09/16/2008, 00.00
INDONESIA
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War erupts over anti-pornography law in Indonesia

by Mathias Hariyadi
The country's political landscape is divided between those who want the law to be enacted in order to "moralize" customs, and those who denounce the destruction of "a pluralist society" and the introduction of sharia. Also at risk is the tourism industry, hampered by the strict observance of Islamic precepts.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - An intrusion into the private lives of citizens, and an open violation of the freedom of expression, of plurality of customs and traditions in the country, aimed only at transforming Indonesian into an Arab colony ruled by sharia law. A genuine public protest has been raised by the law against pornography - better known as the Undang-undang Pornografi, and under consideration in congress - which, if it were enacted, would eliminate "different expressions and cultures", as human rights activists, representatives of civil society, women's groups, and leading artistic and cultural figures all claim.

For decades, Indonesia's tradition has been characterized by multiculturalism, boasting more than 40 ethnic groups and 200 dialects; it is enriched by diverse forms of culture and religious practice. The introduction of strict pornography laws, intended to protect young people from immoral content and lewd behavior, risks being transformed into blanket condemnation of the country's varied composition. It would also seriously harm the tourism industry, especially in Bali and in other places heavily visited by foreigners, attracted by the beaches and night spots. Even a bikini, if the law were approved, would violate the rigid laws and would be subject to punishment.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, and in the past it has seen episodes of tension and violence with a religious background. It has even been the the theater of deadly Islamic terrorist attacks, especially the one in 2002 on the island of Bali. Nonetheless, it boasts a great diversity of cultural traditions, which would also be wiped out by a rigid observance of Islamic precepts, transforming the country according to the model of Saudi Arabia, where fundamental freedoms are denied in the name of "morality" and of respect "for Islam".

Actors, artists, painters, human rights activists, and women's groups are asking that the law on pornography be rejected. They are calling upon lawmakers to take provisions against the spread of pornographic material, including DVDs, television broadcasts, and magazines, but denounce the attempt at "government interference in the private lives of citizens". "Don't import the Arab spirit into pluralist Indonesia", warns Gunawan Muhammad, a practicing Muslim, who recalls how in Saudi Arabia, women must "wear the veil and cover themselves from head to toe" in the name of a generic defense of their integrity from "sex abuse or rape". "What would happen", asks Gunawan Muhammad, "on the 17,000 islands that make up our country, each one with its own cultural specificity and particular religious tradition?". "It would be absurd", he continues, "to ask a woman in Papua to cover her chest or wear a bra". And certain artistic and literary expressions would also violate the ban, like the artistic nude, which has nothing to do with pornography.

Indonesia's political world remains deeply divided over the approval of the controversial law: the nationalist front, parties of Christian inspiration, Golkar, and the democrats oppose its introduction; Muslim groups and the traditionalist and conservative Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) are loudly asking for its approval, according to their long-standing "campaign for the moralization of customs". In an interview with local media, PKS leader Mahfud Siddiq called the introduction of the law against pornography a "gift" for Ramadan, to bring "greater moral rigor" to the country.

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