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Indonesia is not a good place to be an atheist. Alexander Aan, a self-proclaimed atheist has been jailed under a “cyber crimes” law, not long after having been beaten for his beliefs:
His crime was spreading his atheist beliefs through his Facebook accounts, “Ateis Minang” and “Alex Aan”, which the court said incited hatred and animosity against religious groups. In one posting, which was used as evidence in court against him, he professed “God does not exist”.
Aan is probably better off, and safer, inside. A local radical Islamic group has been anxious to get its hands on him, again. Before his arrest in February, he was dragged and beaten once the group was able to locate his whereabouts, a remote little town about four-hour drive from the West Sumatra capital of Padang. With his full name and photo posted on his Facebook accounts, it didn’t take long for anyone to find him. While the assailants walked free, Aan now has to serve time in jail.Extrajudicially beating up atheists, mind you, is perfectly fine in Indonesia; in fact, the jury is still out on whether they are entitled to any legal protections at all, or whether a profession of atheism incurs an automatic sentence of outlawry, allowing others to hunt you for sport:
By regarding the case as a cybercrime, the court failed to address the one constitutional dilemma about the presence of atheists in the country. Do they have the right to exist in this country, and more importantly, if they are considered as being outside the constitution, can they expect state protections just as all other citizens
The largely dismissive public and official attitude towards Aan’s case is another sad reflection of the way the nation treats as impertinent a constitutional question such as religious freedom. We have seen this attitude prevailing in regard to recent cases of persecutions against followers of the Ahmadiyah and Shiites, and the increasing harassments against Christians who are deprived of their right to build places of worship. The Ahmadis, the Shiites and the Christians literally have to fight their own battles in the face of the increasingly indifferent Muslims. Aan himself is almost alone in fighting for his rights as a citizen of this country.
Following the recent Spiegel piece on punk rock and dissent in Burma, music journalist John Harris has an article on parts of the world where punk and its offshoots are still dangerous:
It's been a long time since the term "punk rock" could strike fear into the British establishment. The Sex Pistols' John Lydon – aka Johnny Rotten – was long ago transformed into a pantomimic national institution, and now advertises Country Life butter; it's 16 years since Tony Blair admiringly mentioned the Clash in a speech at the Brit awards. The spiky-topped punk look is as harmless a part of vernacular British style as Harris tweed; the concert nostalgia circuit is now home to any number of ageing punk groups, from the Buzzcocks to Sham 69.
The last few months, however, have brought news from abroad suggesting that in many places, punk's combination of splenetic dissent, loud guitars and outre attire can cause as much disquiet and outrage as ever. The stories concerned take in Indonesia, Burma, Iraq and Russia – and most highlight one big difference between the hoo-hah kicked up by punk in the US and Britain of the late 70s, and the reactions it now stirs thousands of miles from its places of birth. Back then, being a punk rocker might invite occasional attacks in the street, a ban on your records, and the odd difficulty finding somewhere to play. Now, if you pursue a love of punk in the wrong political circumstances, you may well experience oppression at its most brutal: torture, imprisonment, what one regime calls "moral rehabilitation" and even death.The ways that punk-influenced subcultures are colliding with the local establishments differ for each place. In Iraq, Islamists are stoning youths to death for wearing clothes and haircuts associated with “emo” (which originated as an offshoot of DC hardcore punk, though in the affluent first world, has long since degenerated into Hot Topic merchandise lines and highly commercial bands making whimpering songs complaining about girls not putting out, Fake Emo having displaced Fake Goth as the bad joke of teenage angst some time in the 00s). In Iraq, however, emo is still seen as a threat to Islamic values and traditional norms of masculinity:
One thing is definitely true: figures for emo-related killings are blurring into those for homophobic murders (put at up to 58 in the last six weeks alone), reflecting a widespread perception in Iraq that emo is a byword not just for devil-worship, but homosexuality. A leaflet distributed in east Baghdad gave any local emo fans four days to "leave this filthy work", under pain of "the punishment of God … at the hand of the Mujahideen". At least two lists of intended victims have been posted online, and tattoo parlours in the city have reported terrified young people asking for their punk-esque body-art to be removed.Hard rock and the Islamic world have come into collision before: Malaysia reportedly had its own issue with “Satanist” heavy-metal fans, and in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province, officials detained punk rock fans at an event, shaved their heads and subjected them to “moral reeducation”. This action, intended as a show of strength by local political figures, resulted in protests outside Indonesian embassies across the world.
