Posts Tagged ‘Lombok’


Lombokschwitz, Indonesia’s Ahmadi Shame

November 16, 2011

The rising tide of religious intolerance continues unchecked in the great ‘secular democracy’ of Indonesia. Diani Budiarto, the Mayor of Bogor, only sixty kilometres from Jakarta, thumbs his nose at the government, the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the essence of Pancasila itself by continuing to victimise members of the Taman Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church. “No church should be on a street named after a Muslim”, he said. Scholars are apparently still poring over the 114 Suras in the Qur’an to find any which might support his bigoted stance.

Elsewhere in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi, Christian churches are burned, parishioners attacked and anyone who does not adhere slavishly to Islamic orthodoxy is marginalised. The police stand by and watch. The President, his hands tied by fundamentalist coalition partners, does nothing, thereby condoning the attacks.

In Cikeusik, West Java, 17 year old Dani bin Misra was released from jail to a hero’s welcome. He had received only a three month sentence for the violent murder of Roni Pasaroni, a member of the Ahmadiya sect, during a vicious siege of their home. Their house was torched by a fanatically screaming mob, two of its occupants being set upon as they tried to escape, then clubbed and slashed to death. In a stunning example of Indonesian jurisprudence, one of the survivors was sentenced to six months jail “for provoking the attack”, simply by being in the house. The police stood by and watched. The President called for the perpetrators to be caught and punished, but as is usual in Indonesian courts, the pressure from hard-liners ensured that prosecutors didn’t even bother to call eye-witnesses.

Hard-line Muslims don’t approve of the peaceful Ahmadis. Oblivious the the irony of her words, one resident of Cikeusik said, “We had to clean our village. This is no place for the followers of a cult.” The FPI, a fundamentalist band of uneducated thugs for hire, don’t approve of the Ahmadis either. In fact, they don’t seem to approve of anything that deviates from the ideology being forced upon Indonesians by the fundamentalists’ Arabic masters.

The FPI operates with impunity because the police let them. “As a part of society, the FPI is our partner … in a positive way”, said National Police spokesman Senior Commander Boy Rafli Amar. What else can he say? His boss, Chief of the Indonesian National Police General Timur Pradopo is reported to be a foundation member of the FPI. And despite knowing this, the President still appointed him to his position. What does that tell you about SBY’s commitment to tolerance?

But all of these violations of religious freedoms, all of this intolerance, violence and bigotry don’t really impact Bali, do they?. We can all relax in paradise, because these insanities perpetrated in the name of religion are a long way away in West Java, North Sumatra and Sulawesi, right?


Just 35 kilometres away lies Lombok, touted as “The New Bali” and a fledgling tourist destination. Lombok, which is predominately Muslim, also is home to a population of Ahmadiya – Muslims who have so offended fundamentalists by their belief in a variant of mainstream Islam that they are not even permitted to call themselves Muslims. This peaceful sect, who have been in Indonesia since 1925, has grown in numbers worldwide by 400% in the last ten years. In Lombok, their numbers have been savagely reduced by violent persecution by the local population. Their homes have been destroyed, their land and possessions stolen. Forcible conversions to the “true Islam” have decimated their numbers. Those who have asserted their right to freedom of worship have been hounded into a ghetto in Mataram.

The run-down Transito shelter in Mataram is now home to 140 Ahmadis, crammed into a shelter where sanitation is non-existent and where the government has cut off electricity three years ago. The government has banned them from returning to their homes and has refused to register them as residents of Lombok. Because they are not residents, their food aid was cut off last year, and they are denied the free gas stoves supposedly distributed by the government to all citizens. They are the forgotten people of Lombok. Presumably, everyone is waiting for them to die off in poverty and squalor so that the problem will go away.

