Sampang revisited – where’s compassion?

Nearly seven  months ago, I went to Sampang, a small town in Madura Island off the northeastern tip of Java. Around 200 Shiites were taking refuge in a indoor tennis court. Their houses razed to the ground by an angry Sunni mob. I went there and talked to the people: the stories can be read here, here and here.

I’ve worked on different stories since and however disheartening what happened in Sampang, it slowly slipped my mind. Until a few days ago, I thought of them, and wondered about how they were doing. When I was there, the Sampang regent was adamant that he would not let them return to their houses, even though they were forcibly displaced by religious vigilantes. Has he changed his mind?

Apparently not. Andy Irfan, from East Java Commision of Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said they were still in the same tennis indoor court.

Worse still as their fate is in limbo, the court ruled the only person the police arrested over the attack as not guilty. No one from the thousand of people who burned down people’s houses is held accountable.

Madura is famous for the many Islamic boarding schools in the island. They call it the land of ulemas. But, why is there no compassion and justice in that island?

*Human Rights Watch released last month a report on religious intolerance and violence. See HRW’s report here and the government’s response here.

Sampang villagers caught up in faith feud


On the morning of Sunday, Aug. 26, a crowd descended on Shia minority villages in Sampang, Madura in East Java. Two died in the attacks and dozens of homes were razed. Until today dozens of families remain in a make-shift shelter, while authorities have offered to “relocate” them elsewhere. The Jakarta Post’s Prodita Sabarini reports from Sidoarjo, Pamekasan and Sampang, where the Shiites were also attacked last December. The local ulema have demanded a ban on the teaching of Shia.

Rumsiah stood in a tobacco field next to her burning house. She held her 3-year-old daughter tight to her chest. In front of her, the orange flames crackled as they burned the woven bamboo walls and the fire quickly ate them up. But for Rumsiah, the voices from the mushola (small mosque) speakers drowned other sounds.

“Muslimin and Muslimat, come out all of you!”

“Don’t be afraid!”

“Be unified!”

“Let’s face them together!”

“We will burn them and turn them into satay!”

Rumsiah, 30, ran to the tobacco field with her children and husband as a mob of over a thousand people came to Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages in Sampang.

On Aug. 26, the day of the Lebaran Ketupat, the local Madurese custom marking the end of Ramadhan, families of the Shiite Muslims in both villages were preparing to send their children back to the Shiite Islamic boarding school (YAPI) in Bangil, East Java.

But local Sunni leaders in Blu’uran stopped the rented minibus and denied them entry to the rocky roads of the village, Ummu Kulsum, wife of imprisoned Shiite leader Tajul Muluk said.

Tension between Sunnis and Shiites has been high since the ulema in Sampang declared the Shiites, led by Tajul in Sampang, a deviant Islamic sect.

Last December, a mob burnt down three houses, including Tajul’s. Not long after, Tajul was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.

“Come if you dare!” shrieked an incensed Shiite at his neighbors who had advanced toward their house. As the mob approached, Molotov cocktails were thrown exploded. “They [the Shiites] were prepared to fight,” Noer Tjahja, the Sampang regent said.

Blu’uran and Karang Gayam now have patches of charred ruins where houses used to stand. Chickens peck aimlessly around what was once a rice mill, and rifle-slinging Brimob officers stand guard. Too little, too late.

The mob razed 37 houses of Shia followers. Mohammad Khosim, or Hamama, 50, died in a carok (duel); hacked to death by Husein, 48, from the Sunni crowd, who later died himself in hospital from machete wounds. Hamama’s brother, Thohir, 46, a Shiite, is still in a critical condition.

Some eight people were injured, including the Omben precinct police chief.


A woman in an ochre prayer dress sits alone on the carpet of the Sampang indoor tennis court. She faces Mecca.

Behind her, children chase a ball or dance to the blaring songs played by volunteers from Tagana (the Social Affairs Ministry’s Disaster Response Team). The tennis court has become a makeshift refugee camp.

On her right a large banner separates two sides of the court. Over the separator are rolled mattresses, pillows and the personal belongings of refugees.

The 37 burnt houses belong to 64 families according to Kontras (the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence); around 270 people are staying at the camp.

There is not much to do here. The children play with the volunteers, but the adults just sit around and wait. They would return home, if it were safe.

But Noer says they can only return with the approval of the community there, when they “repent”. Tajul Muluk’s wife, Ummu Kulsum and his brother Iklil have become leaders of the refugees.

