Archive for the ‘INDONESIA’ Category

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Why Your Choice Not To Wear A Helmet Is My Business

July 28, 2014

“I never wear a helmet”, brags the expat on one of the more combative Bali forums. Let’s call him Bazza. “Nobody can tell me what to do. It’s my bloody choice if I wear one or not.” Some Indonesian participants agree. “We only wear helmets on long trips. No need around town in
Bali.” Others, perhaps of a more practical bent, chime in with warnings about the huge cost of medical treatment, the fact that insurance won’t pay, the police stings, the enormous risk to him, and … well, you’ve heard all those reasons before.

But Bazza is intractable. “If I get hurt, that’s my business. I’ll pay for my own hospital treatment.” He admits that he has no medical insurance. And he forcefully says that, no, he doesn’t expect anyone to hold fund-raisers for him, or help out if he is incapacitated, or to donate towards medical evacuation costs – or anything, really.

“I take responsibility for myself”, he keeps repeating. “I hate helmets – they’re restrictive and uncomfortable.” Like road safety rules, I suppose. He goes on to say, “I like the wind in my hair. It’s no-one’s business what I do, and all you do-gooders can just shut up.” He finishes with, “Don’t tell me how to live my life. If I don’t wear a helmet, it doesn’t affect you one bit, except to give you something to whinge about in your shallow, boring lives.”

I can understand his ire, if not his lack of diplomacy. I’m not much one for do-gooder rules myself. But as I ponder on his attitude, I am struck by the realisation that his ‘right’ to ride in helmet-less freedom, and his belief that it does not affect me “one bit”, is just plain wrong. It actually affects me a lot.

But what if this freedom-loving, rule-breaking, self-centred, independent legend was to have a serious spill one day? What if his unprotected head was to smash into the road as he comes off, peeling back his scalp, fracturing his skull and coating the surface of his exposed brain with the dirt and bacteria of Bali’s roads? And don’t say it’s unlikely; this happens every single day here in Bali.

And what if, at the same time, I am riding too, and I have an accident where my helmeted head suffers a ferocious blow which leaves me semi-conscious with a severe concussion?

In both cases, passers-by would no doubt call for an ambulance to take each of us to hospital. But this is Bali – there are few ambulances, many accidents and emergencies, and permanently choked roads that slow thinly-stretched emergency-response vehicles to a crawl.

So the dispatchers, having heard the sitrep from both accidents, will inevitably triage the two of us, and give priority to – guess who? – Bazza. After all, he is the one who is unconscious, covered with copious amounts of blood from his scalp lacerations, and the one whose brains
are leaking out of his cranium. High priority.

By comparison, I am merely groggy and disoriented and with only superficial grazes. As from inside a deep well I hear “Yes sir, he was wearing a helmet, and yes, he is sort of conscious”, as someone phones for an ambulance, so of course, I end up as a low priority job. They will
send their first available ambulance for Bazza. He’s the one in most need, at least in their professional judgement.

So I get to wait for the next available patient transport, while, unknown to me or anyone else, the brain bleed in my skull that began when I crashed goes unrecognised and untreated. I will die within two hours unless I get immediate medical intervention to relieve my intra-cranial bleed.

But let’s say I do manage to get to the hospital before I actually expire on the road. I will most likely languish in the emergency room, gradually losing consciousness, while the only qualified head trauma surgeon on duty is busy trying to stabilise Bazza.

By this stage, I have about twenty minutes left to live. By the time the surgeon slaps on enough dacron patches to glue Bazza’s stupid head together, checks his vitals and hands over to his assistant to do the closure, stitching and bandaging, it is nearly too late for me and my undiagnosed subdural haematoma.

That’s because my skull totally encloses my brain, which is getting gradually compressed by leaking blood. Oxygen-rich blood can no longer flow to my brain tissue. The reduced oxygen causes my neurons to die and my brain to swell even further. All this combines to force my brain down through the foramen magnum – a small hole at the base of my skull. Those brain parts that come in contact with the hard bone around this opening get so compressed that they stop
working altogether.

The surgeon, finally freed of his responsibilities to the idiot Bazza (who no doubt still insists that his choice of not wearing a helmet affects no-one but him) finally arrives just in time to see me go into convulsions. Those areas of my brain which are being crushed actually control my breathing
and heart rate. I already have brain damage from anoxia, but that is nothing compared to what will happen next unless the surgeon immediately drills a hole in my skull to relieve the pressure. Quite simply, without help, I will die.

