Episode 14      25 min 35 sec
Islam and Sharia in Today's Indonesia

Professor Tim Lindsey looks at attempts in Indonesia to introduce Sharia law, and its implications for the largest democracy in Southeast Asia. Prof Linsdsey talks about current Australia - Indonesia relations.

Guest: Professor Tim Lindsey from the Asian Law Centre, and the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam

Topic: Legislating Sharia in Indonesia

" ... this is a debate not between Islam and secularism, but a debate within Islam about what sort of future it will have." - Prof Tim Lindsey




           



Prof Tim Lindsey
Prof Tim Lindsey

Professor Tim Lindsey. Tim is Professor of Asian Law and Director of the Asian Law Centre in the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne where he has served as an Associate Dean. He is also Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam.

In 2006, Professor Lindsey was awarded a five-year Federation Fellowship to research !!!OIslam and Modernity: Syari'ah, Terrorism and Governance in South-East Asia". Other recent Grants include !¢FDIslamic Law in Indonesia!| (2002-2005), !¢FDIslamic Law in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei!| (2005-2007) and !¢FDDefamation Law, Journalism and Public Debate in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore!| (2006-2009)

 

Credits

Host: Sian Prior 
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric Van Bemmel and Sian Prior
Audio Engineer: Dean Collett
Theme Music performed by Sergio Ercole. Mr Ercole is represented by the Musicians' Agency, Faculty of Music
Voiceover: Paul Richiardi

Series Creators: Eric Van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute.

View Tags  click a tag to find other episodes associated with it.

 Download mp3 (24.6 MB)

Islam and Sharia in Today's Indonesia

VOICEOVER
Welcome to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities, and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au That!|s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au.

SIAN
Hello and welcome to Up Close, coming to you from Melbourne University, Australia. I!|m Sian Prior. The Republic of Indonesia has undergone enormous social, political and economic changes in the last decade with the financial crisis of 1998, the end of President Suharto!|s 32 year rule and the subsequent changes to the Constitution and numerous natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and a devastating tsunami. All of these events have been well documented by the world media, but less well publicised has been the recent debate in Indonesia over the proposed introduction of laws which would enforce conservative Islamic morality on the secular state.

Professor Tim Lindsey is the Director of the Asian Law Centre and Co-director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam here at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and an Australian research council Federation Fellow. He!|s been taking a close look at the so-called anti-pornography bill and his interpretation is that it!|s an attempt to introduce hard line interpretations of Shariah law by stealth. Professor Lindsay is our guest today in Melbourne University Upclose. Welcome Tim.

TIM
Thank you.

SIAN
Now you!|ve also been taking a long hard look at the current state of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia and we!|ll talk about that a little later. But let!|s begin with the anti-pornography bill. Tim, what are the aims of this Bill and which aspects of Indonesian society would it impact on if it was passed.

TIM
The Bill aims to impose what we!|d think of as ultraconservative Islamic morality, and it!|s clearly targeted at women. It would force women to cover up their arms, their hair, their legs. An image that we associate with Middle Eastern Arab societies would be imposed on Indonesia society. Indonesia is one of the world!|s most ethnically diverse nations, some 300 different ethnic groups and cultures. And they!|re extremely diverse from societies in Papua, through Bali, to Java and Sumatra, from Aceh which is highly Islamic to Papua which is animist and Christian. So, to force women in all these societies to conform with an image of Arab conservatism would be a dramatic and radical change. It would be reinventing Indonesian culture as an extraordinarily diverse universe to a single borrowed model from outside the region.

SIAN
And other than women, are there other parts of !V of Indonesian society which would be strongly impacted by the effect of these laws? The arts community for example?

TIM
Yes absolutely, it would make portrayal of those parts of the body that women in particular would be required to cover up, also an act of pornography. So people appearing in images in film, in cinema, on the television, in books, in art, in performance, would all have to be covered in the same fashion. So it would effectively destroy one of the region!|s most dynamic scenes, and I!|m talking here about painting, visual arts, performance, cinema. It!|s extremely vibrant. That would be !V have to come to an end and indeed this reflects a backlash from these conservative groups against the diversity of Indonesian society that has in fact already lead to some prosecution of artists. A painter in a case called The Pink Swing Case has found himself in jail for showing partly nude men and women. and of course, we!|ve had an Indonesian Playboy magazine in which the models are !V are clothed, facing riots and recent prosecution, although he was eventually acquitted. So there is a !V a strong push from these ultra conservative religious elements to reinvent Indonesian society at the expense of women and at the expense of the arts.

