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From: sunny <am...@tele2.se>
Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010 at 3:40 AM
Subject: [dpr-indonesia] Indonesia's Aceh Province and Shariah


*Indonesia's Aceh Province and Shariah*

Written by Dewi Kurniawati

Thursday, 19 August 2010 [image: Image]
Eroding Indonesia's Secular Freedoms

Agnes Monica, the famous Indonesian actress and singer, is given to wearing
sexy clothes, whether on stage, TV or advertising billboards -- but not in
the provincial capital of Aceh province.

Just across from the 19th-century Baiturrahman Grand Mosque is a large
billboard that features Monica wearing a headscarf — even though she's a
Christian. Also absent is the tank-top exposing her bare arms and navel that
Monica wears in the ad for cell-phone service running in the rest of the

Although the headscarf, or jilbab, is familiar attire in Indonesia, the
world's largest Muslim-majority nation, only in Aceh is it required for
Muslim women. Failure to wear "Islamic dress" is a violation of one of
Aceh's Islamic bylaws, and violators can either be reprimanded or hauled
into court by the Shariah Police.

Despite Indonesia having a secular Constitution, devoutly Muslim Aceh was
allowed to adopt parts of ghariah law, presumably to prevent the Acehnese
from joining the rebellious Free Aceh Movement (GAM). In 1999,
then-President BJ Habibie signed a special law on Aceh that, among other
things, granted the province a special status and the right to partly
implement shariah. However, the law did not stipulate how Islamic law would
be implemented. Two years later, President Megawati Sukarnoputri signed into
law an autonomy package that included comprehensive regulations on
establishing Shariah courts and Shariah bylaws. Based on these two pieces of
legislation — that were drafted, discussed, and approved in Jakarta, Aceh
established its first shariah court in 2003, and publicly caned its first
violator in 2005.

Five years later, the obvious question has yet to be asked: why was shariah
rammed through the national legislative system and "given" to Aceh when
neither the populace nor the GAM guerrillas ever asked for it and perhaps
few people, with the exception of the provincial ulema council, actually
want it?

The answer has become increasingly crucial given that scholars, activists
and politicians believe shariah goes against the basic principles of
Indonesia's Pancasila state ideology, which asserts that the country is
multi-religious but secularly governed.

Worse, it has allowed a creeping Islamic fundamentalism to gain a foothold,
with other provinces and districts steadily applying shariah-inspired bylaws
since 2003 under pressure from hard-line groups.

"Just like the majority of Acehnese, I was born a Muslim, but we don't need
shariah," said Muhammad Chaidir, a rental car driver in Banda Aceh. "shariah
doesn't bring us prosperity."

Indeed, the Islamic bylaws seem to have brought the strife-torn province
trouble, as well as negative publicity. Chaider's comments are typical of
many Acehnese who long for security, prosperity and a sense of belonging
after a protracted 29-year civil war between the GAM and the Indonesian
military killed at least 20,000 Acehnese and the 2004 Asian tsunami, which
killed an additional 177,000 people in the province.

Today, the Acehnese are governed by both national criminal law and local
Islamic bylaws. And as if that weren't enough, the chief of the West Aceh
district began enforcing a new regulation in May that bans Muslims there
from wearing tight clothing.

This bylaw — clearly aimed at women — as well as other controversial events
including religious police breaking into a United Nations compound looking
for Westerners drinking alcohol, and numerous instances of public caning,
have put Aceh in a negative international spotlight.

"After being wracked by conflict, the central and local governments should
focus on a truth and reconciliation program, not shariah," said Evi Narti
Zain, executive director of the Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition. "If we
raise objections to shariah, then we will be labeled as infidels and accused
of disturbing the peace in Aceh."

Independent reports on the implementation of shariah in Aceh have concluded
that it discriminates against the poor, in particular women, who are at the
mercy of the Shariah Police.

Middle and upper-class Acehnese, meanwhile, have ways to skirt around
shariah stipulations so they can enjoy their share of romance and alcohol.