What motivated the Lombok population to begin to destroy their own neighbours? Well for a start, maybe the 2005 edict issued by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) against the Ahmadis started the ball rolling. The government, which had every chance to reinforce the propaganda that Indonesia is a secular nation by nipping this in the bud, dropped the ball and did nothing until 2008. At which time, inexplicably, a Ministerial Decree ratified the unconstitutional religious decree by making it law. Since then, fuel has been poured on the fire by Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali’s call for an complete ban on Ahmadiyah. To the uneducated and the poor, the message is clear. The Ahmadis are fair game.

The latest lame attempt at controlling religious thought comes from the government’s current draft Religious Harmony Bill. This masterpiece of bad drafting requires the consideration of “the local community’s wisdom” prior to the construction of a place of worship. Wisdom? It also wants to specifically regulate how people should spread their faith, celebrate religious holidays, construct places of worship, hold funerals and organize religious education. Have any of these intellectual giants considered the impact of a national law like that on a place like Bali? Unbelievable. Sounds like a law to promote intolerance, not eliminate it.

And once intolerance takes root, it’s hard to eradicate it. In Lombok, it’s not just the Ahmadis that are targets now. Ask any expat unfortunate enough to have a villa with Hindu iconography as part of the design. Ask them about the vandalism. Ask expats who have been brazen enough to politely request their village chiefs for the volume to be turned down on the 4.30am to dawn hyper-amplified call to prayer. Oh wait, you can’t ask them – they’re now in jail.

And ask poor, deaf,  Sadarudin, a harmless disabled Ahmadi resident of the Lombokschwitz concentration camp, who was the target of an attempted beheading by an intolerant coward with a machete. Ask him what he thinks about the politics of religious intolerance in Indonesia. Ask him what he thinks about pancasila, and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of choice of worship. Ask him what he thinks of the President of a  ‘secular democracy’ who allows his country to slide into a fundamentalist theocratic regime while his pious, hypocritical elites grow fat on graft.

Oh wait, you can’t – he’s fighting for his life in a Mataram hospital and can’t talk to anybody. Shame, Lombok. Shame, Indonesia.

— ooo —

15 November 2011: FPI, MUI and FKUB harass Ahmadis in Bekasi, just East of Jakarta

RELATED POSTIndonesia’s Silent Majority Silent While Country Is Hijacked [10 October, 2011]


The Island Where Air Means Water

August 29, 2011

It’s remarkable how people scoff when I say that I want to take a holiday away from Bali every so often. “Your life is already a permanent holiday!” they say disbelievingly. Or my brother’s gentle dig: “Oh yeah, I’m sure you need the break from your stressful life …”

Well actually, I do. For visitors, Bali is a stockpot of dreams that simmer gently for a few weeks to provide an unrealistic, albeit nourishing soup of experiences. But for long-term Western residents here, day-to-day demands intrude on the idyllic existence. The Bali dream is still there of course, but it becomes a pleasant backdrop; mere scenery in front of which the administrivia of bills, shopping, getting stuff fixed and generally managing one’s life takes place. A break in routine is often called for. Mine involved a few relaxing days on a quiet, peaceful island.

So it is that I find myself on a ‘fast boat’ on the way to Gili Air, just off the coast of Lombok. It’s certainly fast – the four huge outboards are running at full military power, and we are literally flying at times. The Lombok Strait has graciously provided us with a two metre swell on the starboard beam, and the fresh wind creates an unpredictable chop so that the sea looks like it is boiling. As the boat crashes jarringly into a trough every few seconds, the intrepid captain’s chair on its hydraulic mount smoothly absorbs the shocks. On my hard seat, my spine attempts to do the same. I guess it works, because I am five centimetres shorter by the time I arrive at our destination three hours later.

Within minutes, I see that Gili Air is very different to Bali – a lot hotter too. As you would expect, the vegetation is quite different on the far side of the Wallace Line. There are coconut trees and other tropical plants in abundance of course, but it’s a surprise to see conifers and other plants more often sighted in Australia. The island itself is tiny – just over a kilometre or so across, so walking everywhere tends to be the preferred option. Cars and motorbikes are banned, but for those with flagging energy levels, there are the ubiquitous cidomos – traditional horse-drawn carts that serve as the somewhat expensive taxis here. Of course, bicycles are readily available too, but with the depth of sand on most of the tracks, pedalling is heavy going.