Kulsum carries a calm maternal air with her, silently enraged by what she calls Sampang regency’s  “incompetence”.

“If the regency could handle these differences properly, it would not be like this. They protect the guilty instead of the innocent. My husband is innocent and he is in prison,” she says flatly.

Most of the faces in the mob were strangers to Kulsum, but she could name her neighbors as leaders of the mob. Yet police have arrested only Tajul’s brother and arch-enemy Roisul Hukamah as the sole suspect. Kulsum said she did not see Rois, as he is popularly known, at the scene. But it was Rois, an official said, who summoned the people using text messages and phone calls.


Selected differences of Sunni and Shia

While both the Sunnis and the Shiites share most fundamental Islamic beliefs and theological laws, the distinctions between the two major denominations stem from historical political differences gradually transformed into a number of spiritual

• Successor
The Sunnis believed that the new leader of the Muslim nation after the death of the Prophet Muhammad was Muhammad’s close aide, Abu Bakr, who was appointed by the Prophet to become the first Caliph of the Islamic nation.

Meanwhile, the Shiites believe that the leadership remained within Muhammad’s family tree, which means that the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib, should be the leader instead.

• Religious leadership
While the Sunnis accepted that the first four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn Affan, Umar ibn Al Khattab and Ali, were the rightful followers of Muhammad, they are not considered infallible.

Shiites, meanwhile, believe that imams were the descendants of the Prophet. Shiites often worship the imams as saints and perform pilgrimages to their tombs and temples to seek blessings.

• Religious practices
Shiites allegedly resented some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, such as Abu Bakr and Umar, who narrated the Prophet’s life and spiritual practices, and thus did not base religious practices on the testimony of those individuals.

• Marriage
The Shiites supposedly allow the nikah mut‘ah, or fixed-term temporary marriage, which is not tolerable within the Sunni community believing it as planned and agreed fornication.

• Rituals
When leveling their heads to the ground during prayers, Shiites place their forehead onto a piece of naturally occurring material, often a clay tablet said to be from Karbala, Iraq, the place where the son of Ali, Hussein ibn Ali (d. 680) was martyred, instead of directly onto a prayer rug.

In addition, some Shiites perform their prayers back to back, sometimes worshipping two times consecutively and thus praying five times a day but with a very small break in between the prayers.

From various sources (asa)


Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Tue, September 04 2012

In the land of ulema, the price of breaking with the past

The attacks and killings in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages did not only send tremors through Sampang, but have shaken Jakarta’s elites. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono held an impromptu meeting with aides and sent his top officials to Sampang. Jakarta blames poor intelligence for not detecting the seeds of conflict sooner.

In his office in Sampang, Rudy Setiadhi, the official in charge of local political security, showed rows of photographs, including those of meetings with the ulema in Madura, officials in Sampang and the cleric Tajul Muluk.

Rudy said Jakarta was mistaken. “I’ve been involved in mediation here since 2006,” he said. “This is proof that the Sampang government has tried its best to resolve the conflict.”

Rudy said that Tajul had offended the Madura ulema by bringing Shia teachings to Sampang. “Tajul is quite an arrogant person. He thinks that kampong clerics are nothing compared to him.”

Around March this year, Tajul’s brother and arch-enemy Roisul Hukamah, a convert to the Sunni denomination, distributed a recording of Tajul speaking to a follower on the phone to clerics in Madura.

In the transcript, shown to The Jakarta Post, Tajul blasts the Sampang regent for sucking up to the ulema for political gain.

He also said that in Sampang, uneducated clerics could become head of Islamic organizations. “Isn’t that showing disrespect to the ulema here?” Rudy asked.

Culture is important in Madura.There is a hierarchy of respect on the island. Both Rudy and Sampang regent Noer Tjahja say they adhere to this cultural convention: Buppa’ Babbu’ Guru Rato.

Buppa Babbu refers to parents, Guru to clerics and Rato to the government. Hence, the words of clerics hold higher value than those of the government.

A local cleric from Pamekasan says the informal education system of Islamic boarding schools is entrenched in Madura culture. Parents who can’t afford to send their children to public schools send them to Islamic boarding schools instead.

Alumni of Islamic boarding schools can be ulema in their villages, so each village has at least one ulema. Alumni continue their relationship with their teachers, their gurus, and make yearly visits to present donations to their them.

