Debbie Doesn’t Do Bandung

A potential pornography ban in Indonesia raises an important question: What happens when the religious majority starts legislating morality?

If a ban on pornography were set in place in America, what would be the implications? Would it mean a curb on adult videos, and magazines, or perhaps a revamping of late night, or even prime time television programming? These all seem to be logical assumptions, given the measures taken in many Western nations towards pornographic materials, i.e. Internet policing, and parental control implementations in television sets. But it is quite a different case in Indonesia, where several months ago a ban on “pornography” was set into place, leaving many citizens outraged, and many questioning the future of their nation.

At first glance a pornography ban seems to be a good thing by most. It could potentially lead to a great gain for women’s rights groups, and could lead to a generally cleaner and moral social atmosphere. The trouble with the Indonesian pornography ban however, is the vast scope of what is considered ‘pornographic’ by the Indonesian government, which has prompted many people throughout the globe to question the government’s decisions, and the role of Islam in its authority.

In a recent visit to Jakarta earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted at a dinner as saying “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia,”* which would seem all too true coming from a nation whose sole motto is “Unity in Diversity.” After all, though Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation, it is also one of the most culturally diverse places on earth, hosting a myriad of different religions among hundreds of ethnic groups, and over 500 different spoken languages. This is why the pornography ban is seen as so dangerous, as it threatens to censor some of the archipelago’s most profoundly diverse cultural offerings. For example, the initial draft of the bill included stipulations such that Javanese male dancers would not be permitted to perform unless their torso was completely covered, and articles which prohibited tourists from wearing “skimpy” clothing at beach resorts. Another worry is a provision in the current draft of the bill which allows the public to participate in preventing the spread of obscenity, which many people feel could lead to increased tension from Muslim Hard-liner groups, such as the Islamic Defender Front (Front Pembala Islam in Indonesian, or FPI). And it seems that more than anything, many non-Muslims in Indonesia feel that their culture is being threatened by a piece of legislation which they feel could be used against them in the better interest of protecting Islam.

One such example of the cultural impacts of the ban is a recent situation that arose in Bandung, West Java earlier this month, in which the governor, Ahmad Heryawan used the bill as a legal grounds to forbid Jaipong dancers from wearing “sexy” costumes and executing ”provocative” dance moves.** This is interesting for several reasons, one being of course that it is a prime example of what Indonesians feared most about the implementation of the bill; that it would threaten local cultural heritage. Another interesting point is that of the creation of Jaipong itself. Jaipong is a form of music and dance which was created by Gugum Gumbira in Sunda, West Java in 1961, after then-president Sukarno outlawed rock and roll and other Western musics. It is an urban dance/music form that combines elements of village forms of ketuk tilu, the Indonesian martial arts of pencak silat, and various local forms of Sundanese gamelan, and was created in response to just such legislation. Furthermore, it is even more bizarre that Dangdut, a form of popular music derived from Arabic and Indian influence (and using far more “provocative” costumes, according to many Indonesians), has been seemingly unaffected by the ban in the same way that Jaipong has, though it has been brutally protested in the past for being too openly pornographic.

Here’s a video. Judge for yourself. (Don’t worry, our Western standards would definitely deem it SFW.)

While the ban has garnered much criticism worldwide, the effects are just now coming to surface, and thankfully not in the radical way with which it was perceived. Many islands, such as the primarily Hindu island of Bali, and the tribal regions of Papua are allegedly being protected under the law, and no measures are being brought against their unique cultural heritage. Shadow theatres, dance, and gamelan performances continue, seemingly unscathed, and with Indonesia now on the forefront of American Foreign Policy, the ban will hopefully lie dormant for many years to come.

* The New York Times
** The Jakarta Post

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Taylor Burton

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