, but once in a while a little credit and recognition for what’s already been done should be given equal time. Here in Bali, we call it balance.

      • ***I cannot even begin to compare the country I arrived in to live 14 years ago to the country that Indonesia is today. Lots of work needs to be done, no argument there, but once in a while a little credit and recognition for what’s already been done should be given equal time. Here in Bali, we call it balance.***

        Yes I agree it has improved since I first visited here in 1986. I agree, understand and endorse the concept of “balance” – whether in Bali, other parts of Indonesia, or indeed anywhere on the planet.

        I simply, and respectfully urge you to be aware of the fragility of freedom. Obviously the current “Indonesian-style freedom” can be further eroded until it no longer resembles anything like the meaning of the word.

        Therefore, in my view, Vyt’s work does more good than harm.

        “Balance” in reality is of course a worthy, yet lofty goal. But one that is totally impossible without Freedom.

      • Roy, a little consistency in your comments would be helpful here.

        In an earlier comment, you say “A most courageous and well written blog entry, Vyt.”
        Now it appears that you have re-thought your premature praise by saying “Vyt’s article is an overstatement … and by a long shot.”

        I am happy to be challenged on any inaccuracies in my article. Its theme was that the response of politico-religious ‘authorities’ in Jakarta to a performer’s concert focussed a great deal of attention by the world’s press on the state of things in Indonesia at the moment. It was the tone and scope of widespread reaction to the concert and its subsequent cancellation that I wrote about. The social, political and religious undercurrents in Indonesia are a matter of public record, and of great concern to many people in, and out of Indonesia. It is patently false to say that the article is in any way “an overstatement”, but I can understand that that might be the perception of someone sequestered in a village away from the realities of political life in Indonesia.

        Your oft-stated assertion that “this (my) blog needs more balance to have any sort of credibility” is flawed. A blog is an opinion piece. Blogs make no claim for balance within any given article or post, and my blog is no different. My posts are a means of redressing what I perceive to be an imbalance in some of the biased reporting, tourism puff-pieces and generally pollyanna-like articles that distort the nature of life in Bali specifically and Indonesia generally.

        You say my blog is “a long read of complaints and belly aches about Indonesia, mostly targeted to Bali”. You are overstating. Out of 138 posts here, maybe 25 contain elements which are critical of the country. Most are a light-hearted look at the absurdities of life in Bali. The overwhelming feedback I get from people is that they are grateful that I have highlighted some of the realities of life here – realities which are denied, glossed over or ignored by those who may well have a vested interest in promoting Bali/Indonesia as some sort of paradise.

        I believe that not one of those people would avoid this place purely on the basis of what I write – but if even a single person is better prepared to enjoy this wonderful place by being aware of some of the differences, and some of the pitfalls – then my job is done.

        Burying one’s head in the sand about the full scope of life here by ignoring those aspects that are not so pretty is just counter-productive. And for you to use the time-worn tactic of saying “those same jets that brought you here can easily take you back” is, to use your words, just juvenile. I am staying, and I will continue to write about what IS here – the good and the bad – and not what people would PREFER to be here.

        I too come from a place where “it’s often better to be frank and honest than it is to worry about politeness”, and as long as I am here, I will continue to write it as I see it.

      • No lack of consistency Vyt…as your article is courageous and it is very well written.

        I did go on to write,

        “From where I sit, the Boogeyman of Islamic extremism is no less frightful or of less concern to the vast majority of moderate Indonesian Muslims, than they are to westerners. Personally, I think that lots of folks don’t understand or appreciate that.”

        What I was suggesting is that Indonesia is perhaps far better equipped to deal with Islamic extremism than many people give it credit. I guess you also missed the point about the Boogeyman story.

        Personally I don’t think it’s very appropriate for westerners who are guests in this country to criticize its inner politics, cultural or religious issues. That is just my point of view, and I wonder how many Indonesians who are currently living in other countries are active writers and publishers of web hosted criticisms about their host country?

  6. My comments appear to have been deleted.

    • No, not deleted. Patience – I just need time to get home to my computer to see them first before whipping them through the moderation queue 😉

      • Thanks. I was somewhat confused, after receiving the automatic reply. Sorry. And thanks for your excellent, yet sadly depressing piece.

        Dave Wane

  7. Vyt, well said. I’ve been following what’s happening in Indonesia, and wonder where the ongoing invasion of arab culture there will lead.

    • I see it leading down a dark and insular path unless things change. I would suspect that while fundamentalist religious issues dominate thinking, and the greater mass of people continue to be submissive, there will not be much change.

