Archive for Indonesia

Pornography Bill: Obscenities

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

People have been asking me what I think of the Pornography Bill — me not only being a cultural critic but also a passionate researcher of pornography. For me and my personal enjoyment, I think it is a wonderful idea and I love it: I would still be able to enjoy all the pornography (with proxies, P2P, etc. — I’m good at them) while others are busy stupidly hiding all their porn stashes and killing each other in Bali. It adds the sense of pride and thrill of being a winning criminal — who does not like enjoying their sexual pleasures with an added sense of sin, crime, victory, and the last laugh?

The Bill is by now already over-discussed that it seems embarrassing to do it further. But let’s get more serious and take one obscene point of the Bill not many notice: the Bill has very strong potentials of condoning sexual harassments. When one regulates the object instead of the subject, does one not precisely create a space for dramatically reducing subjective guilt by transferring it to the object? A society with free porn circulating everywhere presupposes a very strict moral restriction that maintains sex to be kept only in porn, and in a curious effect radically desexualizes social life (unless, of course, the porn watched consist of mainly bad porn that condones rape and maintains stereotypes). There may very well be an abundance of swinger parties and BDSM festivals, but not many harassments and rapes. The obvious is also true: is not the rape statistics of Amish tribes and pedophilia statistics in priesthoods our ultimate proof?

Reading in a purely Žižekian turn, the bill is thus not at all restrictive: on the outside, it is saying, “We should stop the sins and restore moral order by eradicating all pornographies!” Secretly, it promises, “Let us stop all the porn so we can enjoy real women on the streets (because it will be their fault to dress like that, because we can always provide an excuse that we hate pornography, etc)!”

I’ll leave you with this interesting video (still good, though it has early-2007 statistics):

NOTE: One very depressingly laughable aspect of the Bill is its categorization of oral sex as an obscene perverse act on the same plane as zoophilia and necrophilia (others on the same list include anal sex and homosexuality). Speaks volumes of how sexually uneducated the Indonesian government is… And to think that they are even debating this while I am supposed to be attending a presentation on dildos that vibrate on earthquakes, how heartbreaking!

UPDATE (10/13): I now have a writing on The Jakarta Post regarding the Pornography Bill.

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A Plea for Intolerant Politics

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Just yesterday there was the sad news of a beating and sexual harassment of Nong Darol Mahmada, an activist of the Religious Freedom Association (AKKBB) and Facebook friend of mine by the Front for the Defense of Islam (FPI) in a courtroom in Jakarta during FPI’s trial for the “Bloody Monas” incident. And I ask myself a question: have we not had enough?

Everybody today talk about how we must teach the “false/militant/anarchist/fascist/terrorist” groups of Islam to have more tolerance, to know how the real cultural politics of the world works, how today we should all be modern and adapt the liberal politically correct stance of freedom and tolerance. Some, like the JIL, etc, choose to engage in verbal criticism of militant Islam. Others take the softer side of flaunting how beneficially peaceful it is to adapt a fashionable Zen-Buddhist style of spirituality in Islam. Both strive for only one thing: to right the wrongs of a militant Islam and bring them towards the romantic dream of a politically- and spiritually-correct tolerant Muslim utopia.

But why is it all conceived as a problem of a lack of tolerance from a perverted religious belief? Do we not dare to say that this is a problem of a severe flaw in our democratic legal system, a very real political problem instead of an abstract, spiritual one? There are very few things that I think are more miserable than the idea of suggesting a spiritual healing and liberal democracy lessons for such actors of violence. One of them is the idea of preserving these minority militant groups in the name of justice: “Let us tolerate their violence because everyone deserves a chance to speak out!” Is such stupidity not the ultimate proof that all these romantic discussions of religious difference and tolerance do nothing but blur and displace of from the real question: that of politics?

What about restoring the dignity of democratic politics without cultural tolerance? Do we not dare to admit that there are certain limits of democracy, of liberal freedom, that can never be crossed? Why are we today very afraid to admit that liberalism, multiculturalism, pluralism, etc. are actually far from benign sunshine-and-daffodils utopias of universal equality, but itself consist of inherently superior attitudes to those of fundamentalist people? The correct lesson to learn from Derrida is not the common one that strives for more equality by means of deconstruction, but instead an honest one in which one is willing to realize the boundaries of deconstruction and celebrate the hierarchic opposition when it is politically not possible to accept the Other.

We have had enough lessons of tolerance and all those stupid spiritual-correctness. What we need today are strict legal codes of discretion and protection of our citizens. I would be personally severely disappointed if no legal action is taken to defend Nong in her courtroom incident this past Monday. If there is a past that I am missing right now, it would be the past in which the authoritarian ex-president of Indonesia, Suharto, can easily ban organizations at his will. Would it not be nice if the same banning happen right now to all of the anarchist Muslims?

