Indonesia has always been a moderate Muslim country. But now, radical Islamists are gaining a foothold in the world’s largest Muslim nation, and are fueling an anti-gay witch hunt.
While Indonesia is officially secular, that is changing, little by little, as radical Islamist groups throw their weight around and slowly chip away at Democracy. As Islamist extremist groups increase their influence, one impact has been growing discrimination and targeting of LGBT people.
In what many people see as a nod to the Islamists, high-ranking politicians are publically condemning gays; police are targeting LGBT gatherings; and local politicians are passing ant-gay rules based on Sharia – or radical Islamist – law.
The nation’s Constitutional Court is also being petitioned by the Family Love Alliance, a group of extremist Islamist activists, to add an amendment to current sex crimes laws that would outlaw homosexual sex and sex outside of marriage. The petition was heard by the court in August, and LGBT activists fear not only for their community, but for tourists as well.
Just a week ago, police in Jakarta arrested 51 men at a “gay party,” citing the country’s pornography law, which Human Rights Watch says prohibits “sex parties.”
In May, two men were publicly flogged after being sentenced by an Islamic court in the province of Aceh, the only province where homosexuality is outlawed. They were accused of engaging in sex with each other. That same month, police in West Java, the country’s most populous province, announced they would set up an anti-gay taskforce that would include intelligence specialists, and that the unit would be especially concerned with breaking up “secret parties.”
In April, cops raided a gathering of gay men in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, and arrested 14 men. The men were forced to take HIV tests without consent. In May, cops conducted a similar raid, this time at Jakarta’s Atlantis Spa, arresting 141 people and charging them with, allegedly, having an orgy. Allegedly, police paraded the men naked in front of reporters, although cops dispute this charge.
Earlier this year, police in South Sulawesi province cancelled a public sports and cultural event that involved transgender people, after the Islamic Congregation Forum, a militant Muslim group, complained the event violated “religious values.” Police temporarily detained 600 transgender people, as well as bissu people, who are considered gender-neutral in Indonesia (that area of Indonesia, traditionally, has five recognized genders).
Human Rights Watch says anti-gay incidents have picked up since last year, including police raids on alleged gay “sex parties” that are sometimes conducted in collusion with militant Islamist groups.
In order to justify the raids’ legality, police have cited the 2008 anti-pornography law, which refers to “lesbian sex” and “male homosexual sex” as “deviant sexual acts,” putting them in the same category as those having sex with corpses and animals. Some LGBT activists believe that Indonesia is well on its way toward criminalization.
In February, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu accused LGBT groups of trying to undermine the sovereignty of the state, saying they were waging a “proxy war” that was more dangerous to the nation than a nuclear bomb. He said the LGBT agenda forces Indonesia to deal with states who support the LGBT agenda under the guise of human rights, according to Tempo,co, an Indonesian news website. Government TV and radio regulators have implemented rules that ban content depicting same-sex relationships, unless they are shown as “deviant.”
Last year, the higher education minister made an effort to ban LGBT student groups from universities, arguing that such groups run counter to the country’s morals. In 2015, Indonesia’s main Islamic council put out an anti-gay fatwa, or religious edict.
Politicians sense a change in the air, and are jumping on the radical Islamist bandwagon in a bid to gain more votes, as the populist Islamist movement has taken hold of many less-educated and less-affluent individuals. Some government ministers have also banned social media apps from offering emojis that depict same sex couples.
In October, Indonesian President Joko Widodo defended LGBT rights and said the police must act to ensure that community’s rights. But that comes after months of silence, and his reluctance may be a sign that he is wary of confrontation with Islamist groups. LGBT groups who had supported Widodos campaign for presidency have expressed disappointment with what they see as a reluctance to deal with the situation.
THE RISE OF RADICAL ISLAM
While most of the population adheres to a moderate, tolerant version of the religion, there is a growing movement of populist Islam that espouses a strict version of the faith.