There are, he tells me, two kinds of punk in Indonesia. "One is what we think of as a poser: they adopt punk fashions." This group, he says, tend to be "street kids" who fall into begging and petty crime, and thereby provoke the authorities. "The other punks are part of a community that has developed since the late 80s – a moral, ideological type of community," he says. "They're totally different. But the government and society thinks that if you have a Mohawk and boots, you are a punk, and all punks are the same." The kids arrested in Aceh, he thinks, are likely to be the genuine article, because they were arrested at a gig, a reasonably sure sign of true believers.Meanwhile, in Russia, a feminist punk movement influenced by riot grrrl is forming part of the growing resistance to the Putin regime, the ex-KGB siloviki and the oligarchs, and their plans for a tightly managed democracy:
In Moscow, a court ruling on Wednesday marked the latest chapter in the story of an all-female band called Pussy Riot, two of whom were arrested last month after they illicitly took over the pulpit in a Moscow church, and attempted to recite a "punk prayer" written in opposition to Vladimir Putin. Pussy Riot's music is scratchy, unhinged stuff that takes its lead from a fleeting genre known as riot grrrl – once again traceable, at least in part, to Washington DC, and brought to fruition nearly 20 years ago by such groups as Bikini Kill, and a British band called Huggy Bear. Their music was clearly derived from punk's basic idea, but took its lead from such feminist groups as the Slits and the Au Pairs rather than the Clash and the Pistols: apart from anything else, the controversy around Pussy Riot has at least served as a reminder of this overlooked strand of punk history.
"We somehow developed what [those groups] did in the 1990s, although in an absolutely different context and with an exaggerated political stance," one band member called Garadzha Matveyeva has explained, "which leads to all of our performances being illegal – we'll never give a gig in a club or in any special musical space. That's an important principle for us." The band, who always perform in identity-concealing balaclavas, has a free-floating membership that can number up to 15 people – it amounts to "a pulsating and growing body", as Matveyeva sees it.In all these cases, the common theme is how punk, a dated subculture of generational rebellion, now often reduced to a grab-bag of clichés and commodified kitsch, has come to signify vastly more in considerably more desperate straits, without losing the decidedly foreign and awkwardly specific semiotics of someone else's adolescent rebellion in a distant country, long ago. So the image of punk comes, mediated via layers of marketing, commodification and nostalgia, to the developing world, where a Burmese dissident finds a copy of NME with a heritage-rock cover in the bins of the British Embassy, or an Iraqi teenager sees a Fall Out Boy video on a satellite video channel, and a chimera is born:
"You hear a lot about the clash of civilizations," [Ole Reitov, of Copenhagen-based freedom-of-expression advocacy group Freemuse] tells me, "but often, these things, they reflect a clash within civilizations. You're seeing the same symptoms in all kinds of countries: it's a matter of what you do if you feel you're powerless. You can only be extreme, relative to so-called normality. He thinks all this will only increase given two parallel developments: the rise of religious fundamentalism, and the increase in networked communications, which means that every aspect of a subculture can be globally spread at speed. "Think back 50 years," he says. "People didn't necessarily know what the Shadows or the Beatles looked like. These days, you immediately know. Someone in Ulan Bator immediately knows the body language that comes with rap music; in Iraq, the young people who've been killed knew how to dress a certain way."
A pilot for Indonesian national airline Garuda has been jailed for poisoning a human-rights activist on a flight to Amsterdam in 2004 (considerably after the end of the Suharto regime). It is believed that he acted on behalf of the Indonesian security services, though no-one from the services was actually charged.
The editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy has been acquitted of indecency. While pornography is widely available in the populous Islamic country, the local edition of Playboy has avoided taking risks, and it is probably safe to say that most of its readers really do get it just for the articles:
The Indonesian version of the magazine went on sale for the first time last April, featuring several scantily-clad models but no nudity.