In 2004, Ali Kharrar, a revered local cleric, requested the help of the government to deal with the spread of Shia teachings by Tajul. The Sampang government, Rudy said, were more than happy to facilitate.

Tajul and Iklik meanwhile decried Kharrar’s sermonized warning about Shia as the beginning of their persecution.

Ulema rejection of Tajul was not merely a question of faith. Rudy said that Tajul disrupted the social order in Sampang with his ways.

Indeed, Tajul refused to accept envelopes filled with money from villagers. This was a break from the local customs, where people would give money to ulema for their preaching. A big name cleric can get a fee of Rp 2.5 million (US$262), while less prominent ulema can expect Rp 50,000 (US$5.24) to
Rp 100,000. Ulema also receive money from attendance at functions when villagers shake hands with them.

Tajul also said he stopped individual celebrations of the Prophet’s birth (Maulid), only holding a celebration at his home. In Madura, each house has a small prayer house, families hold feasts and invite a cleric to come and give a sermon.

“I changed the practice because I saw people there are under the poverty line … I gave them a solution so the cost of Maulid celebrations would not go through the roof.” Yet, this particular change reduces the popularity and, crucially, the income of local ulema.


A young cleric, Ahmad Muzakir quickly kisses the hand of Kyai Kharrar in front of his Islamic boarding house Daarut Tauhid in Proppo, Pamekasan, a neighboring town to Sampang. Wearing a white turban, Kharrar nods his head.

Kharrar wears his beard in a neat trim. A busy cleric, he excused himself to meet his wife in the female boarding house of his school. “Please excuse me, I will sin if I do not visit my wife. I have been out all day,” he said.

Kharrar had been out giving two sermons during the day and immediately led a sermon for his male students.

Kharrar is the brother-in-law of Tajul and Rois’ grandfather, Ahmad. Ahmad’s son, Makmun became a Shiite after reading books and bulletins about Shia after the Iranian revolution.

Ahmad cursed his son for converting to Shia to the day Makmun died, Kharrar said. Makmun, who was quite respected locally, did not teach Shia to other villagers. However, he sent his two teenage sons Tajul and Rois to YAPI.

“Kak [elder brother] Ahmad was against that and took them out from YAPI and sent the two to my boarding school,” Kharrar said.

“He [Tajul] bickered every day with the other santri because his thinking was already different”, Kharrar said. Tajul and Rois stayed at Daarut Tauhid for a mere three months and returned to YAPI.

Rudy said that in 1993, Tajul left for Saudi Arabia as a migrant worker. Kharrar however said that Tajul went to Iran and lied about Saudi Arabia. According to Kharrar, after his return to Sampang, Tajul started to teach Shiite beliefs to people in the village.

In 2005, Kharrar set up a meeting to convert Tajul back into Sunni teachings. He invited Sampang officials, police and clerics from the Sampang chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and ulema from five cities in Madura.

“I told him, ‘Child, I am here not to debate but to ask you to return to the road our ancestors took.’”

Kharrar’s proselytizing toward Tajul and his warnings toward other ulema about Shia continued.

In 2006, Tajul finally relented and signed a statement saying that he was returning to Sunni teachings.

“But he is always wishy-washy. In a meeting with us, he would comply, but once he is back, he would return to his ways,” Kharrar said.

In 2006, hundreds of people intimidated Tajul and his followers into returning to Sunni teachings.

Till 2009, Rois was with Tajul as a Shiite, until Rois’ desire for a young woman, called Halimah, was disrupted by Tajul.

Halimah, 19 has a long oval face and big eyes. Her house was one of those burnt on the Aug. 26 attack. At the refugee camp, she said that Rois confessed his love to her when she was 15. “But I did not want to
marry him.”

According to Tajul, Kulsum and Rudy, Rois has a womanizing streak. Marrying women just to divorce them in a couple of months.

One day, a close follower of Tajul, Dul Azid, came to Tajul to intercede for him and ask Halimah’s parents for her hand in marriage.

Tajul then proposed to Halimah for Dul Azid and the parents accepted. Rois became enraged, Halimah said. He summoned her parents and Dul Azid’s parents to meet him. Tajul told them not to come lest Rois would judge them and hit them.

Rois was furious with Tajul. “If that is the case, it is as if you have taken my wife. From now on, I will use my bajing power against you,” Tajul recounted what Rois said. Bajing power in Madurese means every dirty way there is, Tajul said. When Rois defected to the other side, pressure against Tajul increased and in 2011, the Sampang government asked him to relocate to Malang for a year until the situation cooled off.