But somehow I survive. I don’t remember much. I have months of rehabilitation ahead. I can’t really understand all the words in books now, so I don’t read much. I don’t recognise people who claim they’re my friends. Sometimes I have lucid moments where some of my old mental acuity returns, and I think about things like cause and effect, actions and consequences. I vaguely remember using the internet a long time ago, and arguing with a guy called Bazza, who insisted on having the freedom to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, because no do-gooder
had the right to tell him what to do.

And I frown, vaguely remembering that I really disagreed with his attitude once, but for the life of me I don’t know why. The doctors keep giving me pills to make me better, they say, but I just flush them down the toilet. I think Bazza was probably right about people telling you what to do all the
time, so I will just ignore them, just like he did.

I see a guy on a gurney, head bandaged, connected to drips, being wheeled out of the hospital towards a Medevac ambulance. His friends look pale and stressed, and I hear them talking about how they had to take out mortgages to pay for his operations and to fly him home. One says, “You’ll be right, Bazza.” His name rings a bell, but I can’t remember why. I feel emotional seeing people look after their friends when something bad happens.

But most of the time I feel confused and angry and rebellious, and I want to go out riding fast, bare-chested and with the wind in my hair, enjoying my freedom, but they say I can’t. I don’t see why not. It’s my choice, not theirs.

But they say not to do it, because my brain is a bit like Bazza’s now and I’m unable to understand ‘consequences’, whatever they are. I don’t really know, but it doesn’t matter. I’m going to do it anyway, because I’m the boss of me, and those do-gooders can just shut up.

Besides, it won’t affect anyone but me.

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How Hot Should The Fire Be To Burn Witches?

May 8, 2013

Indonesia seems determined to make itself a laughing stock in Europe.

After toiling over a draft of  a new set of Criminal Code Procedures, thirty lawmakers, accompanied by the usual retinue of free-loaders, are setting off on a $667,000 junket to Europe to ‘study’ how the criminal codes there might apply to the proposed new Indonesian criminal code.

The only problem is, in their zeal, lawmakers want to criminalise just about everything with the  new code. They want singles caught engaging in premarital sex to be sentenced to five years in jail.  They want adulterers to suffer the same penalty. They want to criminalise the act of sharing a hotel room by two people who are not married. To each other, that is. They want to make it illegal for hotels to accept bookings from guests who fail to produce a marriage certificate. In fact, any unmarried cohabitation will be made illegal.

The draft code criminalises homosexuality. It wants to continue to prohibit membership of any religion that is not one of the 6 permitted by the government.  It continues the existing criminal sanctions against atheists. One, Alex Aan, merely said “There is no god” on a Facebook page, and is currently serving two and a half years in prison for the ‘crime’ of atheism.

Witchcraft, ‘black magic’ and ‘white magic’ are on the blacklist too, although the definitions of what constitutes these occult practices, to me seem indistinguishable from what others might call ‘religion’.

Despite heavy criticism of this ‘study tour’, on the basis that laws designed for Europe will be incompatible with Indonesian  society, the lawmakers appear determined to press on with their taxpayer-funded trip. A more cynical person than I would be tempted to conclude that a free holiday jaunt to the fleshly pleasures of Europe – and the boundless shopping opportunities to be found there – are actually the prime motivators for the trip. That thought had never crossed my mind.

But let’s assume that the 30 stalwart legislators are actually going there to learn how Europeans deal with those issues of  ‘criminality’ that seem to preoccupy and vex the Indonesian government. They will no doubt ask serious questions. But will they get serious answers – or just bewildered looks, a few shrugs, and a dawning realisation of the size of the cultural chasm separating Indonesia from Europe?

I would give anything to see the faces of their European counterparts when the visiting lawmakers ask, “What laws do you have to prevent consenting couples from having sex?”

Or, “What is the best way to punish gay people?”

Or, “What penalties do you impose for being a member of a non-approved religion?”

Or, “For how long do you think atheists should be incarcerated?”

Or, “What is an appropriate temperature for a fire to be used to burn witches?”

