Thursday, January 10, 2013

Aceh is a cautionary example for Indonesia

Since the end of the three decades under military strongman Suharto, Indonesia has emerged as the most vibrant democracy in South East Asia. Yet this new freedom might prove costly to the character of a nation frequently held up as a beacon of moderate Islam. As we are seeing from the Arab Spring, some of the things that emerge after the fall of a dictator are not so nice. The absence of a tough-guy ruler in Indonesia has meant a rise in Saudi-funded Islamic fundamentalism and acts of terror, from bombings targeted at Westerners in Jakarta and Bali, to persecution of Shi'as and Ahmadis.

If Indonesians want a glimpse at a possible future of their nation, they need only peek over at Aceh, a province where Islam reigns supreme. The Acehnese have fought a long struggle for independence, against the Dutch and now against Indonesia, but their fight for self-determination might garner a little more sympathy if they didn't seem so keen to turn Aceh into SE Asia's capital of Islamic lunacy.

The administration of Lhokseumawe, Aceh, is planning to issue a bylaw banning women from straddling motorcycles, arguing that the practice is “improper” in a province governed by Islamic law. Lhokseumawe Mayor Suaidi Yahya said that women should sit sideways on motorcycles, with their legs dangling off to one side. The planned regulation had been discussed with many parties, including local ulema, Suaidi said in his 2013 New Year’s speech. The mayor said that the ban would restore fading local values caused by poor morality and make it easier to differentiate women from men when riding pillion. He said that the planned regulation could in fact uphold the dignity of women in the region.

Unspun has it right. This has nothing to do with what women wear or do, but everything to do with the idea that men are incapable of controlling their basic urges. And when you set such a low standard for men to follow, it's not surprising when they lower themselves to it.

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