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Should Aceh’s Religious Leaders Demand an Apology from Serambi Too?

February 16, 2010

Today on facebook Aceh’s activist community had a good laugh sharing a picture of an advertisement that appeared on page 3 in today’s Serambi, Aceh’s oldest and most widely read provincial newspaper. The ad promotes a “late nite party” event tomorrow night (17 Feb 2010) at a karaoke and disco club in Medan, Sumatra’s largest city in the neighboring province of Sumatra Utara (North Sumatra). It shows a suggestive “come hither” close-up of scandal-monger artis Sarah Azhari, the headline entertainment at this party; the ad also promises supporting entertainment from go-go dancers and two female DJs (very trendy these days!).

Advertisement in Serambi, 16 Feb 2010, p.3

Advertisement in Serambi, 16 Feb 2010, p.3

The event sponsors evidently think it was a wise investment to place this ad in Serambi. In other words, they expect more than a few men of means in Aceh, with only one day’s notice, will drop everything and make the trip to Medan to attend this seductive bacchanal. Just for reference, a bus trip to Medan from Banda Aceh takes 12 hours, and from Langsa (Aceh’s closest metropolitan area from Medan) at least three hours. A flight from Banda takes a half hour but costs more, and perhaps already overbooked.

My Acehnese friends were chuckling today on facebook because the ad reveals part of the hypocrisy behind Aceh’s implementation of Islamic shariah law. How reassuring it must be to know that just across the border Medan is always happy to oblige Aceh’s unmet needs for those who can afford it. My friends conclude, correctly I believe, that shariah law in practice only applies to Aceh’s poor.

The layers of hypocrisy in Aceh’s legislated piety are easy to unravel, but I want to build upon today’s amusing example in Serambi with another, because just above the advertisement on the very same page of today’s newspaper was an article about the Banda Aceh Ulama’s Consultative Assembly’s [Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama Kota Banda Aceh, or MPU] reaction to Aceh’s first transsexual beauty pageant that was held last Saturday night. The MPU demands that the Miss Transsexual Aceh 2010 pageant organizing committee submit a public apology in print and online to the people of Aceh for deceiving the MPU when they first sought permission to hold the event. The MPU were deceived, they claim, because the organizing committee claimed the pageant was a fundraising event for social and cultural awareness of Aceh. Never mind that technically a beauty pageant is not inherently at odds with the organizer’s stated goals to raise awareness of Aceh’s society and culture. In addition to an apology, the MPU expects that the committee will not send the pageant winner (Miss Aceh Utara! Yay!) to the national level pageant because it pollutes Aceh’s image in the eyes of all Indonesians. If there is no apology, the MPU threatens to convene a plenary session and take “further action,” whatever that means.

Contestants looking their finest in traditional dresses during the Social Cultural Transvestite Queen beauty pageant in Banda Aceh over the weekend. The Indonesian Ulema Council has said it would tolerate such contests as a form of entertainment, but would step in at the first sign of anything pornographic, especially contestants revealing too much skin. (AP Photo)

Transsexual Pageant All Right in Aceh as Long as Clothes Stay On: MUI

I should note here that the English language press in Indonesia and abroad has done an excellent job covering this courageous event in Aceh. In particular, I give credit to The Jakarta Globe for their coverage; each image on the left, in chronological order, links to the Globe’s three articles on this event. The  big ironic point documented in these articles is that the MPU originally gave their permission to hold this event, and it sure seems like they knew beforehand that it was a beauty pageant! But they seem to have backpedaled after it got so much press coverage, which they specifically complain about in the Serambi article.

Three transsexual contestants show off their outfits.

Under the Shadow of Shariah Law, Transsexuals Take to the Stage in Aceh in Rare Beauty Contest

Unlike the Jakarta Globe articles linked to the pageant pictures on the left, today’s Serambi article makes no effort to capture both sides of the story. There are no quotes from the pageant contestants nor from the pageant organizers, who all had a lot to say about Aceh’s society and culture, the position and challenges of transsexuals there, and their thoughts as Acehnese Muslims about the formal implementation of shariah law. Instead, Serambi‘s idea of cross-checking the MPU’s hastily convened press conference was to see what the Aceh Islamic Student Union (KAMMI) thought about the controversy. In case you were wondering, KAMMI supports the MPU’s official outrage at their own embarrassing press coverage.