Radical Muslim groups won a major victory in May, after former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian known as Ahok, was jailed on blasphemy charges, after he said it’s ok for non-Muslim rulers to govern Muslims. That statement enraged extremists, who called for his imprisonment.
Facing crowds whipped into a frenzy by Islamist groups and Ahok’s political opponents — one demonstration saw one million people in Jakarta, which shut down the city – the courts caved into the mob’s demands and jailed Ahok.
The nation’s most influential radical group, the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, led many protests over a period of several months. The group is known for thuggery, as it has mounted violent protests against bars, nightclubs and other places it deems immoral. The group’s leader, Rizieq Shihab, spent over a year in jail in 2008 after he and his lackeys assaulted members of the National Alliance for Freedom of Religion and Faith, an interfaith group, during a convention.
The influence of radical Islam on society has been on the rise in recent years for a number of reasons. First, the perceived success of terror group ISIS has given courage to militant Muslims in Indonesia, as they believe ISIS’ gains means God is on their side. The world saw the same dynamic when al Qaeda conducted the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York and Washington.
While ISIS has been steadily losing ground in the Middle East because of U.S.-led bombing attacks and other operations, the group has still conducted many terror attacks, from Orlando to Paris to Istanbul, over the past couple of years.
Another reason is the influence of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of extremist Islamist ideology. The Saudis are just as radical as ISIS. But instead of a desert as their headquarters, they have golden palaces.
Saudi Arabia spreads its own brand of extremist Muslim ideology all over the world, and runs a free Muslim university in Jakarta, where students are strictly separated by genders, not allowed to wear jeans or listen to music. The Institute for the Study of Islam and Arabic, or LIPA, in Jakarta, has produced thousands of graduates who studied a rigid, intolerant version of Islam. The Saudis have plans to expand the university to other major Indonesian cities, and to increase graduates from 3,500 to ten thousand per year.
FPI leader Rizieq Shihab, who was a troubled youth who allegedly often got into fights, took Arabic classes at LIPA, and later was given a Saudi-sponsored scholarship to study in Saudi capital Riyadh. Zaitun Rasmin, who graduated from Medina Islamic University in Saudi Arabia, was a key organizer of the demonstrations that unseated Jakarta’s former governor.
SHARIA LAW CREEPING INTO INDONESIA
Since the country democratized in the late 1990s, the central government has allowed provinces a lot of leeway in adopting their own laws. But that process has been accompanied by the spread of Sharia law, or Islamic law, and by Sharia rules that discriminate against LGBT people.
In April, Human Rights Watch said the rights of all Indonesians are at greater risk, after a Constitutional Court that month ruled that the central government could no longer repeal locally implemented Sharia law (Islamic law).
In recent years, the nation’s government has started analyzing local regulations for compliance with Indonesia’s secular constitution, and pledged to repeal laws that did not comply, with home affairs minister Tjahjo Kumolo saying in 2015 that “Indonesia is not a religiously-based country.” But in the end, the government didn’t use its teeth. In a bid to avoid controversy, it left Sharia law ordinances intact in many provinces.
In April, the Constitutional Court took away the Home Ministry’s power to abolish local regulations, including those that threaten people’s rights.
Human Rights Watch noted that while Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo initially said he got rid of over 3,000 problematic local ordinances in 2015 and 2016, he later admitted that those didn’t include abusive Sharia rules. Those ordinances were mostly concerned with investment.
HOW FAR WILL THE ISLAMISTS GO?
Locals tell Borderless News they are worried that this is just the beginning, and that they wonder how far this movement of extremist but populist Islam will go. Indonesia has a tumultuous history, and a history of using minority populations as scapegoats. In May 1998, mobs of Indonesian men went on a rampage, rioting and attacking Chinese businesses and neighborhoods and gang-raping nearly 200 ethnic Chinese women on the streets, in a total breakdown of law and order in the country. Around 1,000 people died in what is now known as the 1998 Tragedy.
With that history in mind, and fresh off their victory of jailing a non-Muslim Governor of the Capital, locals wonder how far the radical Muslims — and their sympathizers in government — will go.
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