"They go to fancy hotels, or spend the weekend in Medan," in nearby North
Sumatra Province, Zain said, laughing.

But some of the side affects of shariah are no laughing matter, including
abuse of power by those sworn to uphold it.

On July 15, the Langsa District Court in East Aceh district sentenced two
members of the Shariah Police to eight years in prison each for the rape and
torture of a 20-year-old female student they had in custody.

*What happened? *

So where did it all start and why? Experts have a number of theories.

Some believe that implementing shariah in Aceh was a scheme hatched by
conservative Islamic clerics who saw an opportunity to expand their own
political power and so they heavily lobbied Jakarta politicians. Others said
they assumed the military was behind adding shariah to the 1999 autonomy law
so it would have a tool to divide the independence-minded province and
further isolate the GAM fighters.

And still others said that Shariah was a consolation prize for the province
after the military and the nation's political elite rejected a proposal by
the president at the time, the late Abdurrahman Wahid, to allow Aceh to hold
a referendum on independence, just like East Timor did in 1999.

It was indeed under the Wahid administration that Jakarta first attempted to
go down the road to peace after years of applying brutal military force
during the Suharto regime.

According to Ahmad Suaedy, an expert on Aceh from The Wahid Institute in
Jakarta, Wahid had even enlisted members of the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines to lobby self-exiled civilian
leaders of GAM residing in Sweden to start communicating with Jakarta.

"I belief Gus Dur would never allow them to implement shariah because he was
very committed to the unitary state of Indonesia," Ahmad Suaedy said,
referring to Wahid by his popular nickname.

Hoping to initiate ceasefire talks and hold off pessimistic Army generals in
Jakarta, Wahid sent acting State Secretary Bondan Gunawan to meet the rebel
group's field commander, Abdullah Syafi'i, in a secret jungle location in
Aceh in March 2000. Syafi'i was later killed in a special military operation
in January 2002, further straining tensions between GAM and the military.

"When I met Syafi'i in the jungle, he never requested that shariah be
implemented," Gunawan told the Jakarta Globe. "That never crossed their

Researchers on Aceh have pointed out that GAM separatists were driven by a
nationalist ideology aimed at gaining independence from Javanese-dominated
Indonesia, not by religion, and never wanted shariah to be pushed down their
throats by the government in Jakarta.

Dharmawan Ronodipuro, a former spokesman for Wahid, recalled that there had
once been a discussion about actually implementing shariah in Aceh during a
cabinet meeting.

"The original idea was to separate GAM members from civilians," he said.

However, some scholars and political observers said that implementing
shariah in Aceh was "historical sabotage" carried out by various factions
including hard-line Islamic groups, right-wing political parties and
elements within the military.

"If we look clearly at the history of Aceh, I believe what the Acehnese
desired was not shariah, but political and economic justice," said Bachtiar
Effendy, a political expert from Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State
University in Jakarta.

"They had given everything they had for the establishment of this country,
including their trust and natural resources, but they have been repeatedly
betrayed. GAM obviously did not want anything to do with Islam, because they
wanted support from Western countries for their [independence] struggle. It
is so strange that suddenly shariah was inserted into the autonomy law. We
should all question that," he said, noting that the Aceh conflict dragged on
even after Islam became part of the laws of the land.

"Peace was only established after the Helsinki Agreement of 2005."

A former minister said that the decision to grant Aceh implementation of
shariah was taken while three key government positions were in the hands of
retired military officers — the Minister of Home Affairs, the Coordinating
Minister for Politics, Security and Law and the Cabinet Secretary. The
Minister of Religious Affairs was a shariah expert.

The International Crisis Group's Sidney Jones said that allowing Aceh to
implement Islamic bylaws, "even though in very vague terms," was seen by
Jakarta and members of the Acehnese elite as a political solution to stave
off more rebellion.

"It was partly the result of concern about the reaction in Aceh to the
granting of a referendum to East Timor," Jones said, noting that the
Acehnese people "overwhelmingly" wanted a referendum of their own.

