From Asia Times

Indonesia: Playboy and hardcore violence
By Gary LaMoshi

The debut of Playboy Indonesia this month unfolded predictably. The magazine flew off the shelves despite its premium price of Rp39,000 (US$4.35). Religious leaders condemned the publication as immoral, despite its total lack of pictures of naked women.

The Islam Defenders Front (FPI, for Front Pembela Islam) leader Habib Rizieq threatened to "go to war" against Playboy last week, just before white-robed protesters pelted the publication's offices with stones while police watched passively. Muslim extremists returned the next day, but Playboy's office had already moved. FPI and other thugs settled for harassing and intimidating vendors and seizing the few remaining unsold copies with impunity.

Reaction to the attack from Indonesia's leaders was also predictable. Police Commander Wilardi Wizard, whose officers failed to stop the violence, urged the magazine to stop publishing because of the strong public reaction. Wizard's boss, Police General Firman Gani, suggested that the publisher leave town.

Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammidyah, one of Indonesia's allegedly mainstream Muslim mass organizations with some 30 million members, blamed Playboy for the violence and called for the magazine to cease publishing. Political leaders who dared to speak out apologized for the constitutional freedoms that allowed Playboy to publish and pledged to search harder for a pretext to close the magazine.

Violence, real and threatened, was a hallmark of the Suharto era, and the habit has stuck. The Pemuda Pancasila youth wing that provided goon squads for the New Order hasn't disappeared; it has been copied by political parties and religious groups. As Suharto's corrupt machine lives on without a firm guiding hand, and law enforcement remains for sale, there's added opportunity and incentive for people to take the law into their own hands.

The old power centers of the Suharto era have not disappeared and remain largely above the law. The murder of civil-rights activist Munir Said Thalib that independent investigators linked to military intelligence officials was a stunning reminder that might still makes right in Indonesia's new democratic era.

Radical Islam and the Indonesian military are usually considered to be on opposite sides, but in fact they have numerous convergent interests, including undermining civil society and civil liberties. Each side probably figures that after eliminating its common enemies it can prevail over the other.

The Playboy attack is another sign that strong-arm tactics pay dividends for Indonesia's Muslim extremists. An editor admitted on Monday that the magazine might not publish a second issue, despite strong advertising and newsstand sales for the premiere edition.

Whose traditional values?
The Playboy attack also comes amid a national debate on a proposed anti-pornography bill, which was energized by Playboy's announced plans for an Indonesian edition last year. Ostensibly, the bill sets common community standards for decency, yet it is hard to find a common standard in a country as populous and diverse as Indonesia.

Opponents see the bill as another step in the creeping Islamization of Indonesia, a nation that has the world's largest Muslim population but also a substantial non-Muslim minority. Many proposed standards, such as requiring women to be covered head to toe, aren't representative of Indonesian values and customs but are imported from the Middle East. "In Java, the tradition is here," said a Muslim woman, drawing a hand just above her bust to indicate the cut of native dress. "And in Bali it's here," she added, drawing a hand across her waist.

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS, for Parti Keadilan Sejahtera), an Islamic party that made eye-opening gains in the 2004 general election running on an anti-corruption platform, is a key player in the anti-pornography drive. But pushing the extreme Islamic side of its agenda rather than the clean government part has already eroded its popularity.

In legitimate elections going back as far as 1955, Islamic parties have consistently polled about 38% of the vote, with about half of that going to extremists advocating imposition of sharia law, such as PKS. Even with its emphasis on civic virtue, the PKS surge came at the expense of other Islamic parties nationally, rather than expanding the base. Limited popular support explains why FPI and other radicals prefer rocks and sticks to the ballot box. If violence is as American as apple pie, then strong-arm tactics to influence public policy or frighten rivals is as Indonesian as nasi goreng (fried rice).

The Muslim-military nexus
Links between Muslim extremists and the military go way back.

After the generals seized power from president Sukarno in 1965, Islamic groups carried out many of the estimated 500,000 murders of reputed communists across the country. Military agents revived Islamic militias, then scapegoated them in the 1970s - a key step in radicalizing Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, the alleged spiritual leader of the reputedly al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombing and other attacks targeting Westerners.

In 1999 the military supplied and transported jihadi recruits to Ambon and Sulawesi to escalate Christian-versus-Muslim violence that cost tens of thousands of lives. While the recruits likely fought sincerely in the name of Islam, they were following the military's game plan to undermine president Abdurrahman Wahid. Similarly, devotion may motivate FPI raiders that attack alcohol vendors during Ramadan, but they reportedly hit only those establishments that skip payments to local police.

Seeing FPI's antics in terms of corruption or general lawlessness misses the bigger picture. As long as police, politicians and the public continue granting immunity to anyone wearing a white robe and waving the Koran, unwelcome questions are raised.

Perpetrators of last July's assault on a complex of the Ahmadiyah religious sect in Bogor not only went unpunished but achieved their objective: the sect left the area and went underground. Questioned about the Ahmadiyah attack, Indonesian Ulemas Council deputy chairman Ma'ruf Amin, also a member of mainstream Nahdlatul Ulama with 40 million members, shrugged, "No data [have] been presented to me on that. But anyway, Ahmadiyah has been widely known as a heretical sect. Should the government protect them?"

That remark didn't come at Friday prayers in Central Java but in an interview in The Jakarta Post, without a challenge from the public, religious leaders or the government. In their new democracy, Indonesians have already shown themselves to be sophisticated voters, but they remain less discerning in religious matters.

Indonesia wants to project an image of a moderate, tolerant Muslim-majority state - a picture that the US, Australia, Britain and friends are keen to push as part of their "global war on terror", as well as counterbalancing China's growing influence in the region. But to live up to that ideal, Indonesia can't keep interpreting its constitutional guarantee of religious freedom as freedom for Muslims (or local majorities in Hindu Bali or Catholic Manado in North Sulawesi) to dominate and suppress other beliefs.

Indonesians also must stop tolerating violent extremists. A tradition of ignoring mistreatment and abuse as long as it doesn't encroach on one's personal circle helps explain how such an affable nation could have been ranked as one of the world's leading police states for more than three decades. National public opinion didn't decisively oppose terrorist bombers whose targets ranged from the Jakarta Stock Exchange to Jimbaran Bay's seafood restaurants on the beach in Bali until Vice President Jusuf Kalla pressured Muslim leaders to preach against terror last October.

This tolerance of Islamic violence could enable a small minority of radicals to impose their views on a compliant Indonesian majority. As in Pakistan, the religious extremists could find a happy accommodation with the military. We may come to see the good side of the Suharto era yet: indulging the strongman's children and golfing buddies beats pandering to religious extremists who sow violence.

Gary LaMoshi has worked as a broadcast producer and print writer and editor in the US and Asia. Longtime editor of investor rights advocate, he's also a contributor to Slate and, and a counselor for Writing Camp (
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