Thugs in Religious Clothing, Lady Gaga, and the Dangers of Liberalism

By webadmin on 07:01 pm May 29, 2012
Category Archive

Olin Monteiro

Does anybody really believe that a concert can stir a mass of people to devote themselves to the devil, let alone change them to become immoral individuals? I don’t buy that.

The cancellation of Lady Gaga’s Jakarta show, triggered by a bunch of thugs dressed in religious attire, made headlines all over the world. But do these people even know who Lady Gaga is? Prior to her cancelled Jakarta concert, did they even listen to her songs?

Her scheduled June 3 concert had to be scrapped by promoter Big Daddy Entertainment after the National Police refused to issue a permit following demands from hard-line Islamist groups. A representative of the government warned the promoter to be aware of Indonesian’s traditions and culture and later to “tone down” the show. The pros and cons of Gaga’s show sparked fiery debates between those who support freedom of expression and those who demand the singer to be banned from performing in the capital under a noble morality.
The most shocking statement, however, came from the Jakarta Globe’s editorial piece on Monday. It said the cancellation “was definitely the right decision.” The title itself, “Gaga Concert Is Too Hot for Indonesia,” was a larger issue, as it insinuates the country cannot handle a superstar as big as Gaga.

What surprised me most was the editorial’s last paragraph: “We must accept that Indonesian society is different and that we cannot be expected to be as liberal as other societies.” Cannot be as liberal as other societies? Shocking, isn’t it?

Why is the writer afraid of liberalism? Is liberalism necessarily bad? Can the influence of so-called liberalists change our “Indonesian values” overnight? Is liberalism positively correlated with moral degradation?

I have been blogging for the Globe for a few months now — I’m thankful for the opportunity that allows me to express my thoughts on literature, film and women’s issues — but I am deeply disappointed by the paper’s Monday editorial.

The way I see it, the editorial is a form of withdrawal from the freedom of expression that is expected from a progressive media like the Jakarta Globe. I can’t help but wonder, does the editorial side with Jakarta’s elites or does it really reflect the views of many of its readers?

A failed country is one that cannot protect the rights of its citizens. The demand of a small group of Islamist hard-liners, followed by the police’s refusal to issue a permit, is seen as the rise of powerful conservative Islam in the country. Why did the government make the religious group’s demand such a high priority? Why didn’t the government support its citizens’ cultural rights and the freedom of expression? Something suspicious might be brewing behind all this controversy. It’s either shady business deals or political games.

Lady Gaga is certainly not the first international singer whose costumes, stage designs and songs deal with complexity. Indonesia has hosted numerous international acts who brought about the same level, if not more, of sensuality and provocation in their performances. As far as I’m aware, there hadn’t been any ban or cancellation.

The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) has often acted selfishly. It once stopped an art exhibition that displayed photography and installation works of artists Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar; attacked a number of night clubs in South Jakarta; injured activists during peace demonstration at Monas in 2008; banned an Islamic sect called Ahmadiyah; harassed pluralist activists; violently stopped Canadian writer Irshad Manji’s book discussions; and countless others.

Where have the police gone? To say I’m disappointed with the police is an understatement, as they did not perform their duty to protect the citizens. We Indonesians are taking risks to expressing our faith and our culture. The idea of freedom of expression seems so far away for many Indonesians. There is no protection and security in this country while the FPI spreads hatred and creates chaos.

By supporting groups like the FPI, the media only worsens the situation. With its preachy statement, the Globe gave hard-line religious groups a platform to bombard mass opinions. The media has the power to educate the masses and to influence policymakers. The media must use such power wisely.

The editorial speaks about protecting Indonesia from moral degradation that Lady Gaga brings through “what she sings and the lyrics of her songs. It is about the lack of morality she represents.” Excuse you, Indonesia today is consumed by historical and deep-rooted corruption. Do we really need to bring up morality issue here while the people who run this country themselves lack of morality?

The cancellation neither protects Indonesians from liberalism nor does it save diminished “Indonesian values.” It only strengthens the fact that this country bows down to thugs, shows weak law enforcement, is manipulated by businesspeople and supported by biased media. The victim in this tangled relationship is the people of Indonesia.

Olin Monteiro is a writer and feminist working in Jakarta.