Aceh Shariah Leaders Blast Transsexual Beauty Pageant

Aceh Shariah Leaders Blast Transsexual Beauty Pageant

Ah Serambi! We can always count on you to act as the one-sided mouthpiece for Islamic orthodoxy in Aceh. We know that in the past you have refused to publish the op-ed pieces of young Acehnese intellectuals who oppose shariah legislation in Aceh. We also know that your coverage of shariah law violations of the sexual variety implicitly endorses vigilante mob violence. None of this surprises us. But what about today’s advertisement promising “elegant love” tomorrow night in Medan featuring go-go dancers and sexy Sarah Azhari? Even as Serambi writes articles condemning PG-13 level entertainment in Banda Aceh previously endorsed by the MPU, on the same page they allow promotion of R-rated (with hopeful expectations of X-rated, no doubt) entertainment across the provincial border. I wonder what the MPU, HUDA, Dinas Shariah, WH, KAMMI and other religious institutions that support shariah law in Aceh have to say about that?  I wonder if the MPU, HUDA, Dinas Shariah, WH, or KAMMI will convene a press conference and demand that Serambi publicly retract the advertisement, return the advertising fee to the event sponsors, and issue a formal apology to the people of Aceh, in print and online, for tempting them away from their legislated path to piety?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. silvia permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:11

    Interesting staff in your blog!
    We might have something more to talk about

  2. February 19, 2010 08:33

    I am so glad you shared your comments on this, Mas. Kebetulan Kelas 2 mau berbicara tentang hukum Syariah di Aceh minggu depan. Ini bisa dijadikan bacaan tambahan yang menarik untuk memberi gambarang tentang praktek-praktek yang terbaru di situ. Makasih banget!

  3. February 21, 2010 06:13

    Great post!

  4. Frank Suai permalink
    May 2, 2010 14:30

    You need to think from different perspective. Think if you were an Achehness. It is not always all the the things from western are good. Most of Aceh are moslems and it is their right to have Syaria law. You have to respect it and don’t push them to accept what u think is right.

    Just because an ad at local newspaper you conclude..”that shariah law in practice only applies to Aceh’s poor” Oh come on.. I’ve been in Banda Aceh personally and I’ve never seen any high traffic or over booked flight from Banda Aceh to Medan due to some “seductive” artists coming in to Medan. Sorry Man, you conclusion is dull.

    • May 2, 2010 20:37

      Hi Frank. Thanks for your comments. I was very careful in my post to reflect the opinions of the Acehnese readers of Serambi who saw the Sarah Azhari advertisement. Nowhere in my post do I question the rights of Acehnese to implement shariah law. It is certainly their right as long as it adheres to basic national human rights laws and international conventions in which Indonesia is signatory. I would also add that the laws need to be passed democratically, then implemented consistently, and finally represented fairly…and this is what my post is about. Those waria in the pageant are Acehnese too, they are also Muslim, and like nearly all Acehnese they believe in shariah law too (even as they may disagree with its current and obviously flawed implementation). It’s a pity that Serambi never thought to ask them what they think of MPU’s embarrassing flip-flop over the event. It’s a pity too that Serambi would print a one-sided condemnation of Acehnese waria on the one hand, and then accept advertising money for erotic events in Medan on the other when that clearly violates the spirit of shariah legislation in Aceh more than any pageant with fully clothed and covered participants. My post here does not condemn shariah; it condemns the hypocrisy surrounding shariah’s current implementation by Aceh’s religious leaders and its representation by Serambi. As for the law’s disproportionate implementation against the poor, the record speaks for itself… well-connected politicians caught in the act (so to speak) successfully evade prosecution while villagers suffer the rattan whip. It’s a public secret that Medan is an erotic playground for the Acehnese men who can afford it. Why else would the Sarah Azhari event organizer’s place their ad in Serambi in the first place? Beyond Serambi, there is plenty of robust debate on these issues in Aceh, and I have tried to reflect in this post some of what my Acehnese friends here have told me. Please don’t try to turn this into a polemic about the west vs Islam; my argument was a little more subtle than that, and I expect your response to be as well.

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