06/20/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Islamists attack Health minister over condoms

by Mathias Hariyadi
New Health Minister Nafsiah Mboy, a pediatrician, wants to generalise the use of condom to stop the spread of AIDS. Ulema Council calls the proposal "immoral," an encouragement to extramarital and premarital sex. A famous pop artist backs ulemas' fight.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian Islamic fundamentalists and a number high profile Indonesians, including a pop singer, have openly criticised the new Health minister for proposing a campaign in favour of condoms to counter the spread of HIV-AIDS.

Appointed only a month ago following the death of her predecessor Dr Endang, Ms Nafsiah Mboy, a pediatrician, stirred a hornet's nest in the world's most populous Muslim country by proposing to hand out condoms among young people at strategic locations (including nightclubs) to stop the spread of the infectious disease.

An expert in HIV-AIDS prevention, Mboy wants her campaign to reach the whole country, but Islamist groups, including the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), oppose her idea.

For her critics, such a proposal is nothing short of "immoral" and "unacceptable" because it encourages people to engage in free, premarital sex, especially teenagers.

MUI leader Kiai Hajj Amidhan said he received thousands of messages, including text messages and e-mails, from across the archipelago against the initiative, which for them will pin an "immoral" label on the country.

For the religious leader, such a policy would encourage extramarital sex. What is more, in his opinion, there is no evidence that condoms would "be really effective" against the spread of the disease.

In his statement, Kiai Hajj Amidhan spoke about last year's South Asian Games in Palembang and Jakarta, where condoms were made available in hotels, nightclubs and other sensitive locations. For him, the presence of condoms was a clear "incentive" to engage in "immoral" acts.

One of the staunchest opponents of Minister Mboy's initiative is Rhoma Irama, a famous dangdut singer, a true icon of Indonesian pop music scene.

Speaking on behalf of Ta'Mir Mosque and the Indonesian Small Mosque Forum (Fahmi Tamami), he said that the proposal would "inevitably stir people" and prove unhelpful in the fight against HIV-AIDS.

A devout Muslim, the singer has led a campaign for the moralisation of the arts scene, including fellow singers who perform scantly or immorally clad.

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