Tajul accepted Rp 50 million from the government for relocation costs. But he continued to visit Sampang, Rudy said. And it infuriated the people there.

Despite mediation through the National Commission of Human Rights in October 2011, a month later, a Sunni mob attacked Tajul’s family, burning down three houses.

Rois then reported Tajul to the police for blasphemy. The Sampang chapters of the largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama, and Sampang’s chapter of MUI also released edicts that Tajul’s teachings were deviant. In July, Tajul was sentenced to two years in prison.

From prison, Tajul has said that he would like to return to Sampang after his release.

But Sampang regent Noer Tjahja, who will be running for reelection next year, ruled this out. “I am on the side of the ulema, that is clear. They are the ones who own Sampang. I don’t mind violating human rights, as long as I save the majority of my people”.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Reportage | Tue, September 04 2012

Sampang regent ‘sides’ with the ulema

Sampang Regent Noer Tjahja is upset. A protracted disagreement over faith has turned deadly in his little town of less than 1 million people in Madura.

And worst yet, according to him, since the news of the attack against followers of the imprisoned Shia cleric Tajul Muluk surfaced, no one had got it right.

Some 300 meters across the road from where hundreds of Shiites take shelter at an indoor tennis stadium, Noer was sitting on the side of an outdoor tennis court.

Taking a break from his Saturday morning tennis, he met with The Jakarta Post. His brows furrowed, his deep big voice echoed across the court while he lambasted the media, the Jakarta political elites and human rights organizations for their comments.

Two people died in the Aug. 26 attack against Shiites in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages by a Sunni mob of over 1,000 people. The mob razed 37 houses in Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages, displacing around 270 Shiites.

Since the attack, many had put in their two cents. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono blamed lack of police intelligence, poor early detection, and a solidarity alliance in Sampang accused Madura clerics and the regent of being behind the anti-Shia movement in Sampang.

Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi and Constitutional Court judge Mafud MD have said that the government would protect the rights of the Shia minority, promising to rebuild the houses of victims and guarantee their safety.

But Noer, elected in 2007, said any information about the conflict and its solution in Sampang from anyone other than him was wrong. He said he would like to meet the President to give his opinions on the conflict.

“I’ll tell him the true chronology, ‘If [Yudhoyono] receives information other than from me. It’s wrong. It’s wrong even if it’s from your aides. Don’t listen to it’,” he said.

“In all actuality we don’t have a Shia problem. The problem is about a family feud and a defiant sect — blasphemy…” Noer added.

The regent was referring to a feud between Tajul and his brother Roisul Hukamah, a convert to Sunni from Shia whose report on Tajul over blasphemy had brought the latter to court.

The court sentenced Tajul to two years in prison. Rois, as he is popularly known, is currently the sole suspect in the Sunday attacks.

“This is like a minority group is forcing their will on the majority. You shouldn’t turn it the other way around. Those in Jakarta are twisted. I have 900,000 residents. Of course I will prefer the dominant position,” he said.

Last Thursday, Iklil, Tajul’s brother, who has been staying with the rest of the refugees at the tennis stadium, walked across the street to the regent’s office. He has been wearing the same outfit for days, a white T-shirt and blue jeans. His house was among those burned by the mob.

That day, legislators from the House of Representatives visited Sampang from Jakarta to learn about the conflict. The members of Commission III had lunch with the regent and his staff at his office. Sampang ulema from Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and The Sampang chapter of the Indonesian Muslim Council (MUI) were also present.

Iklil said that he was asked to come there.

“I walked to the pendopo [the regent’s office] but they were already finished. So, I walked back here,” he said.

Noer visited the refugee camp once, a day after the attack. But, until Saturday, he has been tight lipped on Sampang’s administration’s plan for the victims.

Sampang MUI and NU leaders, Bukhori Maksum and Syafi’uddin Wahid, who hold a lot of clout in Sampang politics, have stated that Shiites will not be accepted on their land.

As of writing, the refugees are still sleeping on mattresses inside the stadium.

“We want to return to our lands,” Iklil said. Rumors about relocation plans have been flying around. Iklil flatly refuses to be sent away. “It’s our homeland and we’re also worried that if we become banished people from our own land, how can we be sure that we would not face the same problem elsewhere?” he said.