On Political vs. Oriental Islamism

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

A specter is haunting the majority of Indonesia: the specter of the political Islam. The worldwide claims that Islam is a peaceful religion that is now only perverted by minority followers intent on crashing planes to tall buildings could not have had a warmer welcome from inside the Muslim world themselves — “Blame it on the oppressive political authorities of Islam for all our governmental failure and stigmatization as the international enemy! We are not wrong, we are never wrong, it is only because our teachings have been perverted so much that we fail to create an ideal world!” If anything, the September 11th attacks does not destroy hope for Muslims to learn that they are peaceful religions — on the contrary, the tragedy precisely spurred the hopeful movement of finding “a deeper meaning” to the religion of Muhammad (much like how Stalinist catastrophe saved the Marxist communist utopia in the Žižekian reading).

Tension is ripe as days go by, as the (minority) militant strain of Islam are getting more and more harsh words in the form of both criticisms or outright verbal attacks to their modes and motives from the (majority) of peaceful Muslims. As movements are coming from around the world to reassert the identity of Islam as a “peaceful religion,” at the same time more and more warnings are coming from inside the Muslim world itself to not let its followers get “too political,” as religion is only a “personal means” of spirituality and that we should nevertheless focus more on “peaceful coexistence”. Islam gets deeply personalized, and shouts of “everything I do is a form of my worship towards Allah” can be heard almost anywhere we prick our ears in the Muslim world. Does this condition not precisely echo the current trend of Oriental wisdom in the West and elsewhere?

If the current trend teaches that Eastern mysticism (you should not want too much for yourself, etc.) is important in business (i.e. that you will get more by precisely denying that you want more), how does the personalization of Islam play out in the Muslim politics? Does the same logic not hold true, i.e. you should not get too political in Islam because the only way to win is to forge allies with the winning Western liberal-capitalist democracy? The current “liberal Islam” call for apparent non-politics is precisely its opposite: it is a call to fully support the current dominant political ideology as perfect passive consumers who make minor product corrections (“religion is only for daily moral corrections,” etc.) but should never think of conducting a revolution (“we should attempt for slow revolution,” etc.).

This is precisely how one should read the September 11th attacks (and the stigmatization of Islam that follow — “Islamophobia,” etc.) as an event that saves the Muslim world: it does so by producing a radical, blatant cut in the middle of Islam. One one side, we have the militant/political (I must point here that it is wrong to call them outright “terrorists”) Islam (Al-Qaeda, JI, HT, FPI, etc.) and on the other side the peaceful/non-political Islam (JIL, and many others, including the “false-but-at-least-not-political” Ahmadiyah, etc.) who are now free to point one another as a scapegoat of the tragic Muslim failures and melancholies in the past and today. Each side could not be happier — they can go on without having to feel guilty about anything!

One is tempted to ask here, what would have happened if this split were not produced? Perhaps it would be a disaster for Islam — it would be trapped in a limbo between the political legacies of Muhammad and the tension from global capitalism to adapt as passive consumers, a limbo of ideological guilt and dilemma… The split is thus an inevitable move, and inevitable impact of global capitalism on Islam, its internal war of political (“fundamentalist”,”militant”, etc.) versus Oriental (“liberal”,”spiritual”, etc.) Islam already a second-degree of the true tension between Islam and global capitalism.

Against Anti-Corruption

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

No, I’m not an idiot, because by that title I certainly do not mean I am pro corruption. Yes, indeed corruption is a big problem, especially when you live in a country that is among the world’s most corrupt states. However, I see a big trap in viewing corruption as the main problem. Corruption is a problem, but Žižekian as I am I tend to be critical of how this problem is perceived, i.e. what questions are asked and what actions are taken to resolve this problem.

Broadly speaking, the mainstream history of post-1998 Indonesia can mainly be summed up as follows: (1) the decline of state due to flourishing corruption and (2) the rise and insurgency of Islam proclaiming itself to be the political move to take if we are to get out of this socio-political mess at all. I, however, remain skeptic to these notions — I believe that both corruption and fundamentalist Islam are but mere dummies, one dummy problem followed by one dummy solution. And here is the ultimate proof: we know we prefer corruption to authoritarian bureaucracy (bribing culture is part of the Indonesia “traffic safety” code), and we know we will never achieve a total Muslim state. We are not idiots. They are battles already lost before the start, done for the mere sake of “sadomasochistic pleasures of postmodern society that longs for a disciplinary paternal figure” (Žižek).

You want a bigger catch? Consider this: corruption does not exist. (And neither does “fundamental Muslims” who believe they can make the world better by destroying shops — I have blogged the latter here (though I am always open to further analysis) and on this post I will concentrate on the former.) In what sense does corruption not exist? Frankly, I think we know: it does not exist in the precise sense that we, in our stupid daily self-existence, would never say “Oh, I have just practiced corruption.” We bypass laws by money in a much more subtle way, under pretenses of norms and ethics, time management, daily codes of life, and so on, forever mystified. To think in more Lacanian terms, “corruption” never exists as a signifier related to the self — it is always a signifier of the acts of the other, and as such, always presents itself as a spectral predicate that is done by the other supposed to take the blame, ever evasive by its very linguistic nature.

