Wednesday, December 10, 2008

There's a lot of things we can't do / But I guess we were born together


The Jakarta Post today reported that Indonesia’s president, without any fanfare, or for that matter, without really telling anyone at all, signed into law the new Indonesian Anti-porn law. He did this almost two weeks ago.

That he did so is hardly surprising. He’s a fairly ineffectual sort of bloke, with roots back the very dark side of Indonesia, and he’s rarely one to make a stand on anything.

To be honest, I’d imagine you’d be fairly hard pressed to find anyone in Indonesia who actually knows what he stands for. In fact, he’s so overwhelmingly faceless and bland there are those here who look a little longingly at the chaos in Thailand.

But sign it he did, against the advice of his, uhh, advisors, who told them to side step this very controversial bit of law, and the fairly obvious conclusion is that he did so, not because he agreed with it but because he was scared he might offend the Islamic purists if he did not. It was a vote catcher.

The law itself is an odd one in an increasingly odd country. It’s stuck somewhere in 16th Century Puritan England or New England and is very fundamentalist Christian in it’s intent and the way it can be applied. Witch burning anyone? The law allows for an undefined level of public enforcement which is not that far removed from such things. And it plays to the very large, often uneducated (this is a nation that spends less than 1.5% of it’s GDP on education…3rd to lowest in the world) mass out there increasingly alienated from a very fast growing urban middle class. Indonesia, if you step back, has a middle class, with all the trappings that means, larger than the population of either Australia or Canada and the overwhelming mass…the other two hundred million odd, don’t have much in common with these folks, and resent their liberal, questioning ways. And it’s an easy step to blame your many woes on what you see as their slipping morals.

The gap in this country between that middle class and the rest, usually quite devout, who live in a world not that far removed from the way they've lived for generations, albeit now with soap operas and motor bikes, is one of the biggest issues Indonesia faces. It's a gap that the fairly clever, and, yes, power hungry in a far more earthly way than their words would suggest, Islamic parties like the PKS happily exploit.

And the gap includes the, swept under the carpet in the name of (fracturing) pluralism, growing schism between the Islamic majority and the other religions, including those, mostly educated and urban, who may have Muslim on their ID card but are not practicing..the so called KTP Muslim. Calls for autonomy or full Independence are heard in Bali almost daily now, massively aggravated by clauses in this Porn Bill which are seen as an attempt by hardline Islamic politicians to slip a little Sharia Law into the nation as a whole as a vote catcher with those masses.

The big question is whether this crazy and poorly thought out bit of legistation will, firstly, make it through the myriad of legal challenges already underway, and secondly, in this land where the rule of law plays second fiddle to the law of graft, whether it will find itself enforced at all.

Sometimes you wonder, once you leave Jakarta, if there is any law in Indonesia. Sure there are multitudes of regulations but it’s impossible often to find out exactly what they are, and these are interpreted at the most financially advantageous way for the implementer at the time. The Dutch left this place in an almighty mess after 300 years of misadministration but it’s hard to argue that successive, so called, governments have made it all increasingly, and dysfunctionally worse, and continue to do so on a daily basis. The concept of government for the people remains alien.

Over at Metro Mad Indonesia, there is an interesting, and amusing, look at the real time effects of the law (bearing strongly in mind that it wasn’t regarded as ratified at the time), on the ground in Jakarta at least (bearing in mind that the Big Durian is really a standalone country in every practical way, or at least one that regards itself as both above and in control of we lesser inhabitants of Planet Indo). The last two paragraphs rather nail it and are worth repeating:

So has nothing really changed? Is the new law a lame duck? Its always been a mystery to me why politicians here thought that they could make traction with this bill ahead of next year’s election. Despite what Indonesia’s electorate may profess in public, the country’s post New Order elections have shown that in the privacy of the polling booth, they have little appetite for the Islamic parties. Let’s just hope that those vigilante groups don’t materialize.

The real sex crimes in this country involve the virtual kidnapping, trafficking and enforced sexual slavery of women, allegedly with tacit support from rogue elements in the police and military. There’s also the cleric in East Java who’s just married a 12 year old girl. Let’s try and keep our eyes on the ball shall we?

No comments: