What’s behind the Indonesian president’s troubling silence on LGBT persecution?
16 mars 2016, 01:44 CET
Adjunt Professor, Roosevelt Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, City University of New York
An Indonesian lawmaker tweets lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people “should be put to death”.
Indonesia’s defence minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, equates the country’s LGBT rights movement with “a form of proxy war” more dangerous than nuclear warfare.
The mayor of a major city warns that formula milk and instant noodles “make babies gay”.
These are some of the anti-gay statements made recently by public officials in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. The increasingly hateful rhetoric shows no sign of abating.
President Joko Widodo, who secured his election victory on a platform of promoting economic development and human rights, has yet to publicly speak out against these discriminatory statements.
Public officials against LGBT
Since January, numerous government officials have demeaned and threatened Indonesia’s LGBT population. Education officials have commented that gays and lesbians on campuses threaten Indonesian “values and standards of morality”. Government officials ordered police to halt an HIV-prevention outreach event for gay and bisexual men.
On February 11, information ministry spokesman Ismail Cawidu requested social media platforms to remove any emojis “that smack of LGBT”. He said it was a gesture of respect for “religious values and norms”.
The Japan-based mobile chat application LINE acquiesced on February 12. Adding insult to injury, it apologised for failing to:
… filter culturally sensitive content.
That same day, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission banned TV and radio programs that portray LGBT lives as “normal”. Backed by the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, it argued the ban was to protect children and adolescents from materials that might encourage them to imitate or justify “LGBT behaviours”.
Even senior government ministers have joined the chorus. Vice President Jusuf Kalla on February 15 instructed the United Nations Development Program to cut funding to LGBT-rights education programs. Kalla gave no reason, but has previously declared that LGBT-related campaigns violated the country’s “social values”.
Indonesia’s co-ordinating political, legal and security affairs minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, has publicly spoken out about the need to respect the rights of LGBT people. But he qualified his support for LGBT rights by adding that he believed homosexuality was the result of a chromosomal condition that required “curing”.
That assertion follows the Indonesian Psychiatric Association classification of LGBT people as “persons with psychiatric problems”, despite the World Health Organisation having removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.
Aceh’s anti-gay bylaws
Indonesia has no history of criminalising same-sex relations or of widespread abuse of the rights of LGBT people. But that tradition of tolerance appears to be waning.
The root of this change started in Indonesia’s northern province of Aceh. Before this most recent episode of anti-gay onslaughts, official persecution against LGBT people had already begun in Aceh.
Under a special status agreement brokered in 1999, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that can adopt bylaws derived from sharia, or Islamic law. That status has empowered the government in Aceh, a long-time bastion of strict Islamic observance, to impose increasingly draconian restrictions on the rights of women and LGBT people.
In September, Aceh’s Sharia police arrested two young women who were hugging in public as “suspected lesbians”. In October, the Aceh government enacted bylaws that harshly punish gambling and adultery. Gay people “caught” having sex can possibly get 100 lashes.
Islamic organisation abetting anti-gay sentiment
Indonesia’s mainstream Sunni Muslim organisations have abetted this rise in anti-LGBT sentiment.
The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s largest mass membership Muslim organisation, issued a statement on February 27 advocating the criminalisation of same-sex sexual relations. It argued that homosexuality is “incompatible with human nature”.
NU likely took its cue from the March 4 declaration by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the country’s highest Islamic clerical body, that LGBT people are “deviant” and an affront to the “dignity of Indonesia”.
The Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, which has a well-earned reputation for extremist violence, has already been implicated in a January 2015 attack on boarding houses inhabited by LGBT people in the city of Bandung.
Concern for safety
These incidents have caused dismay among Indonesia’s increasingly besieged LGBT community. The recent anti-gay comments by public officials may inspire militant Islamists with a propensity for violence to physically harm LGBT people.
LGBT people have good reason to fear a co-ordinated attack in the form of religion-based discriminatory legislation and the brute tactics of militant Islamists. Since 2009, that same combination has fueled a surge in violence against religious minorities, including Shia, the Ahmadiyah and some Christian congregations.
Religious radicals have killed members of religious minorities. They have destroyed their houses and uprooted entire communities. Government officials and security forces have been passively and actively complicit in these crimes.
NGOs and LGBT rights activists warn the same signs of impending peril facing religious minorities in 2009 are now directed at Indonesia’s LGBT population.
Widodo’s silence amid this growing sense of clear and present danger to Indonesia’s LGBT population is troubling. His most senior minister has assured Indonesians that Widodo “is listening to the people’s voice” on the current surge in official anti-LGBT sentiment and that “we’ll see what happens”.
But unless Widodo finds his own voice to speak out – and soon – for the protection of rights of LGBT people, he’ll share in the blame.
Onslaughts against gays and lesbians challenge Indonesia’s LGBT rights movement
24 février 2016, 00:23 CET
Diana Teresa Pakasi
Research Associate, Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Indonesia
Photo: Despite challenges, Indonesia’s LGBT community continues to fight for its rights. esfera/shutterstock.com
Recent onslaughts against gays and lesbians in Indonesia are a sign of a fresh wave of moral panic on homosexuality in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
Following a month-long anti-gay campaign on traditional and social media, an association of mental health specialists in Indonesia declared on Sunday that homosexuality was a mental disorder.
