Pending Anti-Pornography Legislation Test Muslims in Indonesia

July 29, 2006

Source: The Boston Globe

Wire Service: Reuters

On July 29, 2006 Reuters reported, "A battle brewing over a draft anti-smut law has laid bare deep divisions within Indonesia and, say critics, threatens its traditionally tolerant approach to Islam. With parliament back in session from August 18, the world's biggest Muslim nation faces what could prove a defining moment. Pressured by growing demands from Muslim activists, lawmakers are expected to hammer out the legislation in the coming months. Just what kind of bill emerges -- and how much liberal Muslims, secular nationalists, and non-Muslim minorities water it down beforehand -- remains to be seen. Already, proposed changes would remove kissing in public from its catalog of proscribed acts. Other revisions exempt art and cultural activities from censorship, and reduce the chance of vigilante enforcement by Muslim hardliners. Supporters say tough measures are necessary to protect the public from corrupting Western influence. Although barred by law, explicit material is available with relative ease in Indonesia, and television programs regularly feature bared flesh and sexual innuendo. Indonesia's population of 220 million is roughly 85 percent Muslim. 'We need to protect our young generation from moral degradation,' said Tifatul Sembiring, chairman of the fast-rising Islamist party, PKS. 'There has not been an anti-pornography bill in Indonesia, while (such laws) exist in a western liberal country like America. ... In recent years, Indonesia has seen rising popularity of modest dress for women and men, increased use of Arabic honorifics and phrases, and national efforts to regulate citizens' behavior. For example, a proposed new criminal code would impose harsh penalties on unmarried couples living together and other private acts deemed to violate social and religious norms."