From jail, Tajul echoes his brother’s statement. He also said he refuses “relocation” plans because it would give a bad image of Sampang people.

In a Sidoarjo jail, Tajul wears the orange T-shirt of prisoners. He has been transferred to Sidoarjo after the Aug. 26 attack in Sampang. Tajul and his lawyers deem that it would be safer for Tajul to not be in Sampang.

Tajul’s view is that the Sampang administration want to kick his followers out of Sampang, just like they did to him. In 2011, the Sampang administration made him move to Malang to appease the ulema in Sampang.

Ever since Tajul returned from the Middle East in 1999, and started to become a local cleric, teaching his Shia beliefs to the community in his village, local clerics have persistently pressurized Tajul to return to Sunni teachings and stop his clerical activities. The cleric who first attempted to make Tajul “repent” in 2005 was Ali Kharrar, Tajul’s
grandfather’s brother in-law.

Noer Tjahja refuses to call Tajul Muluk followers Shiites. Shia, a denomination in Islam, believes the leadership of Islam was to remain with the prophet Muhammad’s bloodline. Despite the differences with the mainstream Sunni teachings, the national MUI has never released an edict that Shia is deviant.

The Sampang court found Tajul guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he stated that the current holy Koran was not authentic. Noer believes that the refugees are adhering to a deviant teaching based on that court’s decision.

Noer also says that he follows the Sampang MUI and NU who have released edicts that Tajul’s teachings were deviant.

Noer says that unless Tajul followers “repent” and the community accept them back, rebuilding homes in the area is not an option. “If the houses were rebuilt, it’s like sending people to hot embers,” he said. Due to strong rejection of the Shia minority from the community, if the latter refused to leave, “lives are at stake here”, he said.

Tajul’s lawyer Abdullah Djoepriyono said that faith was a personal issue that the government could not force on anyone.

But, Noer said that he did not care if he violated human rights, as long as he saved the majority in Sampang.

To illustrate the community’s hostility toward the Shia group, Noer said that when the body of Muhammad Khosim or Hamama, 50, the Shiite who died of machete wounds, was taken back to his village, his neighbors refused to let him be buried in the public cemetary.

“The community rejects not only Tajul but the whole group,” he said.

The Blu’uran and Karang Gayam villages where Tajul’s followers come from are small farming communities. In the dry season, such as now, the produce from the fields is tobacco leaves. These fields turn into rice fields during the rainy season.

After the attack, three companies of Brimob officers were deployed to the area. Next to tobacco fields and village houses, officers holding rifles stand guard.

At Blu’uran villagers are sitting inside a bamboo gazebo. A man and a woman stack tobacco leaves into a pile. Others watch television. Mela, 30, a young mother feeds her toddler instant noodles.

“Yes I know that there are Shia people there,” she says. “I don’t know them though,” she added. The burned house of the Shiite family was separated by one house from the gazebo. She said she did not know anything about the attack.

Young men in sarongs standing in front of village houses also say they did not hear anything on Sunday.

According to a Brimob officer from Surabaya, the people in Blu’uran were very private and kept their distance from outsiders. He said that he had asked for days about what happened there, but all he got was “I don’t know”.

A Madurese Brimob officer, Junaidi, told the Post that people in these villages lived together and knew each other. Both Shia and Sunni people worked together in the fields.

He said that people became suspicious of Tajul when they saw how from three to four people coming to Tajul’s small mosque on Friday prayers, his congregation grew until the mosque could not contain the followers. “They overflow outside the mosque,” he said.

But, not all people were disturbed by the increasing popularity of the Shia group. Muhyin, a 21-year-old Shiite, said that a Sunni family hid him when the burning was going on.

According to Tajul, politics is at play in the persecution of Shiites in Sampang. He said that the pressure and eventual attack against Shiite groups happened because Noer continued to follow the wishes of local ulema there.

Noer acknowledges that. Running for election in December to secure his current position, he said he will do whatever the ulema wants.

“The ulema owns Sampang, I am merely a worker for them,” he said, adding that he follows the local customary convention in Madura in which holds the ulema in higher respect than the government.

For Noer, whatever the ulema say in Madura, is his command.

Wahyoe Boediwhardana contributed to the reporting.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sampang, East Java | National | Sun, September 09 2012

By the way … Putting men in a tight spot

I propose that men be banned from wearing tight pants that leave little to the imagination. Those pants are often provocative and distracting. Let’s ban tight pants because they are — to use the words of our Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali — pornographic.

