Indonesian Morality: Ban Sex Sites Ignore Starving Children

Here it goes again. Uncles with harsh over-smoked voices from Indonesian House of Representatives – that is synonymous with corruption and laziness – talking about morality and about "how to protect the nation" from the ills of pornography. This time they have succeeded. While the nation was off guard, distracted by raising food prices, collapsing road system and general hopelessness, House of Representatives passed on March 25th 2008 a bill banning all pornographic websites, threatening to jail users and providers who will now face a maximum of three years in prison or a substantial fine. While Indonesia is still "softer" than Saudi Arabia, the new bill is as tough or even tougher than anti-pornography laws in many other Muslim countries.

Now enormous apparatus of surveillance and oppression can be once again put to good use. Those who were afraid to lose their jobs after the fascist dictator Suharto stepped down almost a decade ago, can breath sigh of relief. Millions of men, women and children who were snitching and spying on their neighbors, denouncing them for being "Chinese" or "Communists" or "atheists" or whatever, will now be able to return to their old routine. There is new challenge, new enemy that Indonesia has to fight and defeat – pornography!

Costs can be astronomical to implement the bill.  It will also take thousands of computer experts to work on the "project".

As Representatives were introducing the bill, streets of Jakarta were clogged with the traffic. Rainy season damaged almost all transit arteries and there seemed to be no hurry in fixing them. Daily commute of substantial number of city dwellers increased to 2 or more hours a day, one way. At dark and depressing intersections, street children were begging, some of them offering themselves to exhausted motorists. Women were begging, carrying infants next to exhaust pipes of the cars. These were either their own babies – tranquilized by drugs – or so called "rent-a-baby" unfortunate infants. Police stood by idle, often engaged in their favorite activities: picking up their nose or puffing on cigarettes. To propel them to action: to defend the children being exploited and poisoned in front of their eyes would require mighty bribe.

No wonder: Indonesia has one of the worst records of child trafficking in the world. Although there is no exact data, it is understood that the country also has one of the very worst records of child abandonment in the world.

So many urgent problems, one would say. But for the establishment, fighting pornography seems to be a priority!

To put things to perspective, Indonesia is increasingly slipping to religious and intolerant mode. Several parts of the country introduced Islamic sharia by-laws banning, at least in theory, unaccompanied women from leaving the house after sunset. Muslim women are ordered to wear headscarves. These laws are essentially unconstitutional but the government has no appetite to challenge them. By-laws are rarely enforced (except in Aceh and in some parts of Java), but their very existence is enough to send chill down the spine of many moderate citizens.

There are more and more girls forced to wear headscarves, many as young as two or three years old. Unusual sight more than a decade ago, fully covered little girls are now common site in some neighborhoods in Jakarta as well as in many rural areas.

Islamic Defender’s Front and other radical groups have already won their "struggle", making sure that there are almost no bars left in Yogyakarta or Jakarta, except in hotels and in other enclosed compounds. While Islamic Defender’s Front members were plundering drinking establishments, police stood by and watched; sympathetic or simply unwilling to intervene. There are calls to make all food "halal". Now even most of the five star hotels in the city don’t serve pork, despite the fact that officially 10 to 15 percent of Indonesians are not Muslims.

While in the Middle East and North Africa mosques broadcast only short and often artistic calls for prayer, Jakarta mosques blast entire prayers through loudspeakers. This "educational" process lasts at least 5 hours a day, making sure to show infidels who is in charge in this once secular nation. While churches go up in flames periodically, atheism is banned and so are "deviant" Muslim sects.

Ban on pornographic websites is therefore logical step in sad development of this increasingly religious nation.

"Some obscene material is so abhorrent and inexcusable; child pornography is criminal, and the sex industry can be exploitative of women", wrote Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, staff writer of The Jakarta Post. "However, a blanket prohibition on the possession of Internet porn, as implied by the new law on electronic information and transaction, could be the grave beginnings of an Orwellian nightmare in censoring technology’s diffusion of content. As legislators moralize about making "red-light" websites inaccessible in the virtual world, red-light districts and gambling dens are readily available in the real world. The state must protect people’s safety, not their fragile sensibilities…"

Porn in today’s Indonesia is "unique" and often bizarre. And it doesn’t always fall to stereotypes of "exploitation of women". The most popular sites are free – those that carry clips (often recorded on mobile phones) sent by couples themselves.

