Posts Tagged ‘religion’

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Watering The Seeds Of Religious Intolerance

August 6, 2013

Here are two sad little tales that encapsulate the rot that is slowly eroding the previously harmonious social fabric of Indonesia. The stories are connected, but separate; their threads weaving dark changes in the characters and mindsets of their protagonists, and diminishing their faith in humanity.

A few months ago, a woman from a lovely family in Sumatra, despite being comfortably settled in Medan, accompanied her husband to Perawang, a village 50 kilometres from Pekanbaru in Central Sumatra. He had secured a better job there, and while it was hard to shift so far away from the family’s love and support, they made the move. They found a house and executed all the necessary agreements to rent it for twelve months. It seemed like a friendly neighbourhood, and the local residents appeared welcoming. But that was soon to change.

After having lived there for just over a month, and having settled in – with all the usual establishment expenses – there was a knock at the door. The house owner was standing there, and he did not look pleased.

“What religion are you?” he demanded without preamble.
“We’re Christian – why?” was the bemused reply.
“You have to get out of the house”, demanded the owner. “We are all Muslims here. You are not welcome.”

Stunned, the couple protested, saying that the owner had already agreed to a twelve-month rental, that he had sighted their KTP identity documents (which specify to which of the six ‘government-approved’ religions one belongs), and that they had done nothing to upset any of the neighbours. The owner was unmoved. “I don’t care. Get out now. We don’t want you here.”

So they were forced to move, and having lost their rental money – and their house – to a religious bigot, had no option but to seek charitable help from their local church. Fortunately, the church showed a compassionate face sadly lacking amongst the Muslims of Perawang, and allowed them to use one of their church properties, where they found temporary sanctuary.

Meanwhile, here in Bali, my good friend Septyni was furious. You see, the woman in question is her sister, and she is both fiercely protective of her sibling and enraged at the bigotry displayed towards her and her husband. For the five years I have known her, Septyni has always been one of the most tolerant and accepting human beings I have ever met. But her family’s crisis in Sumatra, together with the constant news of religious intolerance towards minorities in the press, have begun to change her. She is developing a profound distrust and dislike of the dominant religious group in Indonesia, and this, while sad, appears to be a view shared by more and more people as abuses continue.

And so to the second part of the story, the timing of which was both unfortunate and destructive. Through an acquaintance, Septyni recently met someone who had just arrived  from Aceh – a man who was looking for a job and a place to stay. Ever-helpful to all people, regardless of their origins or faith, Septyni gave him helpful advice about job-seeking strategies and about settling in to Bali life.

She helped him to find accommodation at her kost, where there was a room available for rent. She guided him in his search for ads for job vacancies, and helped him to find a motorbike to rent. And when his rented bike developed mechanical issues and became difficult to ride, she even lent him her own bike and rode his faulty bike herself. He was a neighbour now, and in her view, one should help thier neighbours.

She didn’t pay much attention to his pronouncements that he was “a good Muslim”, because in her mind, a person’s faith is a personal matter between them and their god, and irrelevant to most normal human interactions. So as a Christian, and as a good person, she helped him, not because she wanted anything from him, but because that’s the sort of person she is.

And then this bastard, who called himself “Adang”, repaid her kindness by waiting until she had inadvertently left her room unlocked while using the shower at the other end of the building, sneaking into her room, and stealing 400,000 Rupiah and some of her books, leaving her with insufficient money to pay her rent or buy food. By the time she had finished her shower, he had disappeared for good – no doubt to find someone else to rip off.

Her sister’s forced eviction and her experience with this opportunistic thief were two events that occurred within days of each other. As a result, this kind, tolerant woman now has a deep antipathy towards Muslims – perhaps unwarranted on the basis of only two incidents – but wholly understandable given the very personal nature of her experiences.

She is now on the brink of becoming intolerant – a state of mind previously completely foreign to her, but now precipitated by the appalling behaviour of some people, who just happen to be Muslim. Each new anti-social event she experiences in Indonesia, each new example of religious bigotry, will continue to water the seeds of her intolerance until they produce the same toxic flowers of hate and misunderstanding that we see growing every day elsewhere throughout the archipelago.

The government should do something to stop this rot, instead of promoting it as they are doing, despite their weasel words to the international community. And maybe the vast mass of tolerant Muslims should reclaim their once-vaunted reputation for friendliness and hospitality by opposing those in power who continue to promote Muslim supremacy over all others.

Because if they don’t, the situation will only get worse – and Indonesia will implode.