The minister heads the anti-porn task force and has to make a list of criteria of what is considered pornographic to effectively ban it.

Our Pornography Law doesn’t help him much as it has a sweeping definition on pornography: “Sexual materials made by people … that can arouse sexual desires and/or violate public moral values”.

So far, skirts that are worn above the knee have made it onto his list. By that logic, tight pants would be on that list, too. They are not only highly suggestive but also troubling.

Everyone, from punk rockers to corporate workers and men in uniform — whose tasks are, among others, to maintain public order — wear tight pants. It’s hard to do your job well when your derriere is the source of public curiosity.

See, I — and maybe some other women out there — get aroused by what those pants hide, or rather, emphasize. When those cops are waving their hands on the street, they think they’re helping the traffic to flow better. But we don’t! At least, I’m too busy checking out their cute butts.

For public decency and men’s own safety, no visible contours of a man’s behind in the streets should be available for public consumption. This is a matter of great importance.

Tights pants are so disturbing; they make me want to rape those beautiful men. Rape is bad. It’s awful. But it’s not entirely my fault to have such a desire to dominate and emasculate men when they dress so outrageously.

I’ll stop being a wisecrack and address some serious questions to my male compatriots. How did you feel about a sexual fantasy of raping you because of your “provocative” clothing? Do you find that normal and acceptable? Unless you’re into some dominatrix sex, it’s safe to say many of you will feel disgusted, offended, hated, objectified and violated.

Think about those feelings. Think about the shock, anger and shame that swells inside of you when you read my comments.

This is exactly how many women feel when they walk the street and get wolf-whistles, or when men in power try to control what women should wear in the pretext of protecting them women from rape.

Many of our male politicians seem to condone the hostile behavior of men toward women.

When a spate of sexual assaults on Jakarta’s public transportation system happened late last year, Governor Fauzi Bowo’s first reaction was to tell women not to wear miniskirts on buses.

When sexual assaults hit the House of Representatives, Speaker Marzuki Alie moved to ban mini-skirts in the legislature, adding an irresponsible comment along the way: “You know how men are.”

I beg to differ. Let’s suppose that not all men are weak-willed creatures who are helpless at keeping their sexual urges in check.

A man confident in his sexual behavior would never see a woman wearing a miniskirt as an invitation for rape. Real men would know how to appreciate beauty and to enchant a woman with his personality. A real man does not rape — he charms.

Only very frustrated men would object to seeing women wearing miniskirts. Their frustration stems from knowing they have no chance of wooing these women, either by virtue of their lack of confidence or by being in a committed relationship with another person.

Well, tough luck. As Mick Jagger sang to his then lover, “You can’t always get what you want”.

But, in a world where men have a sense of entitlement over women, it is difficult to get across to them that women are individuals and not sexual objects nor reproductive machines.

Sexual assault is a degrading crime. Humiliation comes when the offender takes away the victim’s control over his or her body, robbing them of their autonomy and dignity as free human beings.

The suffering of rape victims is horrendous enough without other people putting the blame on the victim for how they dress.

No one has the right to violate another person. There are no excuses. The danger is in the eye of the beholder, not in the object of beauty. The culprit is the rapist, not the victim’s torn clothes.

— Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Headlines | Sun, April 22 2012

Noam Chomsky: Remember the Santa Cruz massacre

American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky said justice was escaping human rights abuse victims, as he spoke of Indonesia’s dark period in East Timor (now Timor Leste) with the Santa Cruz Massacre 20 years ago, and the West’s complicity in that episode of violence.
Noam Chomsky: BloombergNoam Chomsky: Bloomberg

The prolific left-wing thinker gave his lecture on “Revolutionary Pacifism” in Sydney’s Town Hall recently as he received the Sydney Peace Prize awarded annually by the Sydney Peace Foundation.

“Another anniversary that should be in our minds today is of the massacre in the Santa Cruz graveyard in Dili just 20 years ago, the most publicized of a great many shocking atrocities during the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor,” he said.

Twenty years ago on Nov. 12 in Dili, the military fired on civilians attending a memorial service of a resistance fighter, killing 270 people. Sixteen years earlier, with the backing of the US and Australia’s encouragement, Indonesia annexed East Timor.