      World opinion per se does not seem to make much difference to the very strong religious and nationalistic psyche here, and this strength can be a strong positive force for Indonesia. However this strength nowadays seems to manifest itself as an overly-zealous nationalistic stubbornness in some quarters, and a fundamentalist outlook perpetuated by Saudi-influenced clerics.

      My guess is that if foreign investment starts to dry up and essential infrastructure projects take a hit, the populace will become more vocal. Maybe then a number of people in government will start to be more flexible. After all, the major source of wealth for them is the money they can cream off large projects …

  8. Still suffering from Islamaphobia? Check out various press reports back in 2006 and 2007 which were all predicting the same thing back then. Then it was the anti-pornography law and the shut down of Playboy that had some folks making dire predictions.

    Also, check out Indonesia’s performance in FDI numbers (foreign investment) for the past several years which are very strong with each year doing significantly better than the prior year. While one might read foreign investment analysts raising concern over corruption issues in Indonesia’s government, one never reads where financial analysts are raising concern over some perceived growing conservative influence here.

    Sorry, but I don’t see that “dark and insular path” nor obviously do the main investors in Indonesia, viz, Singapore, Japan or South Korea.

    • Islamophobia? Hardly.

      My comment was in response to Mike’s, who said: “I …wonder where the ongoing invasion of arab culture there will lead.” My response was “down a dark and insular path”. Arab culture, he said, NOT Islam. Connected, yes, but not the same – at least not until the previously tolerant flavour of Islam in Indonesia is replaced by the far more rigid style of Arabia, together with its religious laws.

      As for foreign investors – well, again, my comment about them was a direct follow-on from the previous paragraph referring to the “overly-zealous nationalistic stubbornness” which sees rapid-fire policy shifts, sudden ad hoc changes in divestment rules, revocation of mining permits, refusal to face the fuel subsidies issue and other knee-jerk reactions that are spooking investors – as is the endemic corruption. The “perceived growing conservative influence” was not my main point, but it certainly contributes to their caution, as often reported in the world’s press.

      Time will tell if all these factors will make a dent in FDI. Indonesia’s abundance of resources and potentially high ROI naturally make it attractive for investors. But it’s only the big investors making huge returns that can afford to absorb the opportunity costs such as 17-25% allowance for bribes, the time wasted in red tape, and the policy uncertainties.

      Indonesia, of course has every right to want a bigger share of its own resources. But investors who need to make huge capital investments in plant and equipment need enough security of tenure to make amortisation of those costs feasible within reasonable time frames. And that is why, despite the recent annual increases in FDI, even the Indonesian press is reporting a slackening off.

      • Putting aside Muslim extremist as a facet of this so called “Arab Invasion” how do you see Arab culture becoming more and more evident in Indonesian life, aside from the FPI? Personally I see the two as inseparable since the stated goals of the FPI is to make Indonesia an Islamic state governed by Sharia.

        Regarding the FPI, what I see is ever increasing outrage and calls by Indonesians themselves to eliminate their mob intimidation practices. More and more articles written by Indonesians appear with frequency, such as this very recent editorial by the founding editor of the Jakarta Globe:


        Where you see Indonesians as being submissive, I see them more as very willing to take a strong stand, such as the hairdresser discussed in the Jakarta Glove editorial linked above.

        I may well be wrong as I don’t live in Jakarta, but it seems to me that the FPI mob actions against bars and nightclubs in Jakarta during Ramadan has fallen off in most recent years…not increased. Maybe someone living in Jakarta can either confirm or set me straight on that.

        With certainty though, anyone following Jakarta TV over the past 12 years can easily see the rather extreme transition to more modern and worldly programming schedules including sexy attire, advertisements geared towards increasing sex appeal and movies which haven’t been hacked to pieces by censors. Any “Arab Invasion” if indeed there even is such a thing is surely not being reflected in the Indonesian media.

        As far as things are here in Bali, has anyone living here seen any activity conducted by the FPI? I certainly never hear my Balinese family or friends taking about any increased concern with the FPI, but I would be interested in what the expat community in Jakarta think.

        As for the growth in foreign investment in Indonesia, you’ll have to show me where the Indonesian press is reporting a “slackening off.”

        On the contrary, the first quarter 2012 FDI numbers have broken all previous records!

        “Realized foreign investment (FDI) in Indonesia reached its highest-ever level for a first quarter, Rp 51.5 trillion (US$5.7 billion), up 30 percent over the same period in 2011.”

        This is being widely reported in both local Indonesian and world press including the Wall Street Journal.

        Personally I am very optimistic about the future for Indonesia and virtually every Indonesian I interact with daily shares that same optimism. For certain, none of us see the Boogey man hiding under our beds.

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