SIAN
Well tell us a little bit about the history of this Bill and who are these hard line conservative elements in Indonesian society who have got the Bill this far to be debated at a national level.

TIM
To understand what!|s going on here we have to realise this is not a new debate, this is not produced out of recent events in the Middle East or in Afghanistan or Iraq. This is a long standing debate in Indonesia about what the nature of the state would be in this society. There!|s always been a !V a small group and estimates vary but there!|s anywhere between about 5% to 20%, that has persistently pursued the notion that Indonesia should be an Islamic state, a Shariah state, whatever that might mean.

SIAN
And this goes all the way back to 1945 and the founding of !V of Indonesian republic.

TIM
It goes back well before that, but 1945 is one of the critical moments when the debate became a national debate. And so one of the questions for the founding fathers and mothers for that matter, of the republic, was !!!OWill it be a secular state, a democratic state, an authoritarian state, a military state or an Islamic state, or a Marxist state?!!L
They settled on a secular democratic model back then which took a long time to really be realised. Only in the last few years has it been achieved in the way they intended I think. But the losers in that debate were the conservative hardline Muslim groups, but they didn!|t give up. And they have been re-emerging from time to time to reassert this agenda. Sometimes this has been through armed warfare. There was a separatist Islamic State called Darul Islam that emerged in the middle of the revolution in 1948 which held territory in West Java just an hour or so outside the capital right through to 1961, and that is the parent of current radical militant groups such as Jemaah Islamiah which split off from survivors of the organization. So, there is a long train that can be traced back pushing this agenda, sometimes in a militant form, sometimes through terrorism, sometimes through politics. And, there have been conservative Muslim parties pushing this line right through the !V that period, through education, through agitation. Now they!|ve never succeeded. One of the reasons for that is that in every election in Indonesia history, free or rigged, the majority of Indonesian Muslims have always voted for secular parties, because that is clearly what the vast majority wish. So there!|s a !V a tension in Indonesian society that!|s always been and won!|t go away between those who want this political form of Islam recognised and the majority who consistently rejected it. A few years ago this became a national debate after Suharto fell they mended their constitution and the issue came straight up again, just like in 1945, !!!OAre we going to be an Islamic state?!!L
Interestingly all the Islamic parties rallied against it and voted it down. It was defeated in an open vote in the highest assembly in Indonesia, the NPR [People's Consultative Assembly].

SIAN
Why?

TIM
Well, again the majority of Muslims would prefer a secular arrangement. And the !V and the politicians would too because once you have a Shariah state, power goes to religious leaders. In other words, out of the hands of politicians to religious leaders and then the question comes up, whose version of Shariah. Shariah are the norms contained in the Koran which for Muslims are !V are given by God in a revelation. But the big question is, how do we take those norms and apply them. And that!|s done ...

SIAN
To a 21st century modern state.

TIME
Yeah indeed. Indeed !V towards !V even to any state after the death of the prophet Mohammad. And that is done through Islamic jurisprudence we call it fiqh and the fiqh is of course contestable, and has been contested and is subject to debate. There is no certainty. Islam, Sunni mainstream Islam does not have a pope, so there is no authoritative determinant of doctrine. This means that the question of what Shariah means in action in Indonesia will be debated. And so, if you!|re an Islamic leader in a political party, if you introduce a Shariah state, the risk is that that Shariah will be the Shariah chosen by one of your rivals. Indonesia has two huge Islamic organizations, Nahdatul Ulama which is the largest Islamic organization on earth, and Muhammadia. They have very different ideas, they!|re mainstream moderate organizations. They!|ve never been able to agree on what form of Shariah would be appropriate in Indonesia, so much so that they would rather not have Shariah than each other!|s version. Think of all the other dozens and dozens of political organizations with their own versions, and then, you!|ve got out on the fringe - the radicals. The mainstream politicians and the mainstream Muslim leaders see the risk that Shariah could fall into the hands of someone other than themselves. And so they!|d split. That very fragmentation in Indonesia that has stopped Shariah being acceptable is the same diversity that makes it so rich.

