Saturday, September 19, 2009

Stop the cruel sharia `qanun' in Aceh

The sharia qanun passed by the Aceh parliament this week is no less dangerous to Indonesia than the recent terrorist attacks in the capital Jakarta. The qanun will allow for adulterers to be stoned to death, and will put Indonesia on a slippery slope, threatening the rights of its people and risking its proud standing as an international beacon of moderate Islam.

Where the July bombings helped unite Muslims across the country in outrage at the barbarism and inhumanity of radical Islamists, most startlingly, the stoning bill has elicited little public condemnation. Only a handful of human rights groups have voiced their concerns at a law that grossly abuses the rights of Acehnese.

In fact, if the latest qanun is implemented, it will be time to stop referring to Indonesia as an example of civilized and moderate Islam. It will be time to start referring to Indonesia as the new Pakistan of Southeast Asia. Well Indonesia is not yet Pakistan, but it will not be too long before it becomes one. If politicians continue to accommodate hard-liners, allowing this type of conservative sharia to flourish, Indonesia is only a step away from being added the list of Islamic pariah countries that treat their citizens inhumanely. It will only be a few more years before Banda Aceh is the next Peshawar and East Java is the next Swat Valley. In fact, Indonesia may become worse than Pakistan, because even there people are not stoned to death.

There is still time to stop the folly. The central and provincial governments need to strongly object to and forbid the enactment of the law. This must be done soon, though. Even if the governor does not sign off on the qanun, the law will automatically take effect 30 days after its approval by parliament. If this is the case, the government should obstruct this barbaric law by not allocating any budget to the sharia institutions. In fact, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who is opposed to sharia law, should consider scrapping the Sharia Affairs Office and the Sharia Police that were created in the province by the old corrupt governor, Abdullah Puteh.

There are a few political options to consider. Because the law was passed by outgoing members of parliament in Aceh, the new legislators can still revoke the law. Aceh's new parliament can make two arguments under the Helsinki MOU, which determined power arrangements in Aceh: First, the old parliament has no right to issue any new law; and second, all Aceh laws must follow internationally agreed-upon human rights standards.

Because stoning people to death is in direct contravention of human rights, the law is invalid and therefore should be canceled.

Third, and as a last resort, Jakarta has the power to overturn any local regulations that go against the Constitution and national laws. The central government has the right, if not duty, to block this law that is not in the line with the Constitution, which promises to protect human dignity across Indonesia.

Laws can only be changed though with public support. Sharia proponents who are willing to push the country to this intolerable limit have been met unchallenged by their moderate opponents, who, fearful of a backlash, are slow to speak out. Indeed, the actual problem of Islamic conservativism is not the conservatives, but the moderates who are too cautious in their opposition.

In Aceh, where the law was introduced, the only group actively voicing their opinions are, unfortunately, not those who oppose, but those who support the qanun. They are the students and legislator associated with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the Islamist Party that is in a coalition with the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's Democratic Party.

Despite the rhetoric of the PKS nationally that it is a moderate Islamist group, they are the ones pushing for quick and further implementation of sharia in Aceh. This type of qanun benefits neither Yudhoyono's reputation nor the people in Aceh. It is time for the central government to speak out against this law, even though it would mean facing proponents of sharia in Aceh who are part of the party that supported Yudho-yono in the presidential race.

In fact, this is also a good opportunity to turn upside down the whole process of enacting sharia law in Aceh and Indonesia. The government should strangle the sharia institutions and discourse. It is time for moderate Muslims to say no to the newest sharia in Aceh and any future sharia that insults Islam, Indonesia and the present moderate tradition.

Aguswandi, Cambridge. The writer is a fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead
Center for International Affairs.

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