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Saturday 10 October 2009

Proclamations of the Red Queen

23rd September 2009

Indonesia: Aceh and Conservative Islamism

Posted by: Craig Young

indonesia.jpgIndonesia has two hundred and thirty million people, six hundred and seventy ethnic groups, and an estimated ninety percent of the population is Muslim, although significant Hindu and Buddhist minorities exist on some of its six thousand inhabited islands. The archipelago has had a troubled history. For its first two decades of independence from Dutch colonialism, Sukarno ruled an Indonesia that was oriented toward the non-aligned movement, until Major General Soeharto overthrew him in a bloody coup in 1965, massacring an estimated five hundred thousand members of the Communist Party of Indonesia. In his turn, he was overthrown in 1998, and the archipelago returned to democratic rule.

What about its lesbi and gay inhabitants? Under Article 292 of the Indonesian Penal Code, it would appear that while same-sex rape and paedophilia are illegal, male homosexuality per se has been effectively decriminalised, a considerable advance on its homophobic neighbour, Malaysia. Like urban gay men anywhere else in the world, our Indonesian counterparts go clubbing, cruising, and congregate in tempat ngebers, specific social spaces for interaction amidst parks, city squares, bridges, wharves and bus stations.

While things are relatively laid-back on Bali and in Jakarta, not all of Indonesia’s archipelago is gay-friendly, although Islam also has to contend with Buddhism and Hinduism. On Sulawesi, for example, traditional transgender gay male bissu shamans had to deal with conservative Islamist pressure groups that denounced their cross-dressing and effeminacy as “unislamic.”

Indonesia’s restive Aceh province is perhaps the best example of conservative Islamist influence, however. Long believed to be the birthplace of Indonesian Islam, this Sumatran enclave retained independence through most of the colonial era until Dutch colonialism tentatively triumphed after a twenty year war. In 1959, Indonesia recognised it as a ’special territory’ -until US oil exploration and Suharto regime repression led to the rise of the Islamist Free Aceh movement. After the regime’s fall, autonomy was restored in 2001, the tsunami claimed 200,000 lives in 2004 and in 2003, their right to shariah law was proclaimed- leading to current problems related to antigay corporal punishment.


Tom Boellstorff: The Gay Archipelago: Princeton University Press, 2005

Tags: Politics · Religion

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