Anti-porn law a threat to Indonesian freedoms | South China Morning Post
  • Mon
  • Jan 26, 2015
  • Updated: 5:48pm

Anti-porn law a threat to Indonesian freedoms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 May, 2006, 12:00am

Indonesia's secular identity is under threat from a proposed, Islamic-inspired anti-pornography law that would satisfy increasingly militant Muslims but begin curtailing the rights of the majority moderate followers of the faith. There is no room for such legislation in a country fighting to maintain the democratic freedoms it won so boldly by forcing dictator Suharto's resignation eight years ago.


The overwhelmingly Muslim-majority nation of 210 million already has laws curtailing pornography; implementation is difficult, though - the rule of law is weak due to corrupt judges and police used to the ways of autocrats rather than democrats.


For conservative Indonesians, the result is the exploitation of women and children and the everyday prospect of being exposed to offensive images on news-stands and through the media.


But the bill before parliament goes much further than the law that exists, banning kissing in public and erotica of all forms. Be it erotic dancing or poetry, it would be illegal if the new law was passed.


There is no universal measure of standards of decency; each society has its own customs, traditions and beliefs. The Muslim faith is conservative by nature, but not all Indonesians follow the religion - the country has significant populations of Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.


As elsewhere in the Islamic world since the US-led war on terrorism began in 2001, Indonesia also has a small and vocal number of fundamentalist Muslims with values far more conservative and traditional than their fellow Indonesians. Up to 100,000 of them turned out in street protests yesterday, demanding approval of the proposed law.


Democracy provides the right to protest, and those who turned out were exercising that principle. Democratically elected nationalist politicians will similarly be exercising their rights when they vote on the proposed anti-pornography law: they are likely to reject it in its present form. That will not dampen the extremist views of a minority of Indonesians, who will continue to push at the edges of the country's fragile democracy. As fundamentalist Muslims elsewhere in the world have shown - in Iran, Saudi Arabia and, most strikingly, under Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime - if they manage to impose their will, basic rights and freedoms will quickly be eroded.


Indonesia's politicians face many challenges: rampant poverty, corruption and the weak rule of law are chief among them. But they must also be alert to extremism, which has tragically led to terrorist attacks targeting foreigners.


Without caution, the democracy Indonesians so bravely won by forcing Suharto from office on May 20, 1998, will be lost.


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