01/29/2016, 19.45
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Amid condemnations and hypocrisy, Indonesian Muslims discuss homosexuality

by Mathias Hariyadi

Censorious statements by the Higher Education minister against LGBT groups have led Islamist groups to radicalise their positions, whilst eliciting some attempt to defend LGBT rights. For Jakarta governor, "No one should prevent others from having different sexual orientations”. Legislation varies from province to province.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Homosexuality, LGBT rights and the place of gay people in Indonesian society, especially with respect to education, are becoming highly topical issues. This follows the recent refusal by the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education, Muhammad Nasir, to allow the Support Group and Resources Centre (SGRC) from opening an office at the University of Indonesia because LGBT people, in his view, “do not correspond to Indonesian behavioural morality” or the country’s culture.

Following the minister’s censorious statements, others have come out with even stronger condemnation. If Higher Education Minister Nasir had at least some respect for LGBT people as citizens, former Defence Minister Mohammad Mahfud questioned the absolute value of human right, saying that LGBT people violate (Islamic) religious values as expressed in the 1945 constitution.

In responding to critics on Twitter, Mr Mahfud said, "LGBT are dangerous and disgusting, but for now there is no need to call the police to lock them up."

“Has there ever been a religious doctrine that has accepted them?" he asked. He is not alone in this. The Indonesian Muslim Student Union (KAMMI) also spoke out against LGBT groups on university campuses.

Generally, LGBT people are viewed with suspicion in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Islamic nation with 250 million people (87 per cent Muslim). For many, they are a "social disease”.

Local sources note that if a person openly admits to his or her homosexuality, they expose themselves to possible intimidation by fellow citizens, family included.

In the recent public debate, some people have come to the defence of LGBT civil rights. In Denpasar, the capital of Bali province, volunteers with KISARA (acronym for "We take care of youth") have come out in favour of an open debate on homosexuality. LGBT people, they say, “are part of a plural society that should afford them respect."

Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, has tried to tone down the controversy. "Who hasn’t done something wrong in his life?” he said. “No one should prevent others from having different sexual orientations."

In fact, the authorities in the capital are more concerned about sexually transmitted diseases between homosexuals than their orientation. "We are more interested in discussing measures of prevention rather than putting a ‘bad person” label on homosexuals."

Although unequivocally condemned in the Qurʼān, homosexuality is not treated the same in every Muslim country.

In some (like Saudi Arabia and Iran), homosexual relations are officially punished with the death penalty; in others (like Bahrain and Qatar), conviction can lead to imprisonment or corporal punishment. In places like Egypt, the practice is not banned as such, but gays can be convicted for offending public morality.

At the same, homosexuality can be found throughout Arab and Islamic history, between older and younger men. In some cases, Islam does allow platonic love with the young, provided there is no physical relationship.

There is also an element of hypocrisy behind the holier than thou attitude. In December 2014, Islamic State militants threw a man accused of sodomy from a roof. It was later discovered that the victim was the lover of a top caliphate official.

In countries like Egypt and Lebanon, homosexual relations are frequent and tolerated by Muslims as long as they stay in the closet.

In Indonesia, provinces can regulate on their own issues like homosexuality. In Aceh, the only Indonesian province that enforces Sharia, practicing homosexuals can be caned up to 100 times.

Elsewhere in the country, same sex relations are not illegal since the country’s civil code is based on legal practices introduced at the time of the Dutch East Indies.

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