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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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Insensitivity, Victimisation and Compassion

April 24, 2013

This is a story of blind bigotry, injustice, denial, and a culture of blaming victims.  It is also a story of  wonderful compassion and tolerance.

In September of 2012, a 14-year-old schoolgirl made an error of judgement that changed her life. She befriended a young man on Facebook, one whose carefully selected ‘identity’ was superficially charming and solicitous. As young girls sometimes tend to do, she responded to his wiles, mistakenly believing that his friendship was genuine, that he was a decent person, and that he was truly interested in her.

Well he was, but not in the way that she thought. The man, identified in the press as being Den Gilang, a.k.a. ‘Yugi’, was apparently in the habit of lurking on social media specifically for the purpose of verbally seducing and meeting naive under-aged girls. He convinced her to meet him at a department store – a place that most people would think would be safe.

But of course it wasn’t. Her new ‘friend’, a predator of the worst kind, lured her into a public minivan, where more of his predator friends were waiting, and they drove her to a house in Parung, Bogor. There, she was imprisoned with  several other young girls who had been similarly duped.

Over the following week, ‘Yugi’ allegedly raped her, threatened her with death if she disobeyed him, and forced her to have sex with numerous other men. The plan, as she understood it, was that she was to be ‘sold’ to someone in Batam,  Riau Islands when he tired of her. During the time that she was missing, her frantic family and friends had widely distributed flyers to try and find her. The media had also picked up on the story, so to her captors, she suddenly became a liability. They dumped her at a bus terminal, where local residents recognised her and took her home.

Now the story took a bizarre turn. After spending a month to recover sufficiently, this brave girl wanted to pick up the broken threads of her life, return to her studies at Budi Utomo Junior High School – a private school in Depok – and put her ordeal behind her.

But when she returned in October 2012, she was publicly humiliated in front of the whole school at a flag-raising ceremony, where she was told that she had “tarnished the school’s image”. She was summarily expelled, and prohibited from sitting for her mid-semester examination. As so often happens to women in Indonesia, this teenager – a victim – was treated as a perpetrator.

The principal refused to meet with the girl’s parents. Journalists were fobbed off without explanation. Officers from the school’s foundation refused to comment, apart from denying, despite clear evidence to the contrary, that she had been expelled.

Following a great deal of public ire and media publicity, the school reversed its stance, saying those all-too-common words, “It was all a misunderstanding”. Mediation was agreed to, and it was reluctantly agreed that the girl could return to school. No apology was offered, and no attempt was made to rehabilitate her good name. The feelings of the girl, and her family, can only be imagined.

I spoke to a friend in Jakarta about this episode, and I must say I didn’t try and hide my feelings about the lack of compassion shown by some Indonesians towards girls and women who have been sexually abused. And while I was in mid-flight, she stopped me and said, “I agree with everything you say. But you need to know something else about this case.” What she told me provided an interesting and illuminating new perspective on Indonesian society.

During the time that the girl was missing, the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood where the girl’s family live were incredibly supportive, keeping the family calm, promoting positivity, and helping to distribute flyers. Then, after she was found, her recuperation was helped by the many caring, supportive neighbourhood visitors who brought food, money, and most of all, the gift of their time and love.

They didn’t stop with that. They started – and completed – a major fund-raising drive to enable her to finish her education privately, away from the school that had besmirched her name and honour, and treated her with such vile insensitivity. They also found her an excellent, well-qualified teacher who was also a counsellor familiar with the needs of traumatised young girls to guide her education.

The whole Muslim community in her neighbourhood rallied to help someone who was in trouble and desperately needed their help. To me, this is one of the untold stories of true, genuine compassion in Indonesia that might well be common, but largely remains un-trumpeted. Maybe this is because compassion carries its own quiet rewards.

Oh, and I nearly forgot – the girl and her family are Christians. To their wonderful, caring Muslim neighbours, that fact was, as it should be, completely irrelevant. I salute you.

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How To Upset A Bali Taxi Thug

October 10, 2012

So I’m finishing off my coffee in Melasti Street, enjoying watching the chaotic procession outside, when I see a young couple trying to hail a cab. They seem unaware that Bali’s taxis are divided into two distinct groups, the good (Bluebird) and the truly abysmal (most of the rest), and keep trying to flag down the latter.

