Indonesia’s Secular State under Siege

SLIDING TOWARDS CONSERVATIVE ISLAM (another abuse of the term ‘conservative’- is there no way to get these journo’s to use proper terminology?)

Could it be that even German sleeping dogs are waking up?

By Jürgen Kremb from SPIEGEL ONLINE


Indonesia is a nominally secular democracy. But the influence of conservative Islam is gaining in the world’s biggest Muslim country. A further step away from tolerance may be just around the corner.

* Brother, what do you know about Indonesia?! Your concept of ‘tolerance’ would look like a hijab through a kaleidoscope!


A group of conservative Muslims protests against the acquittal of Playboy editor-in-chief Erwin Arnada on Thursday.

It is Saturday afternoon in Kemang, the garish bar district in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. The young patrons partying at poolside on the roof deck of the trendy restaurant “Edge” enjoy a panoramic view of the entire southern part of the city. The only reminder that these partygoers are unwinding in the world’s largest Muslim country is the muezzin’s call to prayer at a nearby mosque.
Well-off models, successful trendsetters, designers and young filmmakers make up the guest list, and everyone is in high spirits, at least until Izabel Jahja, 30, speaks up. Wearing a tiny bikini, she raises her glass of red wine in a toast and says: “Let’s enjoy life, as long as our country continues to allow it.”


Jahja, the self-confident editor-in-chief of glossy magazine A-Plus, is dead serious. The Indonesian parliament has been debating a more stringent anti-pornography law for months. If the law is passed, it will ban a lot more than X-rated books and movies. In fact, it would spell the end of parties like this one, would make public kissing illegal and would mean prison time for anyone bold enough to wear “lascivious clothing.” Theater, the cinema, painting and music, would likewise be curtailed, just as they are today in many countries of the Middle East. “We are on the brink of a comprehensive Islamicization of Indonesia,” says Jahja.

For years, radical Islamists have taken advantage of the democracy gained after the 1998 ouster of former Indonesian dictator Suharto to question that very democracy, all in the name of piety. A cultural war has broken out between the supporters and opponents of religious fundamentalism, a struggle that could deeply change this country and its traditionally softer brand of Islam.

A brutal spectacle

With 221 million inhabitants, of which 194 million are Muslims, the island nation is not only Southeast Asia’s most populous country, but is also home to the world’s largest Muslim population. And that population looks to be growing increasingly devout. Significantly more women wear the headscarf today than a decade ago, and the number of Indonesians making the pilgrimage to Mecca grows year after year. Alcoholic beverages are disappearing from the shelves of supermarkets, and in some places those who violate the Islamic ban on alcohol already face public whipping — a brutal spectacle that is even broadcast on local television stations.

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