Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Aceh Separatists Roll Out Sharia Law (Sharia 2.0)

The follow-up to the Economist article and the Jakarta Post announcement is not pretty.

I still have yet to read an account of how the courts are going to deal with the banking industry in Aceh. Calling interest by other names such as a "service charge" doesn't automatically align the banks with Sharia . . . does it?  Interest is the price of credit. The morality police can just . . . what?  Insist this is not true, and it will automatically be not true?  What is going on over there--one large collective provincial nap?

From The New Matilda, Feb 17, 2014

Aceh Separatists Roll Out Sharia Law
By Nic Borgese

Almost 10 years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the end of the 26 years of separatist conflict between the Indonesian Army and the Independent Aceh Movement (GAM), Aceh would seem entitled to enjoy some peace and stability. From the outside looking in it very much seems that way.

Closer scrutiny reveals that Aceh is slipping further into Islamic fundamentalism, enforcing Sharia law not only on its majority Muslim population, but for the first time targeting non-Muslim minorities like the Chinese, Christians and Westerners.

This should sound alarm bells for foreign investors and donor countries, especially the USA and Australia — two countries with a sizable aid program in Indonesia — as non-compliance to Sharia codes could make working and visiting Aceh unpalatable at best and unsafe at worst.

Traditionally, Sharia law applied only for Muslims, but since early February Acehnese authorities have begun enforcing by-laws (Qanun), passed in December 2013, which require every person, irrespective of race or religion, to obey Muslim codes or face punishment either by Sharia or regular courts.

These Qanun regulate dress codes, physical proximity of unmarried couples, consumption of liquor, same-sex relationships, among other behaviour codes. Breaches of the codes carry punishment varying from cane lashes, detention of up to 60 days without trial and fines.

The first attempt to pass these by-laws in 2009 was thwarted by human rights activists, who compelled the then Governor Irwandi Yusuf not to sign off on their implementation. The new administration of ex-GAM members, now rebranded Aceh Party, led by Governor Abdul Zaini and Deputy Muzakir Manaf, approved the Qanun and are determined to ensure that Aceh becomes an Islamic state despite a possible stoush with the central government, if the new by-laws are not aligned with national laws.

The Aceh Party position on Sharia law has changed dramatically over the years. Sharia law in Aceh was introduced as early as 1999, much to the opposition of the GAM, which saw it as a “trick” intended to mislead the Acehnese people into supporting the much maligned Jakarta-backed provincial government. If GAM saw Sharia law as a tool of political and social control, its political reincarnation has embraced it with similar intent.

While the enforcement of Sharia law has repercussions for the whole population, it may help reveal the provincial government's position on collaborating with non-Muslims and institutions.

The divide between Muslim and non-Muslim Indonesia has a long history, as does anti-Western sentiment. Nonetheless, in the streets of Aceh antipathy towards Westerners is minimal; people are generally cordial, welcoming and hospitable. The story may differ at an institutional level.

The fiercely separatist attitudes of the Aceh Party contradict their attempts to woo foreign investment. Furthermore, the political alliances that the leadership of the Aceh Party have been forging appear disingenuous if not disregarding of foreign relation diplomacy.

A clear example is the adherence of Aceh deputy Governor Muzakir Manaf to the Gerindra Party, led by Prabowo Subianto, a front-runner candidate for the presidential elections to replace Dr Susilo Bangbang Yudhoyono.

Prabowo has been accused of human rights breaches, crimes against humanity and being one of the Suharto henchmen who carried out abductions and torture against activists during the New Order regime. Prabowo was dismissed as the commander of the Special Force and faced an armed forces tribunal but was never properly tried for his crimes.

He has since reinvented himself as a political force and is running second in the presidential polls, trailing only the popular Jakarta Mayor Jokowi, who is yet to nominate. As a private citizen Prabowo would not be eligible to enter the US and would be unlikey to get an Australian Visa. This would change if he became president.
Why would a prominent political figure of Aceh align himself with a former enemy is the subject of much discussion and conjecture. Suffice to say that Prabowo and his party provided much financial support to the Aceh Party during the 2013 Gubernatorial election, which the Aceh Party claimed with a landslide victory, securing almost 60 per cent of the votes.

The elections were disputed, and there is evidence of ex-GAM intimidation and threats in remote villages. Nonetheless, the result stood and the Aceh Party gained control of most of the political apparatus in the province.

This latest use of power to veto and enforce Sharia law is an attempt to suppress non-aligned people and minorities. While Chinese and Christians may feel the brunt of having to adhere to codes with which they don’t identify or recognise, Sharia law, as enforced in Aceh, discriminates against moderate Muslims, youth who look to embrace modern thinking, and women.

The UN Provincial Human Development Index Report provides credible evidence that while Aceh has achieved some economic development, the position of women and marginalised groups has deteriorated since the aftermath of the Tsunami. Human Rights groups have collected reliable evidence of instances in which women have been detained, assaulted and raped by the Sharia police. Some cases have been investigated, but most go unreported.

The current situation should serve as a warning to anyone intending to invest, assist or even visit Aceh. The decision to do so should be accompanied by attempts to advocate or secure conditions conducive to dialogue, implementation of rules respectful of human rights and equity for minority groups, women and marginalised people. Foreign investment, aid and tourism should reflect principles of equality and justice. Only then Aceh can begin to enjoy peace and stability.

Nic Borgese is an Australian citizen who has worked in post-disaster, post-conflict zones for more than 10 years in Asia and Europe. He currently at the end of a three years stint in Indonesia, two years were spent in Aceh

Comment #1: I for one am entirely unsurprised, in retrospect maybe the world should not have been so keen to help rebuild Aceh after the tsunami.

Comment #2 by “O. Puhleez
Posted Monday, February 17, 2014 - 18:38
For any parliamentary democracy to function well, those elected into power have to face not only the hazards of the election cycle but a credible alternative government (ie an opposition.) As JK Galbraith pointed out, for power to even function properly, there has to be a countervailing power.
Unfortunately, when it comes to relations with Indonesia, the choice between the ALP and the Coalition is a no-brainer. For example, on the major issue of the boats, Abbott and Morrison have politely but effectively called Indonesia's bluff, and have shown a commendable determination to send the people smugglers and their high-fare-paying passengers back to Indonesia. This contrasts rather starkly with the performance of Shorten and Plibersek on the issue, who can only whinge about the  risk this entails of worsening relations, etc, etc. 
Unfortunately for us, Gillard's ALP government was easy meat for the people smugglers and the corrupt Indonesian military officers, police and officials in cahoots with them. For far too long Australian politicians have been obsequious to their Indonesian counterparts, while at the same time trying to buy their friendship with shiploads of Australian taxpayer dollars presented as 'aid'. (Or should that perhaps be better understood as protection money?)
The chief groveller, appeaser and master of the kow-tow was of course, Paul Keating. On his watch, that band of uniformed murderers, rapists and cut-throats better know as the TNI (Indonesian military) murdered, raped and mutilated as they pleased in East Timor (1965-1999), without a single objection from Keating or "Softly-softly' Evans, his Foreign Minister. Not one of those war criminals of course, has ever been brought to justice.
Subianto was in the thick of it, and should have finished up in the cell next to the one occupied by Slobodan Milosovic in the Hague. Instead, he will shortly become Indonesian President. He would find dealing with Shorten and Plibersek a lay-down misere. Abbott and Morrison are clearly  more worthy opponents.
Which as Shorten sinks, is a pity; because but for her serious deficiency on Indonesia, Plibersek would make a fine prime minister.

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