From Aceh Animus to Nationwide Sweep: Gays under fire in Indonesia

Where many other states in similar positions failed in democratic consolidation in the midsts of long-running military dictatorship, Indonesia’s decentralization has proven bountiful and baneful for the substantive rights for which we would hope in a modern democracy. For example, while running for a second term, Basuki (“Ahok”) Purnama wound up imprisoned after criticizing his Islamist detractors for their extra-scriptural mudslinging. Being both Christian and ethnically Chinese exposed Ahok to the deeply unfortunate mistreatment of both. Initially the Islamists were held at bay by the territorial sovereignty held throughout Indonesia’s 34 provinces (mostly in Aceh, where shariah is codified). With the widespread religious considerations of Pancasila-pluralism being defended by the two major and dominant Islamic civil society organizations (Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammdiyah), we saw the codification of the shariah only in a handful of areas.

Now, as secularist parties begin to court Islamists, they have began to pursue policy that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Also, with Islamists growing more brazen (e.g., Ahok’s plight), we see a push more toward British colonial anti-sodomy laws. Where the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) is contemplating the punishment of blasphemers through the indirect sanction of the government agency responsible for halal certification (giving great power to their aims), the Family Love Alliance (AILA) is pursuing the sexually permissive. The Indonesian Constitutional Court recently rejected an AILA-filed petition to criminalize extramarital sex between consenting adults.

While homosexuality has been far from celebrated in the most populace Muslim majority nation, recent history has been relatively unfamiliar with the current targeting of gay men for arrest and other attack with a high profile multiple-arrest taking place in November, 2016. It was reported also that a group of trans women were targeting by a vigilante-gang last week in Aceh. While at the federal level, homosexuality and transgender behavior and identity are not in violation of any code, in Aceh they both defy the shariah.

One perspective on “making lemonade,” “silver-lined clouds,” and optimistic in the face of despair what not, would say that one potential benefit for Indonesian gay men and lesbian women is the increased likelihood of granted asylum away from governments either directly persecuting or unwilling or unable to protect the potentially and actually persecuted. According to Human Rights Watch, Indonesian Religious Affairs Minister Lukma Hakim Saifuddin offered a position highly recognizable to those who heard the American Christian apologetic of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Saifuddin officially said that LGBT people should  be “nurtured, not shunned…” “We cannot be hostile [toward] nor hate [LGBT people] as they are also citizens of the state. This doesn’t mean that we condone or allow for the LGBT movement to shift the religious values and the identity of the nation.” Saifuddin furthered that religious education or psychological services should be recommended alongside the responsibility of religious adherents “nurtur[ing]” LGBT people by “reacquainting” them with religious teaching and to remind them that “there is no religion that tolerates LGBT action.”


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