Each cab that stops seems unable to understand their request to be taken to a particular restaurant, which is not too far away as the crow flies. But with the rat’s nest of one-way streets here, it’s a tortuous drive, but still a reasonable fare of about 12,000  rupiah.  Three cabs stop, their drivers eyeing the couple, their three small children and the collapsible pusher. None have ever heard of the restaurant. All shrug unhelpfully and drive off.

I drift over and ask whether they need any help, which they gratefully accept – just as yet another taxi mafioso pulls in and winds down his window. It’s too late to wait for a real cab, because the passengers have already flagged him down. The boys here take any subsequent refusal to engage their services as a mortal insult.

“Do you know where Restaurant X is?”, I ask. The driver shakes his head and looks blank, so I explain where it is. “Yes, yes, yes!” he snarls, pretending he knew all the time. “Put your meter on please”, I request, only to be met by a scowl and a brusque injunction to get in. As the passengers open the back door, the driver leans out of the window again and says: “30,000 rupiah.” I tell him no, I said we want the meter. “No meter, 30,000 rupiah”, he yells louder.

I tell the family that this is not going to work, and that I’ll get another cab for them. The driver is incensed. “OK, 25,000 rupiah”, he snarls. When I tell him his services will not be required, he turns nasty and starts hurling abuse. Then, as we all move away, he suddenly reverses his cab onto the footpath, nearly hitting the family’s pusher. He leans out of the passenger window and accosts me, giving me the classic middle finger salute and yelling: “You get fucked! You fucker! Fucking bule!” The little kids are listening to this tirade, wide-eyed. They will probably remember this.

I move in close to him and look at his upraised middle finger. I must be telegraphing what I am thinking – which is that his finger is such a tempting target, and that I would love to bend it back to somewhere near Jimbaran – because he suddenly pulls his hand away. I tell him firmly, but still politely, that he can go, and that these passengers don’t want someone who is going to rip them off for three times the normal fare. He keeps swearing at me.

I shrug. “OK”, I say. “I’ll call the Tourist Police.” He loses it completely. “I will kill you! I will kill you!” He looks dead serious. Boy, I really know how to win friends and influence people. Must be my engaging personality. As he drives off, he keeps glaring back at me, repeating his death mantra.

So I flag down a real cab – a Bluebird – whose driver is not only happy to take this young family to their destination, but seems grateful to be told the location of the restaurant. He puts on the meter without being asked. Bluebirds have the real, certified meters, not the double-speed rigged specials employed by the thugs.

I am left pondering the reasons as to why the first driver arced up when he failed to browbeat the family into paying an exorbitant fare. He obviously didn’t like the idea of someone with some local knowledge advising visitors, because this severely erodes his profits. Flipping the bird was juvenile, but sort of cute in a way. The threat to kill me was less so, particularly after hearing the venom and sheer hate behind the threat. Even so, one could dismiss it as an explosive outburst by someone with a mercurial temper.

Except for one little thing.

The driver concerned was in full ‘Islamic’ garb, or at least in the sort of Saudi-influenced garb favoured by hard-line extremists elsewhere in Indonesia. It was as if a fully-fledged member of the FPI was suddenly teleported into the streets of Bali, instead of extorting people in Jakarta as those thugs usually do.  Should his attire be relevant to any discussion of his suitability as a taxi driver? Of course not. Should his behaviour be relevant to his suitability as a taxi driver? Most definitely. And so we come to the crux of the matter – what is acceptable public behaviour of a person who clearly and visibly chooses to identify himself as a particular type of Muslim, especially in the light of recent events?

We’ve all heard about the world-wide episodes of violence involving some radical Muslims, who chose to show their disapproval of an amateurish satirical film by an Egyptian non-entity living in California. Some of them killed an innocent diplomat, some ran amok in the streets, and here in Indonesia, some inexplicably attacked a hamburger shop owned by locals in Surabaya. Rage knows no logic, as evidenced by the unrelated targets and the one common thread in all these protests – the repeated refrain of ‘Death to all Westerners’.

So given the current volatile situation, when an angry man in ‘Islamic’ garb threatens to kill me, a Westerner, I probably should take it a little more seriously than I normally would.

But I won’t, of course, because I don’t generally pay much attention to raving nut-jobs, even if they are dressed in white. A local Muslim woman came up to me after the maniac’s  cab had departed, saying, “I’m so sorry. We’re not all like that”. I know that – but she helped reinforce my view that Islam is not monolithic, and that crazy people come from all walks of life.

But, you know, just in case my headless torso is found in the morning – ask the police to check out a wild-eyed, foul-mouthed cabbie dressed in white …

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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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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?