This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/720
June 29, 2005
MIM: It looks like all the international aid helped put the Islamists get back to business 6 months after the tsunami . Apparently survival is no longer the most pressing order of business in Aceh which lost 128,000 peopel . Perhaps the boredom of reconstruction needed to be relieved by some live entertainment , as it was reported that 2000 people stood outside the mosque to witness the floggings.
The public was probably crestfallen to learn that the shari'a implementers in Aceh do not plan to take up the Saudi custom of cutting off hands of thieves (maybe because there isnt much left to steal) ,or the stoning to death of adulterous women (perhaps because there are so few people left to commit adultery with, let alone buildings to do it in).
"...There seems little danger of Sharia spreading to other provinces in Indonesia. But the question remains: is the gentle caning of a few small-time punters in a province that suffered the loss of more than 128,000 people and saw much of the government infrastructure destroyed by last year's tsunami, the thin edge of the wedge? .."
The local former Aceh governor who was convicted for 10 years for corruption stated in 2003 that :
We want to build a cool image of Islam in Aceh," Puteh told guests at the opening ceremony for the first Sharia court in March 2003 when he was still governor. The province will get about US$6 billion in aid to help with reconstruction and rehabilitation after the tsunami, but the Puteh case highlights major concerns on how transparently the funds will be disbursed and used, given the levels of corruption in the country (and in Aceh province particularly).
The Indonesian president Yudhoyono "has spoken out against the misunderstanding that terrorism is connected to Islam :
"I want people to look at Indonesia as moderate, Islamic, and peaceful,"
Flogging for Islamic law
By Bill Guerin
JAKARTA - More than a dozen men accused of placing Rp1,000 ($0.10) bets in an illegal lottery were flogged in public last week in tsunami-struck Aceh for violating Islamic (Sharia) law, marking the first public canning since the staunchly Muslim province adopted such laws in 2003.
The offenders, who had already been detained for 22 days without the chance to be represented by lawyers, each received between six and 10 strokes of a rattan cane across the back from a masked and hooded algojo, or flogger. A noisy crowd of about 2,000 people witnessed the floggings, held outside the main mosque in Biruen after Friday prayers.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia to implement Sharia law, a freedom granted to the courts as part of an autonomy package offered by Jakarta in an effort to quell separatism in the province. Despite the fact that Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country (some 88% of its 230 million population are registered as Muslims), Islam has never been declared the national religion.
Sharia law is a comprehensive set of laws that govern everything from banking to prayer, theft and adultery. But among Muslim groups there is no single interpretation of Sharia, as it is based on teachings from many noted scholars (ulemas) who have different interpretations of the two main sources of Islamic law - Islam's holy text, the Koran, and hadith (the traditions and sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed).
Saudi Arabia administers Sharia to the full. Thieves have their hands chopped off as punishment - the so-called hudud laws - while adulteresses are stoned to death. Though caning is frequently practiced in Singapore and Malaysia as a judicial punishment, it is not carried out in public.
There seems little danger of Sharia spreading to other provinces in Indonesia. But the question remains: is the gentle caning of a few small-time punters in a province that suffered the loss of more than 128,000 people and saw much of the government infrastructure destroyed by last year's tsunami, the thin edge of the wedge?
No Islamic state
The founding fathers dismissed demands for an Islamic state at independence in 1945, but the Acehnese, who saw the revolution against the Dutch in the 1940s as an Islamic struggle, felt that Sukarno, the country's first president, had let them down by going back on his earlier promise to allow the province to fully implement Sharia.
They had to wait until January 2001 before being granted permission to implement Sharia as part of a broad autonomy offered by then-president Abdurrahman Wahid that allowed the province to implement partial Sharia law and have its own Sharia police and education system.
Although Aceh holds the world's richest onshore reserves of natural gas, estimated at 40 billion cubic meters, and provided an estimated 11% of the country's total exports in 2001, less than 10% of this wealth was reinvested in the province. Critics said the autonomy package and the right to implement Sharia, which would also give Aceh a greater share of revenue from these rich resources, was simply aimed at dampening separatist sentiment in the province.
However, the move formed the basis of a ceasefire deal signed in December 2002 between the government, then led by president Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the country's first president, and pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, who have waged a guerrilla war since 1976 in which more than 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.
GAM, however, has made it clear they are not fighting for an Islamic state, and Hasballah Sa'ad, a former minister for human rights who is Acehnese himself, said Sharia would do nothing to appease GAM and other independence activists.
"We know the people of Aceh have wanted to apply Sharia since the 1950s, but GAM never asked for Sharia," Sa'ad said. Although the peace process broke down in May 2003 and a full-scale military offensive was simultaneously launched against GAM, the local government nevertheless went on to implement new laws banning adultery, drinking alcohol and gambling - the law those flogged last Friday were accused of violating.