I need to stretch my back after its pounding on the boat, so I opt to walk to my hotel along the sandy track that circles the island. It’s so peaceful that I forget that Gili Air ‘roads’ can be just as dangerous as those of Bali. I hear a jingling of tiny bells somewhere in the distance and think, how sweet; it must be Christmas. Two seconds later, a stealthy, but frighteningly rapid horse brushes past my shoulder. With extraordinary presence of mind, I realise instantly that the cart it is pulling is wider than the animal itself and leap dexterously to one side to avoid being crushed by the wheels. Well, actually, I sort of fall over in a heap, bags and all, but it is a fairly graceful sprawl, and almost painless considering the alternative of becoming Gili Air’s first recorded road kill.

These cidomos are equipped with little air-bulb trumpets not unlike those employed by clowns for comedic effect. Strangely, they are apparently only used to attract the attention of a potential fare when the cart is empty. The idea of using it to actually warn day-dreaming pedestrians of impending death by chariot obviously hasn’t caught on yet. I resolve to register my disgruntlement by walking everywhere for the rest of my stay. But I do listen for those tinkling bells a little more carefully. I even circumnavigate the island in less than two hours – not including the three mandatory pit stops to re-hydrate of course – and only have five near-misses.

In fact, despite spending so much time walking, for two days I don’t realise that the roads consist primarily of sharp coral sand which, when scrunched between sandals and soles, causes massive abrasion. By the time I’ve worked this out, my feet look like I have been given a pedicure with a chainsaw. Next time, it’s closed shoes for me. Or (shudder) sandals and socks. Walking at night is fun too. Gili Air only appears to have mains power for a few hours a day, which makes PLN in Bali seem fantastic by comparison. Long stretches of road are pitch dark, which makes carrying a torch mandatory. After blundering into bushes while avoiding the unlit horse carts, nearly falling into the sea, and stepping in countless piles of horse dung, I will know to bring a flash-light next time.

All this exercise tends to work up an appetite, and fortunately there is an abundance of fresh seafood on the island. At night, eateries everywhere lay out the catch of the day in readiness for their nightly barbeque. At one beach-front place, I choose a delectable red snapper, which, cooked to perfection,  is brought to my table with an assortment of side dishes. Unfortunately, the meal also seems to come with free cats. Four of these persistent creatures stalk my fish dish from all sides, climbing on me, scaling adjacent chairs and even jumping on the table. No amount of shooing, cuffing them over the head, or physically hurling them off the seawall makes any difference. They just won’t go away, to the vast amusement of fellow diners. I finish my meal hunched over my plate, elbows flailing at hungry felines. Not the most relaxing meal, but delicious nonetheless.

Apart from these minor inconveniences, don’t let me put you off a visit here. It’s peaceful – but with a mild party/pub scene if you want it – and the views to Lombok are spectacular. The locals are friendly, there are no crowds anywhere, and no-one tries to flog you stuff. In many ways, it is a step back in time, and a very healing place to be.

Just take care when you hear those jingling bells …


[… and here’s some real information about Gili Air from the Travelfish team]


Round The Island – Getting Away From It All

September 12, 2010

The wanderlust has struck again, the driver has been duly booked and here we are – off on another trip to see more of the Bali beyond Greater Kuta. My friend, her teen-aged son, a small senile dog and yours truly are bumping over an endless series of roadworks just outside of Sanur, trying to work out why a divided ‘highway’ would be carrying two-way traffic in both eastbound and westbound lanes. And why every few kilometres, the traffic flowing in both directions in the two northern lanes is being diverted across to the southern roadway – as is the traffic in the adjacent parallel roadway. The regular cross-over points as we switch roadways are a nightmare of slow motion near-misses, merges and Bali-style ‘give way to the might’ manoeuvres.