SIAN
And yet at certain levels of government as I understand it there has been some adoption of, if not direct Shariah law, then you know elements of more repressive law which are on the path to Shariah, is that right?

TIM
Yes. Well, the situation here!|s !V here is that the ultraconservatives have consistently lost the national political battle for a Shariah state, but they won!|t stop seeking that. It would be very strange for them to do so. And so, they seek alternative routes. There!|s two ways in which this has been done, the first is at a regional level. Now again this is linked to democracy. One of the things about democracy is it gives voices. And in Indonesia that!|s a grant of a voice to a whole range of groups in extremely diverse society including the ultraconservatives. And Indonesia, after Suharto fell, has introduced electoral processes for president, for the national legislature and right down to village level. All these positions have to be voted for and it has been the case that some of the ultraconservatives have been very successful in getting their candidates in at the local level.

SIAN
It!|s a case of be careful what you wish for really isn!|t it? I mean there!|s an irony here that !V that in introducing a more inclusive, participatory democratic system, post-Suharto that has actually allowed some less progressive elements to !V to gain more power.

TIM
Well yes, I think that!|s part of a process. When you !V you decompress out of authoritarianism, the voices that have been most suppressed are often the loudest. And these groups were considered subversive, outright banned from the political arena under Suharto. They!|re bouncing back. I don!|t think that!|s a permanent situation and I think this is healthy. I think Indonesia is going through a debate again about the nature of their society. But in !V in local elections, around about 40% of them were won by conservative candidates and they started introducing under the new powers granted to the regions, through decentralisation, post-Suharto, they started introducing very conservative laws that are like this anti pornography law but at the local level, and they!|ve been very successful. There!|s around 70 districts that have now introduced laws forcing women to dress in this fashion, preventing women from going out after dark.

SIAN
And are those laws being seriously policed?

TIM
In some areas they are, yes. There!|s been one interesting experiment in Aceh, as part of the autonomy package granted to Aceh to settle the violence and to deal with demands for independence in Aceh, which has been quite successful through the Helsinki process. They!|ve introduced these laws as well, and they!|re part of a very sophisticated package of governance, education, laws, produced by the local council or the local municipal authorities that include moral regulation. That!|s been reasonably successful in Aceh although it!|s !V there is an issue again for women. But outside Aceh it!|s a different story. Aceh!|s about the only place that has had legal authority to do this. The other places are doing it largely illegally, because religion is a power that was not devolved down through decentralisation. Most of those laws are illegal except in Aceh. So, there is I think a backlash building now in many of the regions, against these quite oppressive regulations, particularly for women. Indonesia is a long, long way from the Middle East geographically and culturally. Women have always been prominent in Indonesian society, they!|ve often run businesses, they!|ve been active in politics, [there've] been women generals. This is not a society where women are out the back, far from it, there!|s more Indonesian women parliamentarians that in Australia for example.

SIAN
So women have a lot to lose if this bill goes through?

TIM
They do have a lot to lose.
Many of the activists who toppled Suharto were women. Many of the NGOs were led by women, so there!|s a lot to lose and NGOs, in particular, are !V are pushing a response now at the regional level to regional Islamising laws. And they!|ve been quite successful at the national level. It now looks like this anti-pornography law, so called, the anti-women law, which is really what it is, will be unlikely to get through parliament in its current form. If it gets there, it!|ll be watered right down because of this sort of activism. So there !V there is this liberal stream in Indonesia democratic traditions. It is very, very strong. One of the problems we have is that we are so attuned to a sort of Islamaphobia that we see it only in terms of a threat. This is a process Indonesian society is working through and don!|t forget that the opponents of this pornography law and of Islamisation are Muslims as well. It!|s a 90 - 80, a 90% Muslim majority country, the largest on earth. So this is a debate not between Islam and secularism, but a debate within Islam about what sort of future it will have.

