09/17/2008, 00.00
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Indonesia, sharia behind anti-pornography law

by Mathias Hariyadi
Ethnic minorities and religious groups denounce the attempt to introduce Islamic law. The proposed law, which is not clear and is subject to various interpretations, leaves broad scope for the fundamentalists to repress "popular customs and traditions" that constitute the true "riches of the nation".

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - There is no let-up in the chorus of protests from Indonesian religious minorities and ethnic groups, against the possible approval of the "law against pornography", better known as the Undang-undang Pornografi. They claim that the new norm, under consideration in parliament, which has been asked to decide whether to approve it by September 23, brings "national unity" into serious danger, and wipes out "cultural and religious differences" by eliminating "pluralism" and fostering "social discord". But what is most worrying to the minorities and ethnic groups is the danger that the law on pornography is concealing an attempt by the more fundamentalist branch of Islam to introduce sharia, Islamic law.

The areas in which non-Muslim ethnicities and groups are most concentrated are the eastern islands of the country, including the island of Bali, which has a Hindu majority; the Sulawesi, which have a Protestant and Catholic majority; the Moluccas, which are also equally divided between Protestants and Catholics; Papua, which has a Catholic majority, as does East Nusa Tenggaral; Borneo, divided between Catholics and Protestants, and other districts of North Sumatra and West Nusa Tenggara.

The fear is that the proposed law could spread a climate of "anarchy", because it does not define precisely what can be maintained as "contrary to morality", and above all what are the "criteria" to be adopted in order to establish whether "a behavior or an artistic/cultural expression" should be censored. Chapter 21 of the draft law also leaves "free rein" for preventing possible immoral acts: "This is an especially dangerous point", emphasizes Eva Kusuma Sudari of the Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (PDIP), a nationalist group that has always opposed the law. "This allows people to be manipulated in order to promote anarchy and social conflicts in the country", while fundamentalist Islamic groups would have free rein to destroy nightclubs or other gathering spots under the pretext of "preserving the purity of the holy month of Ramadan".

The most serious criticisms are directed at the Indonesian Islamic Defender Front (FPI), responsible in the past for violent acts and, thanks to the new law, ostensibly authorized to exercise the role of "moral police" and punish any dissent or behavior contrary to radical Islamic ethics.

In order to protect pluralism and prevent the adoption of sharia, the nationalist party (PDIP), together with the Christian Peace and Prosperity Party and the Democrat Party, has begun a series of demonstrations calling for the rejection of the proposed law. This, the minorities claim, under the pretext of establishing what can be defined as "pornographic material", is in reality aimed at promoting the "rigid observance of Islamic law".

Sharia would be applied not only to DVDs, films, and performances that are "obscene" or contrary to "morality", but would end up censoring expressions and traditions that are rooted in some parts of Indonesia: on the island of Papua, for example, it is common to wear only a loincloth, and for the women to leave their breasts uncovered. The Asmat, a tribal group, is characterized by its nude statues, an element typical of their culture. Finally, on the island of Bali, famous for its tourism, it would no longer be possible to sunbathe in a bikini, or to drink alcohol at the nightclubs.

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