No-one seems think this is unusual. I ask our driver: “Why we don’t just stay in the Padang Bai-bound left carriageway? The Sanur-bound traffic could use the other one.” I also wonder why there are alternating stretches of recently poured concrete and bare, bumpy earth. Don’t you normally build roads as a continuous ribbon? But my questions are met with shrugs that would be Gallic if they weren’t so Balinese. The Teenager remains oblivious to the chaos, nose deep in his laptop. I think he is Googling Bali road systems.

A rest stop in the port town of Padang Bai is illuminating. Our warung of choice, overlooking the bay, has what looks like a mid-day party in progress. Six locals are sitting around a table, and from the volume of their conversation, they have been there for some time. Anything that is said, even a grunt, seems uproariously funny to all the others. This may be because they are engaged in some sort of complex drinking ritual which leaves us watchers spellbound. First, the waiter brings six small Bintangs and places one in front of each participant. Then a cut-down two-litre soft drink bottle is produced and ceremoniously filled with beer from all the small bottles. When this improvised plastic jug is full, a shot glass magically appears, and receives a splash of a mysterious dark-brown liquid from another bottle kept under the table. Then the shot glass is topped up with beer from the ‘jug’ and one of the party downs it in one gulp to deafening cheers from his mates.

The process is repeated until the jug is empty, which is the signal for the waiter to bring six more Bintangs. We watch mesmerised as each party-goer rapidly gets through three bottles of beer and the group signals for another round. But just then, a mournful hooting sound drifts across the harbour – apparently the signal that the ferry to Lombok is ready to depart. The revellers leap up, clutching a fresh bottle each, and lumber somewhat unsteadily towards the ferry. I notice for the first time that they all have company T-shirts proclaiming them to be ship’s crew. I resolve that any future visit to Lombok will be by air.

We drive on through picturesque Candi Dasa and cut inland. We are staying at sleepy Amed. I hear the diving is excellent, but as none of us have the time, inclination, or training we content ourselves with relaxing, eating and talking to the locals, who are wonderfully hospitable and friendly. They are fascinated by our little Jack Russell, who is so different to Bali dogs that they are not convinced that it is even a dog. There are times where I have my doubts as well, because she behaves like an elderly aunt.

Another scenic drive brings us to Lovina for the next overnight stay, followed by a meander along spectacular mountain roads past the prosperous-looking village of Kayu Putih and the magnificent Lakes Tamblingan and Buyan. We pass amazing rice terraces suspended high on sheer hillsides. The Teenager is too busy to see them, because he is Googling for images of  rice paddies for his homework. At least he is impressed with the temple ceremonies at Lake Beratan, although the wonderfully syncopated complexities of the massed gamelan orchestra don’t seem to move him as much as the sight of nearby food stalls. But that’s understandable – he is a teenager, he hasn’t eaten for nearly 40 minutes, and is probably starving.

Then, as we approach Mengwi on the way home to the chaotic south, something happens that stops our hearts momentarily. While gridlocked in traffic, we see a little girl, maybe five years old, squatting on her haunches on the side of the road overlooking a deep river valley. She looks like she is poised on the edge of space, toes hanging over the precipice, staring out over the drop. We are frozen. Our driver calls out to her: “Hati hati! Be careful!” Her startled response to his warning is to jump up, overbalance – and disappear into the void. We scream; the driver fumbles with his belt, ready to leap out of the car and run to the edge.

But she suddenly reappears, facing us, arms wide, laughing with glee. She has jumped down to a hidden ledge just below road level, then, after an exquisitely-timed delay, popped back up to see our reaction. Balinese humour. I debate whether to make an appointment for a new pacemaker or hurl her into the valley myself.

But it sort of feels like home. You know – sitting in a traffic jam, breathing exhaust, watching the crowds, and being the victim of yet another practical joke. At least I know I’m back in South Bali, where the chaos and the quirkiness is a way of life.