*Enter the Shariah Police *

In Aceh today, shariah police officers patrol the streets looking for
violations. Their main targets are women not wearing headscarves, people
gambling or drinking alcohol, and couples having sex out of wedlock. Far
from being supported for upholding morals, they are largely hated for
heavy-handed tactics that have on more than one occasion turned mobs of
angry residents against them.

"They act like a military force. It shows that at the subconscious level,
militaristic hegemony is successful after decades of conflicts in Aceh,"
Zain from the NGO coalition said.

But some groups in Aceh have attempted to go even further. In September
2009, the outgoing Acehnese provincial legislature passed a Qanun Jinayat, a
bylaw with a revised and more comprehensive version of shariah, which
included a section stipulating that convicted adulterers be stoned to death.
Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who is a former member of GAM's civilian leadership,
refused to sign the bylaw, effectively quashing it.

Following embarrassing international news stories, officials in Jakarta
asked for the controversial bylaw to be withdrawn.

"Conservative [clerics] backed by organizations such as Hizbut Tahrir and
conservative Islamic parties like the United Development Party (PPP) and the
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) badly wanted to implement the Qanun Jinayat
in Aceh," Zain said.

The overall implementation of Islamic bylaws has thus far been far from

"We have seen many violations with the implementation of shariah. Basically,
it's women who suffer the most," Zain said. "There are no guarantees that
even when women cover themselves, they will not be raped or molested," she
said, highlighting the gang rape last January in East Aceh's Langsa district
that involved shariah police officers.

"Many see the implementation of the Qanun in Aceh as a successful pilot
project, and it is prompting [leaders in] other areas in Indonesia to also
promote shariah. They copy-paste Aceh's Qanun for their areas," she said.

*Playing Follow the Leader *

Bachtiar, the political analyst, said Aceh has become something of a
Pandora's box for the central government because other regions can now claim
they are being discriminated against if they cannot implement
shariah-inspired bylaws.

"If it's not wrong for Aceh, then you can't criticize the emergence of
shariah bylaws elsewhere," he said, adding that "those who criticize local
shariah bylaws don't have the guts to criticize Aceh."

Eva Kusuma Sundari, an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)
lawmaker, questions the central government's commitment to upholding
Pancasila. She said that since Aceh began to partially implement Islamic
law, hundreds of shariah-inspired bylaws have been passed nationwide.

"By accommodating too many shariah bylaws, the government is betraying the
national Constitution," she said. "In the unitary state of Indonesia we have
agreed to use a national criminal law, and condoning Shariah bylaws is an
act of subversion."

Sundari claimed that an "elite group with a certain political agenda is
playing a big role in the Shariah-based bylaws."

The Ministry of Home Affairs reviews regional bylaws and should quash them
if they contradict national law. Suhatmansyah, head of the ministry's social
and political desk, said "the state can't do much about Aceh because the
people asked for shariah."

But activists and scholars differ. The only people in Aceh who back shariah
are local Islamic clerics and politicians from Islamic parties, they said.

One such cleric is Muslim Ibrahim, chairman of the Aceh Ulema Assembly and a
prominent lobbyist for shariah in Aceh. Ibrahim told the Globe he rejected
claims that Aceh was given shariah as a means to isolate the GAM

"That is nonsense. GAM didn't want shariah to be implemented," he said.
"This is the fruit of a long struggle by us clerics."

According to Ibrahim, shariah had been enforced in Aceh centuries ago before
being halted by the Dutch colonial administration as it was considered
cruel. But Ibrahim says shariah "is the best law for the Acehnese."

He claimed gambling had decreased by 40 percent within six months after the
first public caning, adding that shariah punishment serves as shock therapy
because it is purposely humiliating.

However, Zain from the NGO coalition said public punishments discriminate
against women because afterwards, unlike men, they are shunned by society.

"Instead of creating justice, shariah creates injustice among the Acehnese
because we see how powerful people who violate shariah are free and never
punished. So the poor are punished twice: by national criminal law and now
by shariah," she said.
This story is reprinted with permission from Jakarta Globe, with which Asia
Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement.*



[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]


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