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia are not cowering in silence in response. Despite the challenges, they continue to fight for their rights.
The mental disorder verdict is the latest in a series of homophobic statements and actions by high-level officials, conservative media and Indonesian netizens in the past month.
Pronounced anti-gay sentiments surfaced in late January when the minister for technology, research and higher education, Muhammad Nasir, called for gay and lesbian groups to be banned from university campuses.
His statement came as a reaction to the existence of a counselling group for gays and lesbians, the Support Group and Resource Centre on Sexuality Studies (SGRC), at the University of Indonesia. He was quoted as saying the group was a threat to Indonesian “values and standard of morality”. The minister later retreated from his statement, but it has put the organisation and the LGBT community in the hot seat.
Indonesia’s conservative media, such as the Islamic daily Republika and the country’s active social media users, started to denounce the counselling group for destroying morals and spreading the LGBT “virus”.
The messaging app LINE has also removed LGBT-themed emojis from its store, after coming under pressure from the Communications Ministry.
The attacks against the SGRC have reached members of the LGBT community in their everyday lives. They are being disowned by their families, bullied by friends and questioned by campus officials.
The hatred and threats directed at gays and lesbians are manifestations of moral panic over homosexuality.
Attacks against the LGBT community in Indonesia are not new. In 2000, the Ka’bah Youth Movement, a radical Islamic youth group, stormed the commemoration of World AIDS Day attended by 350 transgender women in Kaliurang, Central Java. Ten years later, in March 2010, the Islamic Defenders Front attacked a regional meeting of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association in Surabaya.
Interestingly, the recent debate on the so-called “LGBT threat” surfaced just days after the Islamic State terrorist attacks in Jakarta. Comparing the quick and often lighthearted response to the Jakarta attacks to the longevity and hostility of the “LGBT threat” discourse on social media, Indonesia seems to be more troubled by sexual matters than terrorism.
Preserving structural violence
Moral panics can serve as an indicator of what a society categorises as good and bad. It exposes power relations in the society. Those who can label what is evil hold supremacy over the “evils”.
Moral panics also serve as an important tool to maintain structural violence. This recent anti-gay uproar shows the social and political standing of LGBT people in Indonesian society is still extremely vulnerable.
The dominant heterosexist and homophobic society still holds a belief that homosexuality is a social pathology that must be abolished. Hence, LGBT people in Indonesia cannot enjoy their rights as full citizens.
LGBT rights activism
Except for sharia-ruled Aceh province, there is no law on homosexuality in Indonesia.
Indonesia has a growing number of NGOs and civil movements that focus on LGBT issues. They have so far responded to the onslaughts with dignity and courage.
A gay rights group in Indonesia, the LGBTIQ forum, has filed a summons – the first step towards a libel suit – against Republika for its January 25 front-page headline “LGBT a serious threat”.
The chairman of gay rights organisation Suara Kita, Hartoyo, has written an open letter to Indonesian President Joko Widodo demanding that the government protect LGBT rights to freedom of expression.
The Aliansi Satu Visi, a coalition of 22 rights organisations, declared its objections to any forms of discrimination and violence against LGBT people.
Organisations working on issues of sexual reproductive health, such as the Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association , and women’s organisations, such as the Indonesian Women’s Coallition, have also shown support for LGBT rights.
A test for LGBT movement
The struggle for LGBT rights in Indonesia still has a long way to go. For the movement to succeed in getting the state to protect LGBT people and promote their rights, LGBT groups need to build alliances with state and political institutions.
This is far from easy, especially with the rise of Islamic conservatism, which is reflected in the way numerous “Islamic” online media promote homophobic attitudes.
But if the government is serious about creating a tolerant and caring society, it should work with the LGBT community, human rights activists and the media to campaign for tolerance and respect for diversity.
It should strengthen law enforcement in relation to LGBT rights protection. The government should also investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence against LGBT people.
Does the fatwa on homosexuals in Indonesia matter?
2 avril 2015, 02:16 CEST
Irwan Martua Hidayana
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Indonesia
Photo: The Indonesia Ulema Council issued a fatwa that says same-sex relations should be punished by death. from nito/www.shutterstock.com
Talking about religion and homosexuality can be like mixing water with oil. They don’t go well together.
Discourses on homosexuality are part of religion’s long history, particularly among Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Broadly speaking, these religions do not tolerate homosexuality and consider it a sin. Although there are exceptions within those faiths. Even Pope Francis, who has spoken out against same-sex marriage, has said that people “shouldn’t be marginalised” just because of their sexuality.
Recently, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Council of Indonesian Ulema (MUI) issued a fatwa (an Islamic legal edict) condemning homosexuality. This came around the time the Indonesian government carried out a flurry of executions of drug traffickers on death row, which prompted international pressure against Indonesia’s policy on the death penalty. In its edict, the MUI suggested that same-sex relations to be added to the list of crimes punishable with death.