SIAN
My guest today in Melbourne University Up Close is Professor Tim Lindsey, the Director of the Asian Law Centre and Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam here at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Time let!|s take a step back now and have a look at the state of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. And there!|ve been some !V some fairly dramatic and turbulent moments in the relationship in recent times. The difficult process of !V of granting independence to East Timor and Australia!|s role in that, the terrorist bombings in Bali, which targeted Australian tourists, but also Australia!|s assistance to Indonesia following the tsunami. If it!|s possible to make some very broad generalisations, are we friendly neighbours at the moment or feuding neighbours?

TIM
People !V are very surprised when I say that the Australia Indonesia relationship is a strong and healthy one. In fact, it!|s probably stronger and healthier now than it has ever been. And that is in the midst of a whole range of controversies. Timor, Papuan migrants arriving from Indonesia in a boat seeking asylum in Australia, Australians on trial in Indonesia for drugs charges, and cases where members of Jemaah Islamiah involved in bombing attacks that have killed Australians, have undergone controversial trials and where the supposed spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Bakar Basheer has been released. So these are highly controversial issues between the two countries, highly controversial. And yet at its heart, there is what Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia famously described as the ballast that was for so long needed, I think it!|s there. A billion dollars which is the aid Australia offered Indonesia after the tsunami is a lot of ballast. It!|s a lot of ballast. The !V the thing about the Australian Indonesia relationship is at the same time that I say that, I would also say it!|s probably more tense than ever before. Now, how can I say this? How can I say it!|s stronger and healthier and yet more tense? Because it!|s sort of split. Any Australian government realises that a good working relationship with Jakarta is essential for Australia!|s international relations. You can!|t run Asia unless you!|ve go Jakarta working with you. They control ASEAN, they can determine whether Australia is in or not. We!|re now at the table for regional summits and sitting in there with the ASEAN group, even if we!|re not at the ASEAN table formally, we!|re !V we!|re in that process because Indonesia said we should be. And that leads us into the whole of East Asia. So, we have to have Jakarta working with us in one way or another for all the problems involved and every government reaches that point sooner or later. So it!|s an absolute priority. That!|s why our embassy in Australia is our largest overseas post. And so those people who are involved understand the importance of it and are very positive about it and they made it work very, very well.

SIAN
So where is the tension coming from?

TIM
Everybody else. If you don!|t have a personal or private interest in the relationship; for example outside government, if you!|re someone like me who specialises in this area you think it!|s healthy and important and indeed it is; it works well. There!|s a lot of tolerance and understanding on both sides. But outside that, if you don!|t know much about Indonesia and you!|re not involved with it, it seems to be a fraught catastrophic relationship where all you read about is terrorism, bombs, death penalties, drugs, refugees, asylum seekers, illegal fishermen. So, that then creates this dynamic in a relationship. Politicians listen to what the public say. They listen to talkback. When Indonesia comes up on talkback, it!|s ugly. Most Australians have images of gigantic armies and Muslim terrorists poised to invade Australia.

SIAN
Why do we have those images? Given as you say that the relationship is essentially stable, that Australia!|s given a billion dollars to Indonesia, there!|s cooperation !V

TIM
Indonesia, like most of Asia is a holiday destination, it!|s not a real place. It!|s not a place you engage with, it!|s not a place for business for Australia for example. South East Asia is very problematic. If you look at our current trading partners China and Japan are critical. If you look at our trading partners for example the Australian resources boom which is allowing our economy to survive and to prosper in fact, two way trade with Asia is more than 100 billion. We only have 40 billion with the US and 20 billion with Britain. So, Asia is bankrolling our society. But how many businesses are really looking at Asia as a major place for investment. We see it as a market, not as an investment. We sell to Asia, we don!|t !V

SIAN
Don!|t invest in ...

TIM
- invest and spend money in Asia ourselves. We take money from Asia but we go there for holidays. And many Australians, and there !V there have been surveys on !V done on this, indicate that many Australians who go to Bali for holidays, don!|t actually realise it!|s part of Indonesia. So, there!|s a sort of detachment between the wonderful experience you may have in Bali and Indonesia which is threatening you, although of course they!|re the same.

SIAN
So it!|s ignorance at the heart of it?