And I want to see the shock on the faces of the Indonesian delegation when they discover that lawless vigilante thugs pretending to  ‘defend’ their religion because they have the tacit approval of their government would be heavily penalised under the criminal codes of Europe.  I want to see their reaction when they find out that those who burn churches in Europe, or assault and kill those who are not of their religion, are treated as violent criminals and incarcerated for long periods.

And yet, strangely, the proposed Indonesian criminal code seems to make no mention of religious persecution, forced religious conversion of children, and no changes in the law that states that any convicted criminal is free to become a lawmaker or high government official, as long as he has been sentenced to less than 5 years.

Luckily for many in Indonesia, the new code also seems to have inexplicably left out corruption as a serious criminal activity. Otherwise, once the new code is implemented, it would be difficult to find 3 lawmakers, much less 30, to take these ridiculous overseas trips, because all of the rest of them would be in jail.

But we all know that won’t happen. In the meantime, you guys enjoy your shopping and sightseeing. I look forward to reading your report of what you learned in Europe, and how you will justify using none of it.

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Lies, Lies, Lies – The Devalued Currency Of Politics

July 12, 2012

We expect our friends to tell the truth, because it forms the core of trust. We are disappointed if they deceive us and betray that trust. We expect a little less of big business, knowing that the ‘truth’ for them is sometimes a malleable commodity. But we can still accept those semi-truths, as long as they are wrapped in a warm fuzzy cloak of integrity.

And then we have our politicians, many of whom regard the truth as a chimera that can shape-shift at will.  For them, integrity merely a word in the dictionary, and not one they have to look up often. There are people who base their lives around “Whatever is Right”, but they are rarely politicians, whose creed is “Whatever Works”. We trust our friends, we tolerate our corporations, but we rarely, if ever, trust our politicians.

When our politicians lie, they do it with vigour and panache. They like the big lie, because it is bold, and addresses the reptile brain, not rational thought. Consciously or unconsciously, they follow the precepts of Adolf Hitler, who described lies in Mein Kampf  thus: “… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily”.

That’s a mouthful, so his words from  are often paraphrased as: “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” You don’t have to look far for examples of outrageous big lies from Indonesia’s own beloved leaders.

Suryadharma Ali, head of Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry which was described by the Corruption Eradication Commission as the most corrupt ministry of all (which takes some doing), came out with a whopper recently. After several years of violent and deadly marginalisation of minorities, religious hate crimes and murders, a government edict that allows only six approved religions, and an absolute ban on atheism, blasphemy and apostasy, he blithely stated that Indonesia was “the most tolerant country in the world.” As if to reinforce the lie, he went on to say, “We treat equally the minority and the majority. Indonesia’s religious harmony is the best in the world.”

Right Ali, I’ll give that priceless jewel of mendacity and denial ten out of ten.

Not be outdone, Mahfud MD, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, came up with a gem this week while entertaining Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. In response to her stated concerns about the freedom of religion and democracy in Indonesia, he lied shamelessly, asserting that “…  the Constitutional Court has guaranteed the freedom of atheists and communists in this country, as long as they do not disturb the freedom of people of other religions. Freedom is equality”, he declared, according to Kompas.com.

Meanwhile, Alex Aan, a 32-year-old civil servant  incarcerated in June for 30 months for declaring that he was an atheist, is probably sitting in his cell wondering what Mahfud is on about. The producers of  a television program about Tan Malaka, a well-known Indonesian nationalist and communist, are also probably bemused as to why army chiefs banned the show from going to air last year if there is constitutionally-protected tolerance in the country.

Mahfud, for this one, you are just behind Ali. Nine out of ten.

Politician’s lies, of course, are to gain political advantage, or to make individuals or the state look good on the world stage. For Muslims, such as the two worthies mentioned above, lying is not only permitted by the Qur’an, it is encouraged under certain circumstances, such as any anticipated harm (in the broadest sense) to one’s self, fellow Muslims, or to Islam. This principle of Taqiyya is well-documented and widely used. If describing taqiyya as lying is too harsh for you, just call it ‘dissimulation’ if it makes you feel more politically correct.

Lest the accusation be levelled that I’m engaging in Islam-bashing, or selectively using Indonesian politicians as examples of big-ticket lying, let’s look at some other luminaries on the world stage. Truth came a distant second to diplomacy and commercial interests for two recent visitors to these shores.