The MUI also recommended the government to set up rehabilitation centres to cure “perverts”. They argued that perversion is increasing in the society. Aside from sexual molestation, the MUI included homosexuality as perverted.
Reaction from LGBT community
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia has responded to the fatwa in a calm manner. Suara Kita (Our Voice), an LGBT rights organisation, wrote on its website that the MUI has a right to its opinion as much as Suara Kita has the right to dismiss the fatwa.
A prominent member of the LGBT community, Bhimanto Suwastoyo, who is the deputy chief of the Jakarta Globe, said that he did not think much of the fatwa.
Aside from the calm response from the LGBT community, what are the implications of the MUI’s edict in the struggle for LGBT rights in Indonesia?
Indonesia and LGBT rights
While more and more countries acknowledge the rights of LGBT people through same-sex marriage laws, Indonesia actively obstructs international advancement of LGBT rights.
Last year, Indonesia, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, was one of the countries that opposed the passing of a UN Human Rights Council LGBT resolution.
Indonesia does not explicitly ban same-sex relations in its criminal code. However, under Indonesia’s anti-pornography law, homosexuality is defined as a sexual deviance.
The sharia-ruled Aceh province in Sumatra bans same-sex relations, with a sentence of up to 100 public floggings. Palembang, another province in Sumatra, also criminalises same-sex relations with a penalty of up to six months imprisonment.
Fuel for discrimination
The MUI’s fatwa will most likely not be implemented in Indonesia’s legal system. Indonesia’s religious minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said he did not agree with the MUI. He argues homosexuality is an individual’s choice.
But the fatwa’s existence may be used by religious vigilante groups to attack Indonesia’s LGBT community. Islamic edicts from the MUI are not legally binding. However, the state and Muslim society in Indonesia often use a fatwa to solve Islam-related matters. Lawmakers often refer to MUI fatwas in drafting many state laws, such as the law on halal products and hajj management.
Even though the fatwa is not legally binding, for some Muslim conservatives it is more than enough to ban homosexuality in public spaces. It can become a foundation for many policies and practices that reinforce hetero-normative and binary gender systems.
Religious vigilantes have previously attacked events organised by LGBT groups. In 2010, they attacked the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in Surabaya and the Q!Film Festival in Jakarta. In October 2010, the MUI urged the national censorship board to ban any movies that promote homosexuality.
Through the fatwa, the MUI label homosexuality as a sin, unnatural and immoral. By releasing edicts, the MUI tries to play a role as Indonesia’s morality police and the guardian of the faith of Muslim society.
For the MUI, the objection to homosexuality is definite, without room for critical discussion. Many Muslim people follow the MUI’s line of thinking and believe that homosexuality has no place in Islam. Criticising its view of Islam can be perceived as opposition to Islamic law.
The change role of the MUI
The MUI is a non-government Islamic organisation established by the late president Suharto in 1975. Suharto used the organisation to gain political support from diverse Islamic organisations.
When Suharto established the MUI, there were many Islamic groups that were political with the intention to replace the state ideology Pancasila with Islam. A key role of the MUI was to convince other Islamic organisations to accept Pancasila as state ideology. Accepting Pancasila would mean abandoning their political intention of establishing Islam as a state ideology. The Islamic groups would have to recognise pluralism as inherent in Indonesian society.
After the fall of Suharto’s dictatorial rule in 1998, political Islam began to re-emerge. This has affected the way the MUI responds to socio-religious problems in Indonesia.
The MUI has since become more in favour of Islam and moved away from the notion of pluralism. It seems to ignore Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), the national motto. It attempts to impose its authoritative interpretation of Islam on Indonesian society.
For instance, in 2005, the MUI issued a fatwa that banned pluralism, secularism and liberalism. The MUI view pluralism the same way as it views syncretism (the combination of different forms of belief or practices) and religious relativism: as a threat to Islamic belief, as it can lead to heresy.
Beyond dividing society into ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’
By issuing the recent fatwa, the MUI categorised members of the LGBT community as —to borrow philosopher Judith Butler’s term – the abject. The creation of the abject aims to ensure “normal” behaviour. The boundaries between “normal” and “abnormal” are always scrutinised by the family, school, community, state apparatus and religious institutions. To make the “abnormal” conform to social norms, they are stigmatised, marginalised and attacked.
However, LGBT communities and organisations in Indonesia have shown that they refuse to be labelled as the abject or “abnormal”. They continue to fight for their rights. What keeps them going are lessons from past experiences of other movements and solidarity from other human rights groups.
The MUI is not the only voice on Islamic interpretation in Indonesia. There are a number of Muslim scholars who are critical of the MUI’s strict interpretations of Islam. For example, noted Islamic scholar Musdah Mulia has proposed a humanist interpretation of Islam. In 2009, she argued that there is a room in Islam for gay, lesbian and other non-normative sexualities.
Mulia’s view on Islam is based on the central principles of justice, virtue, equality, wisdom, compassion, pluralism and human rights. These leave no place for discrimination and hatred. For Mulia, the reinterpretation of Islamic texts must be done contextually, not literally, with reference to the true objective of Islamic legislation.
By adopting this view of Islam, talking about religion and homosexuality will no longer feel like mixing oil and water.