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JP Commentary: Insult to Indonesian Muslims: =?UTF-8?B?QWNlaOKAmQ==?=
 Sep 17, 2012 00:47 PDT 

From Joyo

JP Commentary: Insult to Indonesian Muslims: Aceh’s Latest Sharia Victim

September 16, 2012
The Jakarta Post

Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

An American-made film insulting Islam is expected to attract more
protests at home and abroad. But anyone intending to join such
protests would miss a much graver insult to themselves, both as
Indonesians and Muslims. This is the news of the death of a
16-year-old girl, identified only as PE, in Langsa regency, Aceh. She
was discovered hanging in her room on Sept. 6. So far, her death has
been deemed a case of suicide.

If Islam stands for compassion and reason, as many of us understand
it, then what is compassionate and what is reasonable about the moral
police, and the public humiliation of a teenager enjoying a concert?

The girl reportedly left a letter to her father, insisting that she
had never “sold herself”, as alleged by the province’s so-called
morality police. She had been apprehended and harangued in public by
the Sharia police for allegedly engaging in prostitution during a
concert. Can Indonesian Muslims accept the consequences of this moral
policing, which its advocates say is a religious necessity?

We must share the blame for the humiliation and grief felt by PE, and
those of many other Acehnese men and women who have become victims of
the province’s sharia laws — supposedly a political exchange first
offered under the government of late president Abdurrahman Wahid to
help silence calls for an independent Aceh. We must share the blame
for having dismissed the Acehnese people’s humiliation as a mere
excess of that political exchange, which has allowed them the greatest
degree of autonomy among all our provinces. In other words — “It
serves you right, Acehnese”. Should Indonesians continue in this
attitude, in the light of this teenager’s death?

The spotlight must shift from Langsa and Aceh to the whole of
Indonesia — and to Jakarta and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
himself. In response to protests that more than 150 bylaws violate the
constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination against minorities, his
ministers, most notably Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi, have asserted
that all bylaws inspired by religion and morality across the
provinces, are in line with the authority granted under regional

Indeed, many are official “public order bylaws”, not “sharia”
bylaws, which are only allowed under the Aceh Governance Law. So, even
without the morality police, public order officials are mandated to
execute such policies, which among other things regulate “Muslim”
clothing for men and women in public schools and government offices.

Last December, the National Commission on Violence Against Women
(Komnas Perempuan) identified 154 bylaws as being discriminatory
toward minorities, including women.

The death of PE, said commissioner Andy Yentriyani on Thursday, “has
created a good opportunity for the leaders of Aceh and the rest of
Indonesia to rethink the use of moralistic laws”. The commission is
appealing to all Indonesians as a last-resort tactic, as reviewing
bylaws are not included in the mandate of the Constitutional Court.

Political observers do not consider such bylaws an urgent issue; in
recent local elections, free education and free healthcare services
have become the more trendy political commodities to attract votes
rather than earlier pledges to make the provinces and regents more
clean in a moralistic sense. So, perhaps these moralistic bylaws are
considered just a phase in Indonesia’s long “transition”.

But this depends on the constituency, says one researcher; in local
elections, moralistic policies may still be vote winners. And all
these bylaws remain effective. The government only once raised an
objection against an Aceh bylaw that would have allowed the stoning to
death of adulterers, as that would have been catastrophic for
Indonesia’s image to overseas’ investors.

The death of PE is more a testimony than an insult; a testimony to
Indonesians’ lack of care about affairs considered to be political
evils, in this case, the Acehnese getting what they asked for. It is
also a testimony to the ignorant empathy that in the reform era,
regions should now be entitled to have moralistic codes for the good
of their societies (an easy vote getter). With an attitude like this,
we will see few protests against such rules as, for instance,
mandatory Koran-reading skills for gubernatorial candidates, aspiring
students or couples registering for a marriage license.

Leaders, including the President, need to be seen to condone such
bylaws to be able to woo the “Islamic vote”. Never mind the
protests that remind us that such policies violate the Constitution
— especially considering that the victims come from dispensable
minority groups, such as the Ahmadiyah and young women.

So, it is left to the public to decide what we want. Indonesia is not
a fully “secular” state, while some would prefer a more
“religious” state. But, while Indonesians are not limited to
Muslims, surveys have found, unsurprisingly, that minorities don’t
say much when it comes, for instance, to school rules imposing
“Muslim” wear on all students, even if some of them are Christian.

As in the case of Aceh, young people and the impoverished are easy
targets for the morality police; think back to the shaving of some 60
punks following a concert. With few protests, Gamawan has been able to
say that most bylaws regulating morality and behavior do not cause
trouble as they only apply to Muslims.

Activists are urging the review and reform of sharia in Aceh. However,
the death of 16-year-old PE should be the last warning of the price of
ignorance and of the excess of policies across Indonesia, which
justify the meddling by state authorities into what should remain
private affairs.

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