Michael Bachelard May 22, 2012
Profound shift in the Indonesian culture ... "If authorities do prevent Lady Gaga from performing in Jakarta next month, as looks likely, it will represent the new radicals’ biggest triumph." Photo: AP
When I wrote in March about the Indonesian religious affairs minister wanting to ban mini-skirts because he believed them ''pornographic,'' one comment on the Fairfax website stood out.
''What a beat-up this story is! Xenophobia come on down!'' wrote someone identifying themselves as Wennicks.
''As someone who works regularly in Indonesia, it is an extraordinarily laid-back, friendly and welcoming place … [where only] 1 or 3 per cent … will have views which most people consider extreme.''
Wennicks was right. Indonesia is welcoming and safe, its variety of Islam is largely moderate, and its vibrant public space provides much hope for the Arab Spring countries as they try to reconcile religion and democracy.
The bombings by Islamic terrorists which racked Indonesia throughout the last decade have stopped, and Australia's diplomats were right recently to downgrade the travel advice from ''reconsider your need to travel'' to ''exercise caution''.
But many Indonesians are worried a profound shift is happening in their culture. They are watching as a social movement of arrogant Islam grows more powerful, and moves virtually unopposed from victory to victory.
One liberal described it as the ''Talibanisation'' of Indonesia.
If authorities do prevent Lady Gaga from performing in Jakarta next month, as looks likely, it will represent the new radicals' biggest triumph.
Gaga is an expression of America's incredible ability to project soft power. Inviting and provocative, she promotes western values of individual liberty and commerce using sex appeal and pop hooks.
Young Indonesians are as in thrall as the rest of us. She's won 44,000 Facebook ''likes'' here, and sold 50,000 tickets for a Jakarta stadium show at a price that represents a month's salary for some.
It's little surprise, then, that for the stitched-up mini-tyrants who lead Indonesia's radical Islamist groups her performance constitutes a threat of the most profound kind.
Irshad Manji, the Canadian intellectual and author, experienced the kind of violence that has been threatened against Gaga when radical groups shut down discussions of her new book, Allah, Liberty and Love, this month.
Unlike Gaga, Manji is a Muslim and performs fully clothed, but she's equally threatening to the doctrinally obsessed because she wants her co-religionists to think critically for themselves.
Manji, who is a lesbian but does not emphasise this, says the new radicals are the fully funded creatures of Saudi Arabia's own attempt to project power. They are spurred by a familiar anti-Western sentiment and the fantasy of creating a caliphate.
This makes them the ideological progeny of the terrorists of last decade, but they have swapped bombs and guns for metal bars and martial arts training.
The number of these groups appears to be proliferating. Among them are the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Majelis Mujahidin Council, which claimed responsibility for the violent attack on Manji in Yogyakarta. They attract disaffected young men and provide them with a sense of community.
The low-tech approach means mounting an attack is faster and cheaper than the terrorists could ever have managed. FPI and others are in the news most weeks. Reducing the fatality rate also lessens the revulsion with which they are regarded by politicians and public, and makes it less likely that their leaders will be jailed.
Meanwhile, their rhetoric and actions are gradually reducing the ''laid-back'' atmosphere Wennicks depicts.
The most obvious effect is on the mainstream Muslim community, which is beginning to reflect aspects of the radicals' ideology. It was, for instance, the clerics of the ultra-mainstream Muslim Ulema Council who were the most influential in speaking against Gaga.
The mainstreaming of bigotry means that minority groups are increasingly under threat of violence and exclusion. Human rights groups say attacks have increased markedly in recent years and authorities in most cases fail to aid minorities.
As they continue to enjoy impunity, the radicals simply push the boundaries further.
Michael Bachelard is Indonesia correspondent.