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Indonesia goes back to its old ways.

In an emerging democracy like Indonesia, progress towards an open society is rarely easy and often has many setbacks. To make things worse in Indonesia’s case, this polyglot island nation is one of the main theatres of the war on terrorism. Though the main Islamic terrorist group in the region, Jemiah Islamiah, is small considering the size of Indonesia, it has been able to launch powerful and deadly attacks in Indonesia.

Under pressure from its public to crack down on Jemiah Islamiah, the Indonesian government is reverting back to the old ways of the one-party state. This story details a plan to fingerprint students at Islamic schools, thought to affect over 3 million pupils. This move has caused outrage in Indonesia, although sadly this opposition is mostly from conservative muslim groups rather from people concerned about civil liberties.

Also reflecting bad old habits is the revival of the ‘Ministry of Information’, which played a sinister role of controlling the media in the ‘New Order” regime of President Suharto. The Ministry has come out with regulations that clearly breaches Indonesian broadcasting law, but in a cynical move it has made sure that the regulations will remain in place while the regulations are challenged in the creaky and slow moving court system. The regulations are quite cynical.

Not only did the ministry grace itself with the final say on licensing issues, but it also put boundaries on content — a clear violation of the broadcasting law, according to experts.

Among them is the prohibition on private broadcasters to relay regular news programs from foreign broadcasters, thus limiting sources of information to the public.

Old habits die hard, media analyst Hinca Panjaitan said, referring to the irresistible desire by those in power to control the information received by the public.

“All the fears about the ministry are turning into reality. The media is supposed to control the government, but how is it supposed to do so when its life lies in a minister’s hands?” he said.

For Indonesia, the path towards liberty and accountable government is clearly a long and windy road, with many detours along the way.

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11 comments to Indonesia goes back to its old ways.

  • MTW

    I am glad you have this much faith in the Islamists who want to seize control – curbing their influence is the root of the intentions here. Basic tenets of control, like fingerprinting and a MOI is a good idea when the Salafist influence is going to overwhelm the traditionally benign and Sufi inspired Islamic practices.

  • Well, consider this mental exercise. Imagine that the British Home Secretary decides in the name of anti-terrorism decides to fingerprint every Muslim schoolchild in Britain. What do you think the reaction is going to be?

  • icepick

    There goes the ‘hood…..

  • guy herbert

    “Polyglot island nation”? Sounds more like Britain, Sri Lanka or Cyprus.

    Isn’t the point that the place isn’t a coherent nation at all but an “Empire of the East”, as Norman Lewis put it, to whit the Javanese empire.

  • Verity

    Yes, Guy. It is.

    Anyone with the slightest familiarity with Indonesia know that it is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt all the way through. The problem with places like Indonesia, and probably a lot of places in Africa, is, they don’t see the problem with corruption and nepotism. They spend a lot of thought and energy trying to get in on it.

    Imagine that the British Home Secretary decides in the name of anti-terrorism decides to fingerprint every Muslim schoolchild in Britain. Well, as Muslims are the problem group, I don’t see why not.

  • Verity

    Still in SE Asia, I see that two female splodeys from the religion of peace have murdered 27 people at the Bangkok police academy. Time to ban the wearing of black bedsheets and/or tablecloths and pillowcases on the head. You could hide an entire arsenal under all that voluminous fabric.

  • michael farris

    I think Verity is having an Emily Latella Moment. The terrorist attack she was referring to seems to have been in Baghdad and not Bangkok after all…. oooh, that’s very different.

    (Or maybe Yahoo is having an Emily Latella Moment or there were identical attacks in Baghdad and Bangkok.)

    It’s my understanding that actually most of Indonesa does make sense as a country, as it was sort of unofficial thalassocracy, a multicultural multilingual trade network with a common lingua franca (a sort of Malay) that goes back quite some time.
    It’s some of the bits and pieces at the edges (some of which are large in size) that never belonged or wanted to that were incorporated into the country that cause the civil unrest.
    And yes, it’s corrupt as as the day (in Sweden, in summer) is long.

  • Verity

    I don’t know who Emily Latella is, but I certainly did misread the name of the city! I should hold off on the speed reading until the coffee’s kicked in. Apologies to all for such sloppiness.

    Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia are almost identical, BTW. It is Bahasa Indonesia that is the mother language.

  • michael farris

    Emily Latella (or Litella?) was a character on Saturday night live in the late 70’s, created by the late great Gilda Radner.
    Her shtick was giving impassioned editorials in the basis of misheard news stories.

    “What’s all this fuss I hear about” she’d begin “presidential erections? I know that they erected a monument for Mr. Lincoln and President Washington, …”

    A few minutes into her rant the co-host would gently tell her what the real story was about, “the upcoming presidential elections, not erections! elections!”

    “Ohhh,” she’d say “that’s very different …. never mind.”

    A flimy one-joke premise but brilliantly carried off.

  • Verity

    A flimy one-joke premise but brilliantly carried off. If you thought Gilda Radner was funny, I guess.

    I had never heard of Emily Latella. But Tony Blair’s nickname at Fettes was Emily. Emily Blair. I think that’s an altogether better joke.

  • “…The media is supposed to control the government…” Really?