Indonesia was "shocked" and entertained by one of the sex clips recorded by "deeply religious" dandut pop music singer Eva Maria and Yahya Zaini, influential and also "deeply religious" politician from the right-wing Golkar Party (the same party that ruled Indonesia during Suharto’s dictatorship). As one of Indonesian bloggers suggests: "A video recording has been circulating which purports to show a member of parliament from the Golkar party, with the initials Y.Z., and a lady dangdut singer, with the initials M.E., in a hotel room, frolicking about in a fashion thought of by many only permissible within the bounds of holy matrimony."

Some critics of the new bill are suggesting that it is trying to make illegal exactly these sorts of embarrassing "leeks" that keep discrediting Indonesian elites.

But Indonesia is the country where one has to read between the lines, as the establishment is never clear on what exactly it is trying to achieve. The new legislation, the Electronic Information and Transactions Law, is not only censuring pornography. Under the law, anyone found guilty of transmitting pornographic material, false news or racial and religious hate messages on the Internet could face up to six years in prison or a fine of one billion rupiah (approximately $109,000 USD).

While everybody was discussing pornography, legislators successfully and quietly passed the bill, which will allow them to persecute any writer, filmmaker or journalist. "False News?" What is false news? In Indonesian context, based on the country’s tradition, "false" will be any news that is disliked by the establishment.

And do not expect the law that prohibits "racial and religious hate messages" to do what you would expect it to do elsewhere – protect minorities from racial abuse and religious discrimination. In Indonesia, after all, minorities were and are slaughtered and oppressed at the rate unknown almost anywhere else in the world (East Timor, Papua, killing of 1 to 3 million of mostly non Muslims and non-Javanese after the right wing coup in 1965 to give just a few examples). Most likely and based on the country’s track-record, "prohibition of racial and religious hate messages" will be interpreted as a ban on criticism of ruling religion and Javanese majority.

Exhausted from the social problems they are increasingly facing, Indonesians seem to have no strength and no zeal to protest, anymore. There were only some (sporadic) sparks of "resistance". A group of hackers took over an Indonesian government website for several hours to protest against the new ban, the Information Ministry said on Friday. According to an Agence France Presse (AFP) report, "The protesters posted a message Thursday on the Ministry of Information website challenging it to ‘prove that the law was not drafted to cover the government’s stupidity’.

One of the amateur sex sites, "E-bopek", described present government as "Indonesian Taliban Regime".

At the same time, Indonesian court acquitted the late former president Suharto (post-mortem) in a civil corruption case, but ordered his charitable foundation to repay more than 100 million dollars to the state.  The United Nations and World Bank claim that Suharto and his family have stole tens of billions of dollars.   It didn’t bother the dictator that he was stealing from the nation where more than a half of the citizens live in poverty.

Of course the fight against corruption has stalled. It is too much to expect from Indonesian Representatives to fight against graft, considering that many if not most of them had amassed their own fortunes illegally. It is easier to attack images of lovemaking than concrete people who are robbing the poorest of the poor.

Just a few days before the bill was passed, I drove through the crowded and depressing streets of Jakarta. Howling of the sirens pushed me to the curb. Several escort vehicles and motorbikes drove by, protecting brand new Porsche Cayenne 4WD. It was a vehicle of one of the Legislators, a man who should be saving for Honda Civic on his official salary. A few feet away, street children were playing barefoot in the gutter.  One of them was showing clear signs of malnutrition.

While the government is fighting against Internet, tens of millions of Indonesian women are forced by poverty and hopelessness to the countless brothels in Surabaya, Batam and Jakarta. Millions of women who are raped or get pregnant out of wedlock are abandoning their infants and children, some of whom are left in the garbage bins or on the street.  Country girls go or are sent by their families as "maids" to undisputable sexual slavery in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. As they leave Indonesia, they wear headscarves, so the state doesn’t have to worry about their fate.

Some would call it hypocrisy. Indonesian establishment calls it the fight against immorality.

ANDRE VLTCHEK – novelist, journalist, filmmaker and playwright. His recent novel – Point of No Return – is showing New Order through the eyes of war a correspondent. He lives and works in Asia and South Pacific and can be reached at andre-wcn@usa.net

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