Culture wars in Indonesia are too obsessed with sex

JAKARTA – Indonesian Islamic conservatives are back on their moral high horse, taking on young Education and Culture Minister Nadiem Makarim over his campaign against a worrying explosion of sexual harassment on college campuses.

In disconcerting logic, the opposition Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Muslim organization Muhammadiyah are calling for a regulation issued by the 37-year-old minister, which defines sexual violence as lack of consent, promotes sex among students.

A similar logic was applied to a campaign against HIV / AIDS in the 1990s. When the government urged people to use condoms for protection, the Islamic right accused it of encouraging sexual promiscuity.

Commentators like Jakarta Post editor Endy Bayuni can only nod in disbelief. “Who in their right mind would oppose a regulation that seeks to protect students, especially female students, from sexual assault,” he wrote in a recent editorial.

About 7.2 million students attend university in Indonesia, of which 2.9 million are enrolled in the country’s 122 state universities. All will be eligible for the presidential and general elections of 2024, when nationalists and Islamists face each other again.

Since the dawn of democracy in the late 1990s, Indonesia’s religious and ethnic divide has always been highlighted in presidential elections, largely because it is normally a mere choice. between two candidates.

In general elections, only 12-13% of the electorate appear to vote according to religious criteria. But apart from the PKS and the Islam-based United Development Party (PPP), parties are still well aware that they must be sympathetic to the sentiment of the Muslim majority.

United Development Party chairman Muhammad Romahurmuzy in a file photo. Photo: Facebook

This explains why lawmakers removed “consent” from the definition of sexual violence during recent deliberations on the separate Sexual Violence Eradication Bill, claiming it amounted to state approval of relationships. extramarital sex.

Formerly adhering to Sharia law, the PKS now claims to recognize Pancasila, the state’s inclusive ideology, while defining itself as Islamist and socially conservative, all in a back door effort to attract wider support nationwide.

The party won 50 seats out of the 575 seats in parliament in the 2019 parliamentary elections, mostly in West Java, Jakarta and West Sumatra, and seven fewer than its best result in 2009. The PPP won just 19 seats.

The PKS ‘attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement receive strong support from a majority of Muslim voters, with polls showing that being young in Indonesia doesn’t always mean being progressive.

In fact, the 2019 Indonesian Muslims report by research firm Alvara showed that young Indonesians between the ages of 14 and 29 were the dominant age group among those who identify as “puritans and ultra-conservatives.”

However, the numbers reveal little about how young people deal with religious diversity in their daily lives and how student councils might respond to the issue of sexual violence turned into a conversation about promiscuity.

Harvard-trained Makarim, founder of the multi-service platform Gojek, father of three daughters and son of a prominent Jakarta lawyer, issued the regulations in urgent response to growing reports of sexual predators preying on female students.

“No learning can happen without a sense of security,” he said, citing a 2020 survey in which 77% of college professors said they were aware of sexual harassment on their campus. “We have to reach a higher ideal from the point of view of protection.”

Under Indonesian law, sexual violence is only considered a crime when sex takes place without consent. But requests for sexual favors, acts of physical assault and verbal harassment escape sanction or even censorship.

Indonesian high school students in Sumatra celebrate the end of national exams before heading to university. Photo: Agencies

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many complaints have been ignored or covered up by college administrators and that some students who have reported harassment have been expelled or otherwise dissuaded from asserting their legal rights.

Released last August, but only came into effect on November 12, the ministerial decree directs all universities to form a task force to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct, rather than sweeping them under the carpet to save the college from embarrassment.

Muhammadiyah’s position may have a lot to do with the fact that until Makarim was a surprise choice in President Joko Widodo’s second-term government, he traditionally held the education portfolio.

This was because of its early introduction of a reformist platform, dating back to the early 1900s, which mixed religion and secular education as a means of promoting the upward mobility of Muslims. In recent years, however, education has become mired in corruption.

“They (Muhammadiyah) are after his (Nadiem) work,” Bayuni wrote in his November 20 commentary. “For other Muslim groups, however, Nadiem’s ​​decree provided an opening to advance their conservative agenda in the ongoing culture wars.”

The role of Islam in the modern state has long been debated, dating back to the post-independence era. While a large consensus has been reached on this issue, today’s cultural war seems too focused on sexuality.

Indonesia’s largest mass Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, has its own conservative elements – including Vice President Ma’ruf Amin – but has always been more progressive on social issues as a bulwark against extremism.

Amin is a former president of MUI, which is pushing for provisions in a revised Penal Code that prescribe prison terms for adultery, premarital sex and same-sex relationships, and hamper the promotion of contraception and the free flow of vital information. about health.

This photo released on October 7, 2017 by Indonesian police shows men detained during a raid on a gay sauna in Jakarta. Police arrested 58 men in a gay sauna raid over a backlash against gays in the predominantly Muslim country. Photo: AFP / Indonesian Police

The controversial amendment remains blocked in Parliament because of these and other provisions that threaten freedom of expression.

But in the meantime, the legal system has found ways to punish homosexuals using article 296 of the Penal Code on the facilitation of fornication and article 7 of the Pornography Law of 2008 dealing with funding and sex. praise of pornographic acts.

Last year alone, nine young men were jailed for four to five years for engaging in homosexual activity, with the court calling their actions “incompatible with community values”. One of them has since died in prison from an untreated stomach disease.

MUI played an important role in shaping policy during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a period marked by the passage of the deceptive pornography law and a spiral of violence against religious minorities.

Makarim has already met with religious conservatives. Last January, he signed a joint decree with the Ministries of Interior and Religious Affairs prohibiting public schools from requiring students to wear religious clothing, especially the headgear known as jilbab.

The Supreme Court revoked the decree in May – but for violating the 2011 legislation which establishes a framework ensuring that laws and regulations are formulated in “a planned, integrated and sustainable manner” to protect the constitutional rights of people.

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