Arnada would have faced two years in prison, if convicted and his magazine welcomed the ruling. "Playboy Indonesia never has and will never publish nude photos or other forbidden materials," it said in a statement.This ruling has not been enough for hardline Islamist groups, who have threatened to "declare war" on the magazine, and conservatives who are pushing for strict new decency laws. Though given the wide availability of locally-produced pornography, chances are the conservatives' objection is not to Playboy's mildly racy content but to the American/Western cultural values it and its name symbolise.
Meanwhile, Thailand has blocked access to YouTube, after the site refused to remove a video insulting the king (by showing graffiti over his face). Thailand takes insulding the king very seriously; just recently, a Swiss man was jailed for ten years for defacing posters of the monarch.
One thing I'm wondering: would Thailand have blocked YouTube had this happened before last year's military coup?
Australian lingerie model arrested for ecstasy possession in Bali released. Michelle Leslie, best known for appearing in an underwear ad, has been released from prison and deported as a criminal after the prosecution in her ecstasy-possession case agreed to only seek a penalty of 3 months' imprisonment (i.e., the time served). It is not clear whether she would have received a more severe sentence had (a) she not allegedly been with the son of Indonesia's Economics Minister at the time of the arrest, or (b) the Indonesians not feared hordes of bloody-minded tabloid-reading Ugly Australians boycotting Bali and demanding their tsunami-aid donations back if one of their sheilas went down.
I suspect that the pivotal factor in Leslie's early release was not her showing up in a burqa at her trial and announcing that she had converted to Islam, seemingly oblivious to the fact that (a) Bali is a largely Hindu province, and (b) burqas are not commonly worn in Indonesia. Oddly enough, she did not seem to be observing Islamic traditions of modest dress upon release; perhaps when she sells her story to Womens' Weekly or the Herald-Sun, she'll say that Islam was just a phase she was going through, as if it were Kabbala or Scientology or Hollywood Buddhism or something. (Though doesn't converting from Islam technically make her an apostate? I wonder whether she'll end up with a fatwa on her head.)
Tory-affiliated British magazine The Spectator has a rather arch write-up of the Schapelle Corby spectacle and reaction to it in Australia: (registration required)
It's the ultimate reality TV show. Corby, who seems to be the only bule (foreigner) in Bali who doesn't sweat, has adapted well to her starring role. In jail she has slimmed down from a plumpish and brassy suburban shrill to a demure girl-next-door. Last week she added an elegant and much-fingered necklace crucifix to her outfit. The news execs love it, but their concern for Corby contrasts with their apparent indifference to the plight of the dozen or so other Australians -- Asian Australians -- held elsewhere in the region and either charged with or convicted of drug-smuggling.
Australians fancy they see something of the Gallipoli spirit in Corby. She has been cast as a humble "Aussie battler" abandoned by her government and struggling in vain to overcome an insurmountable foreign adversary. The enemy is not "Johnny Turk" this time but the "brutal" Indonesian legal system which has the nerve to conduct its affairs in Bahasa Indonesia, not Australian English. As Corby fans see it, the bases were clearly all loaded against their girl, the sinister outcome predetermined in Indonesia's murky shadows.
Though could one think of a better folk hero for a nation which prides itself on its larrikinism, whose unofficial national anthem is a song about a sheep thief, and where an armed robber has been transformed into everything from Robin Hood to the spiritual father of the Australian Labor Party and/or the Republican movement? Especially in the age of reality-TV, where photogenic looks and image management count for a lot.
At the end, the article ties in the spectacle to the latte-sipping-cosmopolitan-elite-vs.-silent-majority-of-suburban-battlers culture-war dialectic:
The demographer Bernard Salt says the Corby matter explodes what has always been the myth of Australian egalitarianism. Salt has previously noted, controversially, that Australia, like most countries, has an educated minority, a cultural and cosmopolitan elite that directs its politics, its economy, its popular culture, with the majority functionong as essentially its market. He says that Australia's cosmopolitans account for at most one million of the nation's 20 million people.
But the elite aren't calling the shots on this one. There has been talk of a "redneck coup". And the circus shows no signs of packing up. A new lawyer has just been appointed to handle Our Schapelle's appeal. I met him last week, and he did not disappoint me. His name is Paris Hutapea, and he carries two sidearms (a Beretta and a Walther), sports shiny blue suits and an impressive mullet, and drives to work in a Humvee. His fingers drip with opal and diamond rings. He and big sister Mercedes should hit it off.