TIM
It!|s !V it is !V ignorance, and a cultural orientation towards Europe that has really barely changed.

SIAN
And you know a !V a former White Australia Policy which we only got rid of about 3 and a half decades ago.

TIM
That!|s right. Well it was really only in the early 70s that we stopped trying to prevent Asians coming into Australia. And !V and 70s is three and a half decades ago is a living memory for many politicians in the region. So, Australia!|s image in the region is not the way Australians imagine our society as democratic and liberal and tolerant, and based on rights. It!|s whether rightly or wrongly it!|s seen as a racist white outpost that seeks to exclude Asians. Now most Indonesians have that view of Australia. They think that Australia has colonial ambitions, it wishes to break down Indonesia and create its own sphere of interest with client states like East Timor in the region; that is widely believed. And most Indonesians believe Australians have an essentially racist attitude. [Of] course when they come here and realise it!|s a lot more complicated than that, come to this University and see Asian, African, European faces all mixing in, in large numbers, they rethink it.

SIAN
And we are educating, I think it!|s about 17,000 Indonesian students each year ...

TIM
Australia !V Australia is the largest destination for Indonesian students abroad !V way bigger than the US or Europe. So we have lots of Indonesians coming here although the numbers are !V are tiny in a nation of 240 million. But very few going there.

SIAN
So what you!|re saying is the ignorance goes both ways?

TIM
It does.

SIAN
There are assumptions, very old, probably now completely inaccurate assumptions about the culture, about the national aspirations of both countries towards each other.

TIM
Yes, and one of the !V the biggest of these is that Australia dumped white Australia ideas, a long time ago and on the other hand Australians are simply unaware, most of them, that Indonesia is now the most vibrant democracy in South East Asia. It has undergone a transition from military rule to a genuine effective and functional democratic model where everybody is elected from the village head to the legislators, to the head of state; something that doesn!|t happen in Australia. And that this is a real democratic system. Australians just don!|t understand that Indonesia has re-written its constitution from an authoritarian model, to one that guarantees almost the full set of rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that it is going through the process of actually implementing things like Prohibitions and Discrimination. It!|s going through a growing up process, dealing with Islamic conservatists, liberal reformers, in a democratic context, that involves debate and argument through parliament. And it seems to be working. When they have their elections, unlike the Philippines, they don!|t have assassinations. And when they have their elections, riots don!|t break out as in, for example, Timor. So, this is actually a working state, but we don!|t know about that because we only see horror stories. We don!|t hear the hundreds and thousands of moderate Muslim clerics coming out against terrorist in Indonesia. It!|s just not reported.

SIAN
It!|s not newsworthy.

TIM
Yes, so and this reflects the fact that Asian Studies in Australia has come very close to collapse. And that means there is no channel for getting these ideas and information out. And people aren!|t interested in studying them.

SIAN
Well Tim, it!|s been fascinating and obviously very important that people like you are holding the line in terms of maintaining some level of !V of Asian studies of education of Australians about what!|s going on in Asia. I!|m Sian Prior and my guest today has been Professor Tim Lindsey, Director of the Asian Law Centre, Co-Director of the centre for the Study of Contemporary Islam here at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and an Australian research Council Federation Fellow.

Melbourne University Up Close is brought to you by the Marketing and Communications Division in association with Asia Institute of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Relevant links, a full transcript and more information on this episode can be found on our website, at upclose.unimelb.edu.au

We also invite you to leave your comments or feedback on this or any episode of UpClose. Simply click in the add new comment link at the bottom of the episde page. This programme was produced by Kelvin Param, Eric Van Bemmel and myself Sian Prior. Audio recording is by Dean Collett and the theme music is performed by Sergio Ercole. Melbourne University Up Close is created by Eric Van Bemel and Kelvin Param. Until next time thanks for joining us. Goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You!|ve been listening to Melbourne University Up Close, a fortnightly podcast of research, personalities and cultural offerings of the University of Melbourne, Australia. Up Close is available on the web at upclose.unimelb.edu.au, that!|s upclose.u-n-i-m-e-l-b.edu.au. Copyright 2007 University of Melbourne.


show transcript | print transcript | download pdf