The rising appeal of religiously motivated punishments

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

A similar movement is spreading across the USA, where politicians are looking to see how much anti-gay hatred they can create. It’s seems to be a worldwide movement, effecting all of the religions, that these punishments are becoming more popular. Perhaps the curious thing is why politicians feel that the strictest and most narrow interpretations of traditional beliefs might now be the most popular? There have been centuries when homosexuality was treated as a minor sin, and other centuries when it is treated as a major crime. I wonder what causes a society to favor harsh punishments?

But the most severely punished were the two young gay men, aged 20 and 23, who were filmed, apparently naked, together in March by Islamic vigilantes. They were the ones who lured the unusually large and fierce crowd.

What transpired in Aceh this week is, on one level, the logical extension of sharia in an unruly region that has long been left to its own devices. But many believe that it is more sinister than that: that Aceh’s visible conservatism is an emblem of rising Islamism across Indonesia, where a toxic mix of religion and political opportunism has been percolating for some time.

Earlier this month, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaha Purnama, was jailed for blasphemy in a ruling that shocked many in the country and outside – including near neighbour and regional ally Australia.

Ahok, who is of Chinese descent, had sought to extend his tenure as governor of the capital. During the campaign, he had questioned the legitimacy of a Qur’anic verse about electing non-Muslim leaders. It triggered a vicious, racially charged fight against him that led to his sound defeat by a Muslim rival and a court appearance. He was sentenced to two years for his remarks, effective immediately.

…And only this week – even as the stage was being prepared for Aceh’s public flogging – police in Jakarta arrested 141 gay men in a sauna, even though homosexuality is not against federal law.

“Sharia is contagious,” said Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch Indonesia, about the timing of these events.

Dede Oetomo, a prominent gay rights activist based in East Java, doesn’t hesitate to connect the dots further. “In the grand scheme of things, yes, I think this combination of events constitutes a warm-up for the 2019 national elections,” he told the Guardian.

If current events are a sneak preview of identity politicking, the next presidential election, when the president, Joko Widodo – seen as a moderate, globalist leader – runs for re-election, will be the uncut feature. Many wonder what a Jokowi loss would mean for Indonesia’s fragile secular establishment.

“A major argument of conservative hardliners is that, ‘we will guard you from these awful people’ – gay people, non-Muslims,” said Oetomo. And frankly, he said, that’s pretty attractive to many middle-class voters.

These culture wars are unfolding locally and nationally. Modern Indonesia has been one long lesson in the latent, populist appeal of religion, identity, and tradition against the secular, globalist designs of its postcolonial nation-builders such as Sukarno. When the media and press became free in 1998, after the fall of Suharto, conservative and religious voices were finally allowed to proliferate, and they often spoke louder than the state-controlled liberal rhetoric.

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