Meanwhile, Bruce Schneier writes about the anthrax scare at the Indonesian embassy, revealing that, since 9/11. there has been a white-powder scare in Australia on average every four days (most of which have been kept out of the news by the Australian press's (voluntary) D-notice regime).
Indonesian embassy in Canberra evacuated after biological weapon scare, when white powder in an envelope sent to the embassy tested positive for a bacillus related to anthrax. It is believed extremely unlikely that the incident is unconnected to the recent conviction of Australian Schapelle Corby (who, incidentally, is said to have become the newest client of celebrity agent Harry M. Miller) for drug trafficking in Bali.
It was sickening enough to hear of Australians calling tsunami relief charities and demanding their donations back over this incident; this takes it to a whole new level. If nothing else, the possibility that people who form their beliefs from tabloids and reality-TV shows have access to biological weapons is truly alarming. The human race is doomed.
Photogenic Australian drug smuggler convicted in Indonesia, sentenced to 20 years. This is a somewhat more lenient sentence than many were expecting; initially she was facing the death penalty, though presumably the economic pressure of a potential Australian boycott of Bali prevailed. If she wasn't a photogenic young woman with the tabloid media on her side, she'd probably be facing a firing squad (much as nine other less fortunate Australians are set to do).
Meanwhile, the government is quick to make political hay with a populist gesture of donating two QCs to work on her appeal, paid for by your taxes, and working on a prisoner-transfer agreement to save her the indignity of a barbaric Indonesian jail (expect the Schapelle Corby Act 2005 to show up in Hansard soon); you'd think there was an election coming up or something. An much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues online:
"I am devestated with the verdict of the Indonesian Courts for Schapelle Corby. When the verdict was given, I fell into a bit of a heap, but Schapelles strength made me gain my composure pretty quickly.
"strength"? Looks like Australia has now found its Princess Di. Look for discount mobile-phone baron Ron Bakir, who owns the trademark on "Schapelle Corby", to make a mint in the commemorative-mug trade.
Some sought to tie Australia's tsunami aid to the issue. Bryan Griffin wrote: "I am sure that all people, not just Australians will also feel sick. "Maybe some of the donations made by us for the disaster should be returned to pay her fine. It's like a double wammy for Indonesia and their finances.Note the subtexts there: the life of an Australian convicted of drug trafficking is worth more than those of Indonesians affected by the tsunami. And the fact that she was convicted of drug trafficking is irrelevant, because we all know that Indonesian courts are corrupt. The fact that the "evidence" for the defence consisted of prison hearsay that no Australian court would have accepted seems to have gotten conveniently lost along the way.
And, of course, the Australian media's content-free, sensationalist beat-up hasn't helped things.
I wonder whether Indonesian restaurants across Australia are hanging up prominent "Schapelle is Innocent" signs (which, I imagine, the Herald-Sun will provide) in their windows to avoid being summarily boycotted or worse, much as Afghan restaurants proclaimed their opposition to terrorism after 9/11.
Massive car bomb blast destroys Bali nightclub, killing at least 187 westerners, including at least 8 Australians. Islamic separatists are believed to be to blame; given that Bali is mostly visited by Australians, it could have been an attack on Australia.
(Expect the Hun to highlight the human tragedy of the footballers who died there, and hammer the point home that this is a vindication of the Bush/Howard Doctrine and another reason why we must take down Saddam.)
Here come the Brave Ones again? As East Timor approaches the finalisation of its status as an independent state, swearing in its first popularly-elected president, six Indonesian warships have entered East Timorese waters and refused requests to leave. Is it merely simple intimidation from the Indonesian military, or the vanguard of a new invasion?
Recently East Timor, which attained independence after years of bloody repression, held presidential elections. A thought that occurred to me: would East Timor have had any chance of getting its independence today, had it not done so before the World Trade Center terrorist attack? Probably not; given how governments across the world have capitalised on the War On Terror to label domestic pro-autonomy movements (from Chechens to Uighurs) as "terrorists" ineligible for sympathy or human rights, I can imagine Indonesia being given carte blanche to pacify its recalcitrant province by all means necessary, with no interference from the Western media, in return for joining the coalition against al-Qaeda.
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