Muslim Extremists Go Gaga in Indonesia

  • by Kalinga Seneviratne (jakarta)
  • Inter Press Service

Indonesian police earlier this month refused to issue a permit for the concert, citing objections from some Muslim groups who deemed Gaga’s stage show to be 'pornographic' and incompatible with local culture. The local promoter who sold some 52,000 tickets mainly to teenage fans has promised a refund.

The Islamic Defenders Front (IDF), a small group of radical Islamists, had threatened to disrupt the concert describing the pop star as a 'devil’s messenger'. They were supported by the United Development Party, an Islamic party which holds 38 seats in the 560-seat House of Representatives.

The police refused to grant a permit for her to perform here because they said several community organisations including the mainstream Indonesian Ulema Council, many clerics and other public figures protested about Lady Gaga’s skimpy dresses.

While the mainstream media largely supported the Lady Gaga concert, and described those opposing it as hurting Indonesia’s favourable investment climate as a liberal Islamic society, a number of Muslim scholars IPS spoke to expressed concern about a lack of cultural policy by successive Indonesian governments.

Indonesia is not an Islamic State but its cultural values are influenced by Islam, argues Dr Fuad Mahbud Siradj, Head of the Centre for Islamic and State Studies at Universitas Paramadina in Jakarta. 'Indonesia’s education system today has made Indonesian youth disregard their own cultures and values, and value only the technical skills they learn at school. So they have a very poor sense of cultural awareness.'

The price of a ticket to the concert was equivalent to about a month’s salary of an average wage earner here. Wenny Pahlemy, a researcher at the local Habibi Centre is concerned about the values of teenagers who spend their parent’s money on such shows. 'The government should play an active role in regulating the messages containing unsuitable and improper values,' she argues. 'But the government has surrendered to the entertainment industry, where money always talks.'

Wahyutama, a communications lecturer at Universitas Paramadina and a cultural activist argues that the Indonesian government needs to develop cultural standards in terms of values and norms that could be used to judge any cultural threats from overseas. 'This way they would have easily given guidelines to Lady Gaga concert promoters of what is accepted and if she agrees to it, the concert should be allowed.'

It was reported in the local media that the Indonesian promoters had indicated that a deal was being hammered out to tone down the concert, but the star's management had stood firm, vowing there would be no compromise to appease religious conservatives.

Iwan Awaluddin Yusuf, a communications lecturer and media researcher at the Islamic University of Indonesia, argues that if certain cultures are seen as a threat to the Indonesian people, the government should 'execute a strategic action plan to develop Indonesian origin music, that actually is rich with local arts values, to be loved by youth.'

Attacks by religious conservative groups like IDF on entertainment venues serving alcohol or engaging in prostitution, and on liberal Muslim writers and journalists who are critical of religious conservatism in a country renowned for its moderate attitude to Islamic practices, have increased in recent months.

Earlier this month, activists from IDF attacked and stopped a seminar where Canadian Muslim author Irshad Manji was talking about her new book ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’. She was accused of promoting homosexuality among other things.

Speaking to the Jakarta Globe after her seminar was disrupted, Manji said 'I have always said that if you want to see an example of religious pluralism, look at Indonesia. I’m surprised at the rise of such groups.'

She warned that while Muslims have always complained of imperialism from the United States, another form of imperialism is creeping into Indonesia, that is coming from Saudi Arabia. She cited growing calls for more conservative women’s clothing which is espoused by Wahhabi Islam.

'Most Indonesians practise a moderate form of Islam,' argues Pahlemy. 'Unfortunately, most of them remain silent. Indonesia needs firm national leadership and law enforcement.'

The Jakarta Post in a recent editorial questioned why the government has turned a blind eye to the inaction by the police to curb violent action by extremist groups like the IDF. The editorial claimed that the police are either 'protecting and serving a violent minority interest (or) they are adopting a hands-off policy instead of providing security to all citizens.'

Dr Siradj argues that the problem with Islam in Indonesia today is the education system where mainstream education system gives too much emphasis to science, and lets the teaching of Islam be conducted only by traditional boarding schools. 'These dichotomies open the opportunity for Islamic extremism to grow,' he argues, '(because) students who study in general schools have very little understanding of Islam.'

Wahyutama agrees with this, and argues that many Muslim groups believe the government has failed them. 'So they are looking for some instant solutions, (because) they are disappointed that their politicians, including Muslim politicians, have failed to advocate their voice.'

© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service