At first the local administration concerned itself with simple issues, such as Muslims who failed to attend Friday prayers, or those who sold food or cigarettes during the fasting month of Ramadan. Some 20 district religious courts were set up to deal with issues such as divorce.
Flogging for corruptors?
Majelis Permusyawaratan Ulama (MPU) - the consultative assembly of religious leaders in Aceh, laid down the punishment for the unfortunates who were caned last week after acting Governor Azwar Abubakar signed the law approving the flogging. According to Mustofa Gelanggang, the mayor of Biruen, the governor will sign off on more legislation in the coming weeks that will expand the use of caning to punish other crimes.
Biruen's district chief Mustofa Gelanggang said caning as a punishment was "not about pain, but to shame people and deter them from doing the same criminal acts in the future". He was presumably referring to gambling and adultery, not to corruption. In April, former Aceh governor Abdullah Puteh was sentenced to 10 years in jail for stealing state funds when marking up the purchase of a helicopter in 2001.
"We want to build a cool image of Islam in Aceh," Puteh told guests at the opening ceremony for the first Sharia court in March 2003 when he was still governor. The province will get about US$6 billion in aid to help with reconstruction and rehabilitation after the tsunami, but the Puteh case highlights major concerns on how transparently the funds will be disbursed and used, given the levels of corruption in the country (and in Aceh province particularly).
Corruptors may yet have much to worry about even before they end up in the dock. "People must know there is a punishment for a crime," warned Aceh's Sharia law chief, Alyasa Abubakar. Raihan Iskandar, the deputy speaker of the Aceh provincial council, has said even tougher punishments are under consideration. The Sharia Office is deliberating the law on theft, including corruption offences, Iskandar said.
Radicals against evangelism
There are also fears that Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise since Aceh was opened up following the tsunami. Dozens of radical Islamic groups quickly arrived on the scene then, supposedly to guard against any liberal influence emanating from foreign relief workers and troops.
Two days after last Friday's canings, dozens of Islamic groups and charities, including hardline organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI), as well as several Islamic-based political parties like Hizb ut-Tahrir, demonstrated in front of the Baiturahman grand mosque in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. They were protesting what they called an "evangelism campaign" being perpetrated by local and foreign non-governmental organizations.
Though the FPI is infamous mainly for unleashing paramilitary gangs on nightspots in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, Hizb ut-Tahrir is banned in most Muslim countries for its calls to unite all Muslims in a single caliphate and its demands for the restoration of "Islamic society". Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects democratic models as a Western invention, incompatible with Islam, and claims to have a footprint in 40 countries, but Indonesia is one of the few where it is allowed to operate openly.
Though it attracts prominence and dominates the news by playing to a domestic audience still suspicious of the West, the Islamic radical fringe in Indonesia remains a tiny, vocal minority. Were Sharia ever to gain the support of the majority, and the country to become an Islamic state, the image of Indonesia in Western eyes would be starkly different. The reality, however, is that there is little risk of this and the country's constitutional status as a secular state is not under threat.
The radical groups are inclined to violence and intimidation to achieve their goals, but moderate Muslims have had enough of the violence and terrorism. The country's two largest Muslim organizations - Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) - oppose state-imposed Sharia.
The NU, with about 40 million members, says Sharia would create disputes between those of different religions, or even among Muslim groups. The People's Consultative Assembly has also overwhelmingly rejected a move to have Sharia embedded in the constitution.
Nonetheless, the Indonesian Muslim Congress, in a 14-point "Jakarta Declaration" issued in April this year, advocated overcoming the country's problems through the implementation of Sharia.
Corruption, terrorism and moderate Islam
Campaigning on an anti-corruption platform, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), increased its share of the vote in last April's general election to 7.34% from 1.4% in 1999.
Just before the final run-off in the presidential election in September 2004, PKS chairman Hidayat Nur Wahid announced that the party would support Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Yudhoyono's supporters argued that his election offered the best chance for democratic reform, good governance and an end to corruption. Some PKS politicians, however, opposed the move because they saw Yudhoyono as a secular political leader opposed to implementing Islamic law. There are those within the party who believe that by 2009 they will be ready to win a much larger share and boost their hopes of making Indonesia more of an Islamic state.
Since taking the presidency, however, Yudhoyono has spoken out against the misunderstanding that terrorism is connected to Islam. "I say to my people again and again there is no relationship between the two," he said in a recent interview, adding that he wanted to strengthen the role of moderate Islam. "We need moderate religious leaders who won't let their people be taken hostage by the radicals, by the terrorists.
"I want people to look at Indonesia as moderate, Islamic, and peaceful," he concluded.
Bill Guerin, a Jakarta correspondent for Asia Times Online since 2000, has worked in Indonesia for 19 years as a journalist. He has been published by the BBC on East Timor and specializes in business/economic and political analysis in Indonesia.
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/720