Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When It Comes to Pornography and More, The Real Crime Is Indonesia’s Hypocrisy

Indonesia’s latest enfant terrible, singer Nazril “Ariel” Irham of the band Peterpan, has been officially detained for his alleged role in the production of homemade sex videos featuring himself and at least two female celebrities. Ariel will no doubt be sacrificed at the altar of the controversial 2008 Anti-Pornography Law.

Legal polemics aside, though, the saga has also revealed an undesirable mask our nation chooses to wear, seemingly with pride: unabashed hypocrisy.

While religious clerics and politicians were busy condemning Ariel and his sex partners’ “immorality,” we also learned that the Web sites featuring the sex clips crashed because of the millions of Indonesians eager to watch them.

The outcry is almost deafening. The mayor of Bandung has declared Ariel persona non grata in his jurisdiction.

A cafe owned by Ariel’s girlfriend, Luna Maya, who is reportedly also in two of the sex clips, faced threats of a raid by Islamic hard-liners.

Our fervor to root out immorality does not stop there. Police have barged into schoolrooms to check whether students have the offending clips on their mobile phones.

In a move that surely infringes on constitutional rights, police officers who routinely stop motorbikes to check for driver’s licenses have now suddenly become morality officers as well, demanding to check people’s mobile phones for pornographic content.

The plain fact of the matter is that Indonesia, despite superficial piety and other self-delusions, is far from being a sexually ascetic nation.

A 2008 survey conducted by the government agency for family planning, BKKBN, indicated that 63 percent of urban teenagers have had premarital sex.

And, to boot, as our morally excellent Minister of Communications Tifatul Sembiring informed us, 97 percent of all our senior high school students have been exposed to pornography.

Nearer the bone, our prostitution industry can rival that of Thailand, and yet officially prostitution does not exist in Indonesia.

No Indonesian law deals effectively with prostitution, hence our brothels are legally nonexistent.

As such, the local government cannot license them and yet they thrive, if only sanctioned by public servants who in all probability extort protection money from pimps and proprietors.

And then, ludicrously, during the Islamic fasting month, these brothels along with other nightlife spots are forbidden from operating.

In the best tradition of Indonesian grand gesturing, then, the government officially forbids something that officially does not exist.

To project an image of perfect piety — at least for a month — the notion of religious freedom and human rights is tossed aside.

Still, this illusion of perfect piety may be destroyed when hard-liners treat recalcitrant nightspots to a dose of religious violence.

If the government fully realizes that sex workers will always be around, then the sensible thing to do is to legalize them.

Several studies conducted among sex workers in Indonesia reveal that many young women were forced into prostitution by economic factors.

Many are sold into it by parents and boyfriends. Then when they are in the industry, they receive no legal protection and are exploited by their pimps.

Few sex workers can escape the vicious cycle, and the main reason for it is that the sex industry is not regulated by law.

A properly regulated sex industry means better protection for sex workers and a surer guarantee against abuse of power by pimps.

However, the problem remains that no lawmaker would have the audacity to introduce such a proposal.

It would amount to political suicide, not because Indonesians are a host of sexually upright citizens, but because we are always more interested in appearances than substance.

When a documentary on the lives of resort boy toys in Bali (“Cowboys in Paradise”) hit the news, authorities made sudden raids on the beaches despite the fact that the cowboys had always been there.

When it was revealed that 70 percent of liquor imports into the country come through Bali ports, all of a sudden we had a group of local lawmakers eager to wage a war against alcohol use.

Ariel’s case is no different. He recorded the clips for his own enjoyment and they were leaked by someone else when he lost his laptop.

Yet this case of breach of privacy has been magnified into a crusade against immorality by religious and conservative factions.

To make matters worse, the government, always vehemently hypocritical in the face of “piety issues,” has joined the bandwagon.

Where was the government when religious thugs turned morality police violated Luna’s constitutional right to own and operate her business as a citizen?

Where is the rule of law when an anarchic militia group such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) takes the law into its own hands?

The government’s own hypocrisy has made it wary of warding off anarchists who victimized Luna.

To do so would be to condone the “immorality” of the actress. Perhaps upholding her rights would be unpopular in the eyes of our hypocritical public.

But to perpetuate such hypocrisy is an even worse crime against democracy and civilization.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer based in Surabaya.

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