US President Barack Obama waxed lyrical about Indonesia being “a model for the world”, heaping praise on its “religious tolerance” while pointedly ignoring the widely-documented increase in religious bigotry, violence and intolerance. His ‘praise’ came, not surprisingly, during his efforts to flog $21.7 billion worth of Boeing planes to Lion Air. It makes the lie understandable, but it doesn’t make it believable. Nine out of ten, Obama.

Five months later, British Prime Minister David Cameron, in an astonishing display of ‘me-too-ism’ spouted an equally fatuous homily. Without even blushing, he intoned, “Indonesia’s respect for democracy and minority religious groups should serve as an example for other Muslim nations”. By the most amazing coincidence, he too was there to flog planes; in this case 11 Airbus A330 aircraft which he wanted Garuda Indonesia to buy for $505.5 million. I give Cameron 9.5 out of ten, just edging out Obama and Mahfud, but still running behind Ali’s perfect score.

Of course, all these prevaricators would be uneasy if you came straight out and called them liars. They would claim that it’s just spin, or a sales pitch, or diplomacy, or it’s for the greater good, or a legitimate way of gaining and consolidating power. After all, you know – it’s all just politics in the end.

Well no, Ali, Mahfud, Obama and Cameron – it’s lying. And it diminishes both you and the institutions that you lie about. Nietzsche put his finger on it when he said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Small wonder that no-one, but no-one trusts politicians.

When you politicos brazenly lie for your own purposes, whatever those may be, what does it do to you? Do you know in your hearts that you are lying? If so, you are unfit for office. Or do you rationalise your thoughts and words to the extent that you believe you are actually telling the truth?

If that’s the case, the writer Dostoyevsky has an insight into the terrible thing that has happened to you. He says, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” 

And of course, any politician whose internal integrity compass is malfunctioning to this extent is unfit for office too.

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Solve Bali’s Problems By Changing A Deeply Flawed System

June 28, 2012

Bali’s popular and caring Governor, I Made Mangku Pastika, is again in the news as being concerned about the effect of tourism on the island. “Tourism has been a disaster for the poor”, he said. The number of people living in poverty in Bali has jumped by 17,000 to 183,000 over the last year alone. He blames tourism for driving up the prices of basic commodities to a point where the indigent can no longer afford them. He also points to increased transmigration by non-Balinese looking for tourism-related work as putting pressure on both prices and infrastructure.

I am sure that for diplomatic reasons, Pastika didn’t mention the opportunistic price increases here ahead of Jakarta’s recently botched ‘phasing out’ of fuel subsidies and the resulting fuel price rises. That increase didn’t eventuate of course – the Central government’s duty to responsibly manage the economy took a back seat to political popularity – but there is little doubt that that fiasco has contributed to the problem as well. Prices of just about everything went up. But when the whole rationale for these cost increases suddenly vanished, those prices … well, of course, they stayed up.

Pastika’s attempts to manage Bali’s tourism bubble without destroying the soul of the island have been laudable. His ‘moratorium’ on further development in an island already over-supplied with accommodation – and under-equipped with suitable infrastructure – was a genuine attempt to rescue Bali from its growing problems.  We can see these every day – grid-locked streets, mountains of rubbish, collapsing road surfaces, environmental degradation, insufficient water and inadequate power supply.

And yet, despite the moratorium, new hotels and condominiums keep springing up like noxious weeds, taking over residential areas, obliterating rice fields and breaching height and set-back limits with impunity. Many developers appear to commence construction without even bothering the get the required permits and don’t even attempt to comply with the 40% open space rule designed to catch rain to replenish a diminishing water table. And as far as the ‘Balinese character’ required in their architectural features – well, I guess developers think that Miami or Gold Coast designs are close enough for Bali.

How can this be? I hear people blaming Pastika – after all, he is the Governor of Bali, right? He has the power to lead the way for Bali – why isn’t he enforcing his own moratorium? Why doesn’t he do something about the infrastructure?

The simple answer is – he can’t. He might be the Governor of Bali –  one of the 33 provinces of Indonesia – but he effectively has no power.

The real power in Indonesia is vested in the districts or regencies (kabupaten), and the cities (kota). Bali has eight regencies and one city – Denpasar.

The head of each regency, via its administration, has total authority, often by-passing the role of the provincial government in making and enforcing regulations and policies. And every regency can make its own rules. So much for consistency.