Žižekian once again, this is how ideology precisely functions: ideology is not “I am a state official” or “I am a Muslim” — it is “I am a state official, but nevertheless…” and “I am a Muslim, but nevertheless…” Ideology is precisely this negation, this distantiation of formal codes and the claim that we are “nevertheless (a human being with feelings, etc)”. In fact, our daily acts of actual corruption (bribing authorities, etc) takes place precisely in this sphere of “nevertheless-ness” — as a state official I never do corruption, but nevertheless I am a human being who logically needs to make money for my children’s education and maintain relations in my social circle, so I engage myself in exchanging of gift tokens since that is my most socially conforming option. Anti-corruption is deemed to be forever a wrong battle to its very linguistic core.

The second point of why corruption is a trap is that it renders all institutional practices as though otherwise harmless. I am a Marxist here, and if there is a lesson we learn from the Marxist tradition is that social structures based on capitalism are fundamentally violent, even when they are not corrupted. An easy example would be the sky-high rocketing costs of education. This is not the result of corruption, but it is corrupt in its very manifested structure that allows only those with money to attain proper education. BHMN universities overcomes bribery itself by externalizing bribery into its very legal structure. Gross crude moves like this one becomes secondary at the thoughts of “anti-corruption”, even though it illustrates the more fundamental obscene social pathology: capitalist greed.

To actually solve problems we will do well by rethinking their definition and rendition. It is not enough to take these problems for granted, since they are most likely already veiled by the ideological operation of self-distantiation (the “nevertheless-ness” I explicated above). Rethinking what we mean by “fighting corruption” is a necessary step before taking any action, so as to not fall into further traps by making hasty actions without a proper cognitive mapping. Our enemy, as I like to put it, is never corruption, or the lack of fear for God, for they are mere symptoms that can be appropriated by anyone to support their own greedy causes. Our problem is corporatism. Our enemy is not how we conduct and manage our greed. It is greed itself.

Islamization of Indonesia and the Deadlock

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , on June 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

I stumbled upon several blog posts today that encouraged me to blog about this myself. This one from Budiawan is of particular interest — it points out how, in fact, Islam is mostly used as a mask, an excuse of economic struggle. Ariel Heryanto has written a great deal on the dynamics of Islamization and non-Islamization of the Indonesian government — a blog post of his can be found here. What I see in today’s so-called post-political era is not that of true post-politics, in which ideologies (in the dualistic Cold War sense) no longer matter as much as civilization/religion/ethnics and so on, but it’s opposite: anti-liberal-capitalist gestures are pervasive throughout the world — only, they do not dare criticize it without using a grand excuse of civilization/religion/ethnics. This is not a conspiracy theory once you look really close at it: the problems that we have and are still trying to solve since the old ages remain the same: that of economic instability and political oppression, as Budiawan so rightly blogged. Raging Muslims are not idiots — they know that a sharia country would not be possible with mere sporadic acts of terrorism. To me, these riots are, fundamentally, civil unrests without so much a religious meaning as a cultural exclamations without real message to protest ideological dominance.

Thus, I think the question we should ask is not why Muslims are doing so many acts of civil unrests, but why so many civil unrests are masked as Muslim religious protests. In response to Huntington’s thesis, I always say, it’s not an actual clash of civilizations — it is dissatisfaction with economic and political injustice masked as a clash of civilizations. Thus, tolerance is not the solution, as many propose, because what we have never is a problem of tolerance, and it never has been — it is, and it has always been, the problem of economic injustice and political oppression.

Why, then, does it need to be presented as a problem of intolerance and fundamentalism rather than social instability at large? Of course, it needs to be presented as such so as to shift the focus of political action, so that the grand framework of capitalism remain untouched, uncriticized. But this is not a conspiracy theory of political manipulation; on the contrary, I think it comes from the bottom up — it is the society who do not want to criticize capitalism. First of all, we have always been brainwashed about how its archenemy — communism, as it were — is the archenemy. We are scared to criticize capitalism intellectually, so much so that we need to take a truistic position and use the grand metaphysical reasons of God to proclaim our dissatisfaction with the grand system of the world. Second, we have no alternatives to capitalism other than a sharia economic model. No wonder Allah becomes the main excuse of civil unrests.

Heryanto’s second post reveals another deadlock: true Islamization in political action will never work. It seems that it has become a silent agreement that an Islamist state is not an ideal one. This has much more cultural significance than to prove how Islam is just an excuse for protesting — it signifies that so many of us somehow silently accept that Islam is only the mode of protest itself. To put it shortly, it seems to me that most of my fellow citizens are now whispering that “Islam is good, but not too much, unless you want to make a demonstration.” The gestures of Islamic parties, the “funky” (“gaul”) language used in every Islamic Youth movements, all testify to such whispers.

Indonesia is not in a state of being Islamized. It is in a state of cultural limbo.