Wednesday, September 7, 2016

INDONESIAN ‘ZINAPHOBIA’, HOMOPHOBIA AND THE ‘BUKAN-BUKAN’ STATE



Xenophobia is the fear or contempt of anything foreign, right? It’s something that lately Indonesia has displayed plenty of, despite the fact that so much of our cultural, political and religious identity is not indigenous to the archipelago. Yes, including Islam, which came in the 13th century through Sufi traders from Gujarat, India.

Well, on top of xenophobia, now we also have zina-phobia. Zina? Is that a girl’s name? Nope, you are thinking of Xena, the warrior princess. This is zina (or zinah in Indonesian), which is Arabic for adultery or fornication, whether it be extramarital sex, premarital sex, casual sex and naturally, same-sex sex.

Islam — like any other religion — bans marriage between a man and a man, and a woman and a woman. Automatically, zinaphobia includes homophobia. In Islam, zina is considered haram, i.e. a criminal act, according to religious law.

So how does religious law creep into the Constitutional Court (MK)? Many of the justices want to have casual sex — any sex outside of marriage — outlawed. According to Patrialis Akbar, one of the court’s nine justices for the 2013 to 2018 term: “Our freedom is limited by moralistic values as well as religious values. This is what the declaration of human rights doesn’t have. It’s totally different [from our concept of human rights] because we’re not a secular country; this country acknowledges religion,” he said (see “MK justices want casual sex outlawed”, The Jakarta Post, Aug. 24).

Oh yeah? There are 95 other countries in the world that do acknowledge religion, but still consider themselves secular, for example the US, France and Turkey — before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s staunch secularism into an Islamist authoritarian regime, that is.

According to Ahmet T. Kuru from Diego State University, there are four types of states: religious states (e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican), states with one official religion (e.g. England, Greece, Denmark), secular states and antireligion states (e.g. China, North Korea, Cuba). Kuru places Indonesia firmly in the secular category, which aligns with the decision made by our founding fathers to protect Indonesia’s Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity).

Among secular states, there are two kinds of secularism: passive secularism, like in the US, which allows public visibility of religious symbols, and active secularism, like in France (and previously Turkey), which prohibits religious symbols, hence the controversy over the burkini ban.

Indonesia actually adopts passive secularism, like the US. But as many of our politicians and leaders are so fond of saying, Indonesia is not secular, nor is it religious.

This prompted the late Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Indonesia’s fourth president, to say Indonesia is a negara bukan-bukan (neither-this-nor-that state).

In Indonesian, bukan means “not”, but bukan-bukan means “absurd”! Hey, maybe it’s better to have an absurd state than an Islamist authoritarian regime that the likes of Patrialis seem to want to impose, stripping people of their rights.

Incidentally, Patrialis, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is precisely about moral principles or norms that describe universal, common standards of human behavior and safeguard them by law. You’d know that, if you just Googled it. And you call yourself a lawyer? What a disgrace!

To think he was law and human rights minister from 2009 to 2011. His performance as minister was deemed poor and, in 2013, as a result of a lawsuit by legal activists, the Jakarta State Administrative Court (PTUN) stripped Patrialis of his position in the Constitutional Court. His appointment was considered to be lacking an accountable and transparent selection process.

However, in 2014 then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono nominated him again via the House of Representatives, as Patrialis is from the National Mandate Party (PAN) and the then chair was Hatta Rajasa, Yudhoyono’s in-law. Nepotistic politics as ever.

Why are conservatives so hung up about sex anyway? Patrialis thinks adultery is the root of society’s evils. Well yeah, adultery involves rooting, but I could think of so many greater evils: violence, greed, hypocrisy and corruption, which incidentally, Akil Mochtar, the former head of the Constitutional Court, was indicted for, as was Suryadarma Ali, former religious affairs minister.

So much for Indonesia being a negara hukum (rule-of-law state). Maybe so, but it does not prevent legal institutions from being incompetent and corrupt. In fact, the reason they resort to moralistic exhortations is to cover up their gross failings. Talk about overcompensation.

Let’s look at what the law and the Constitution are supposed to do: protect citizens. All citizens, including minorities. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is a minority group whose rights are unprotected. If the law banning casual sex is passed, they would be criminalized just by the mere fact that they exist.

As in many other countries, the LGBT community in Indonesia is under constant siege. Sexuality has become a battleground for the confrontation between advocates of democracy and human rights on the one hand, and antidemocracy forces, which include conservative religious groups.

The most ferocious adherents of zinaphobia that have emerged recently come from the so-called Family Love Alliance (AILA), who appear to be more mainstream but are just as dangerous as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), who use violence in their “moral crusade”. 

Upholding LGBT rights means upholding democratic principles. Increasingly, the LGBT community has made successful alliances with other progressive forces, championing their cause as part of a wider struggle for human rights, freedom and dignity. This is happening worldwide, even in the conservative Middle East.

Fine, but it’s against Islam! Not really. Apparently there are no clear-cut verses in the Quran that unambiguously condemn homosexuality. Some even doubt the authenticity of hadith that denounce LGBT people. Currently the Rumah Kita Bersama (KitaB) Foundation, established in 2010, an Islamic think tank supported by activists from 30 pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) across Indonesia, is conducting a study of classical Quranic texts on the theme of LGBT. They plan to publish the results in a book in the middle of next year. Should be interesting — not to mention controversial!

The vision of the Rumah KitaB is “the realization of independent, intelligent, civilized and dignified social order that upholds justice and humanity, equality and […] diversity”. Sounds like a democratic vision to me, because in fact, democracy and Islam are totally in sync.

This means Patrialis, AILA and their ilk are not only undemocratic, but also un-Islamic!

The writer Julia Suryakusuma  is the author of Julia’s Jihad.

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