In effect, the Bali Governor’s role as head of the provincial government is limited to a vaguely-defined mediating role between regencies. For those familiar with the tiers of Australian government, the situation is akin to granting local municipal councils the same rights and powers as a State government, reducing that body to a symbolic and largely ceremonial role.

In Australia, such a system would result in planning chaos, with no consistency in laws, regulations, tax charges and levies, urban construction standards, or anything else that provides the glue to hold civil society together. In Bali, this system results in planning chaos, with no consistency … well, you get the picture.

The genesis of this unbelievable situation came about 11 years ago. In an attempt to decentralise Jakarta’s absolute control and devolve power to Indonesia’s far-flung provinces, the Regional Autonomy policy of 2001 was implemented.  It might have even been workable if the sub-national units – the Provinces – were granted the power to manage their own local affairs.

But no, the post-Dili paranoia that gripped Jakarta meant that districts/regencies – not provinces – were given this power, in the fear that a genuine transfer of authority to provinces might induce them to break away from Jakarta’s grip.

Are all the eight regencies happy with this arrangement? Well, Badung is happy. A large part of Bali’s development, and hence revenue, is generated there. Gianyar too seems reasonably happy with its share of the cake, as is the municipality of Denpasar. But the other six regencies would be close to destitute if it wasn’t for a revenue-sharing arrangement that originally took 30% of Badung’s revenues (and since considerably reduced) to be redistributed to the poorer areas.

So now, we have the sad spectacle of the governor of Bali trying his best to address the problems here, but being stymied by autonomous regencies which not only compete with each other for hand-out money, but whose very survival is dependent on funds from development licences, fees and taxes – and of course, the eternal bribe windfalls from granting inappropriate development permits. “Moratorium?”, they ask – “What moratorium?” A ‘permits for sale’ mentality rules, and Bali disappears under yet more towers.

Adding to the volatile mix of greed versus sustainability is a set of central guidelines which don’t even address the role of tourism or handicrafts – two of Bali’s critical ingredients. It’s a recipe for chaos. I sympathise with the Governor, and I can understand why he over-simplifies the formula so that it reads “Tourism = A Disaster for the Poor”. That’s just politics, although it does make for a fine sound-bite.

The reality is that to improve the lot of the Balinese people requires a radical re-think of all the complex components of the situation. Bali generates more than 50% of Indonesia’s $7 billion+ tourist-related revenue. Does Bali get to keep what it generates? No. Does Bali get any of the huge Visa On Arrival windfall collected from its tourists? Not a rupiah. Retaining a fair share of this money would go a long way to implementing poverty-reduction programs in Bali – but it won’t happen as long as Jakarta keeps seeing Bali as a cash cow.

On top of the huge discrepancy between the money generated and money retained, is the ludicrous situation of having a provincial government with no real power, no clout, no mandate to plan, and basically no voice in the affairs of Bali itself. These functions are being undertaken by competing regencies to the detriment of the whole province.

While Bali may not yet be ready for Bali Merdeka – true independence (nor would Jakarta’s nationalistic power-brokers ever permit it) –  it certainly is ready to push for special autonomy status, with the provincial government assuming its rightful place as the strategic seat of planning and power. It’s time that the dog wagged the tail.

When it does, listen for the screaming of the regents, especially those who have been putting their local interests ahead of those of Bali. They will provide the soundtrack for the birth of a new, mature Bali, one with a proper, hierarchical government structure instead of a chaotic set of divided fiefdoms.

I just hope that someone of Governor Pastika’s calibre, and possessing his vision, will be at the helm when that happens.

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A Nasty ‘Win A Car’ Scam That Breaks Hearts

June 22, 2012

Her eyes are alight and she is suffused with a joy that I have rarely seen before. Her usually stoic nature is transformed by the radiance that today illuminates her spirit, spilling on to those around her. She has worked very hard for years, rarely complaining, and constantly dreams of being able to support her parents on a distant island in the archipelago. Today, that dream has come true.

“I’ve won a car!” she cries, pulling out a plastic token carefully wrapped in flimsy paper printed with complicated winner’s directions. I had heard of those ubiquitous promotional prize deals which seem to abound here in Bali. I had actually seen ads from the Tango people breathlessly pushing the usual line –  you know the ones: “Buy our product, win a car!” But with one car as first prize, its coveted token hidden in one of perhaps five million packets of product, the chances of winning are vanishingly small.

Even so, someone has to win, and it seems that my friend has struck it rich against all the odds. I congratulate her; no-one deserves a win more than her. “But I haven’t told you yet”, she goes on, “It’s not just one, but two cars! I can’t believe it!”

I can’t believe it either, but for me it’s a species of disbelief that comes from cynicism, not overwhelming excitement. As she tells me about finding the Tango car token last night, and another winning one in a separate purchase of a different product this morning, my internal radar begins beeping. She’s on a roll, telling me of her plans to sell one of the little Nissan March cars she has won and giving the proceeds to her parents, and keeping the other here in Bali to generate rental income. My ‘something’s wrong’ detector won’t shut off as I calculate the odds of winning not one, but two major prizes. “Ring them”, I advise, “find out what you have to do now to collect your prize.”

An hour later, I get an excited message. “It’s all real”, she says. “They will deliver the car as soon as I do the registration transfer!” She then diffidently asks if I could lend her 3.7 million “for the STNK transfer”, but assures me that everything is completely safe, because the mysterious ‘they’ will return the money as soon as the car is delivered. “Then I can use that money for the second car’s transfer, and give it back to you when that one is delivered.”

Uh oh. Nigerian scam with a twist. I don’t want to rain all over her parade, but the weather is not looking good right now. I try logic. “Why can’t they pay the ‘transfer’ themselves if they’re only going to give it back to you?” She tells me that they explained that doing it that way would not be legal. Oh, right. But I press on. “If the car is new, why do they want you to ‘transfer’ the registration?”

She tells me they say it is a police requirement. “Have you called the police to ask?” I enquire. “Of course! They encouraged me to do that!” I am momentarily stumped, but then ask her what number she called. “Oh, it’s right here on their instruction page, where it says ‘Call Police to confirm correct registration transfer fees.” Ah, right, very clever.

So because she’s excited and happy, and wants to hear nothing from the King of Negativity that might spoil that, I make a deal with her. I’ll advance the money, but only if my solicitor talks to her first, examines the deal and approves it. I know her – she is very intelligent, honest, caring and a workaholic – but she is also extremely stubborn and independent. If I refuse her request, she will simply go elsewhere to get the forward payment, then run aground on the deadly Nigerian reefs as so many have done before her.

Luckily, she agrees to meet my solicitor, and I sit sadly watching while that worthy explains the nature of the scam to her, shattering the dream of financial independence for both her and her parents in the process. It is a necessary and brutal surgery, and one that requires a finesse better administered by my solicitor than by me. I listen as she describes how scam artists buy biscuits or confectionery in bulk, then professionally re-pack them using counterfeit bags. The bogus tokens – most of them “winners” – are slipped into the bags before they are sealed, ready for ecstatic purchasers to find and get suckered into pre-paying ‘delivery’, ‘registration’ or ‘transfer’ fees to facilitate a major prize which, of course, never arrives.

Those who are cautious are encouraged to check with the ‘authorities’, whose number is conveniently printed on the accompanying instructions. The number is, of course that of the fraudsters themselves, who explain in official tones that declining to make the requested payment will mean instant forfeiture of the ‘prize’. Very few use their own resources to find and call the customer service number of Tango, or any other company being unwittingly used as a front for these crooks. Very few think to question the “Police’ number printed, because this is Indonesia, where the social norm is never to challenge those in authority.

Most are in borderline economic circumstances, which makes them easy prey for the heartless bastards who care nothing for their victims, thinking only to enrich themselves at the expense of others. They operate with impunity, apparently safe from police interference, and make billions while doing so. Personally, I would cut off their balls and sell their scrotums as tobacco pouches before boiling them in oil. Perhaps it is fortunate that I don’t have any say about the implementation of justice in this country.

At the end of the meeting, after living through 12 hours of sleepless joy and the sudden shock of betrayal, I am worried that my friend will be faced with months of regretful contemplation, the annoying mosquito of  ‘what might have been’ buzzing constantly around her mind. But no. She is calm and stoical and simply smiles and says, “Thank you so much. I have learned a big lesson today.”

And after watching how she handled this little episode, so have I.

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Installing Democracy Is Never Bug-Free

June 17, 2012

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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?