Although the Indonesian government considers the chapter of its violent past in East Timor closed since it acknowledged a bilateral truth commission’s report that concluded — without naming individuals — that Indonesia committed gross human rights violations during East Timor’s 1999 break for Independence, Chomsky, citing the UN’s Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, considers it to be a continuing offense.

“The demands of justice can remain unfulfilled long after peace has been declared. The Santa Cruz massacre 20 years ago can serve as an illustration,” he said. “The fate of the disappeared is unknown, and the offenders have not been brought to justice, including those who continue to conceal the crimes of complicity and participation.”

Human rights organization Amnesty International recently urged the Indonesian government to reveal the details of the shooting in Santa Cruz.

Chomsky’s reminder of the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and those who were complicit in the violence carried out in East Timor was an illustration of his general theme of his lecture on “Revolutionary Pacifism”. He quoted American pacifist thinker and social activist A.J. Muste, who “disdained the search for peace without justice”. Chomsky quoted Muste’s warning 45 years ago: “The problem after a war is with the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will teach him a lesson?”

In his lecture, Chomsky recalled Australia’s dismissive attitude on the invasion, quoting former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans a couple of months before the Santa Cruz massacre as saying, “The world is a pretty unfair place … littered … with examples of acquisitions of force.” At the same time, Australia and Indonesia made a deal for East Timor’s oil.

The former foreign minister stood his ground that Australia had nothing to answer for morally in the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia. Chomsky said that this stance “can be adopted and even respected by those who emerge victorious”. He added, “In the US and Britain, the question is not even asked in polite society.”

Chomsky said that bringing the offenders and those who concealed and were complicit in the crime was the one indication of “how far we must go to rise to some respectable level of civilized behavior”.

The director of the Sydney Peace Foundation, Stuart Rees, as he introduced Chomsky to a standing ovation audience at Sydney Town Hall on Nov. 2, said that Chomsky was chosen for the peace prize as he had been committed to peace with global justice, to human rights and freedom of speech.

In the US, Chomsky has been criticized for his response on the assassination on Osama bin Laden. Chomsky reiterated his criticism on the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 and the killing of Bin Laden in his lecture in Sydney. Chomsky said that the killing of Bin Laden abandoned the “doctrine of ‘presumption of innocence’”.

Chomsky joined Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Arundhati Roy, Sir William Deane and former secretary-general of Amnesty International Irene Khan as recipients of the Sydney Peace Prize.

Some 2,000 people attended his lecture at the historical building of Sydney Town Hall. In his soft-spoken manner, he mentioned that the public had the power to question the victors of war. In the case of East Timor, he said that in 1999, the pressure from the Australian public and media convinced former US president Bill Clinton to tell the Indonesian generals “that the game was over, at which point they immediately withdrew allowing an Australian-led peacekeeping force to enter.”

Chomsky said that there was a lesson for the public in that episode, as Clinton could have delivered the orders earlier, which would have prevented the massacre.

The social thinker read his lecture sentence by sentence in a calm and monotonous tone. His manner of speech did not boast any exemplary oratorical skill; however, the content was clear and his message was direct; and included in that message was that the strategy carried out by the US in the war on terror was destabilizing and radicalizing the Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

A professor of linguistics at MIT, Chomsky has long been criticizing American foreign policy.

According to The Guardian, he joins Marx, Shakespeare and the Bible as one of the 10 most-quoted sources in humanities and the only one among the writers who is still alive. With the Sydney Peace Prize, Chomsky won a A$50,000 (US$51,030) prize.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sydney | People | Fri, December 02 2011

Indefinite mandatory detention for asylum seekers harmful

A vignette of a short film started the night.

Two women, both who fled their home countries to avoid political persecution, were on the screen: a Chilean, Maria Fernanda Gonzales, who flew to Sydney in 1985, and an Iraqi, Zahoor Askari, who flew to the country a little over a decade later.

Maria stayed in the Villawood hostel in Sydney for refugees with her three boys and a baby on its way for seven months. The staff treated her kindly and she and her family were able to walk around outside the compound.

In Zahoor’s time, the place had turned into a detention center with two big wire fences surrounding the complex. “I woke up in the morning and thought to myself  ‘Where am I? I am in jail!’ I left Iraq because it was like a jail, only to be put in prison,” Zahoor said in the film.

The film started a public talk on Tuesday on Australia’s policy in the treatment of asylum seekers. Speaking at the talk, human rights advocate and lawyer Julian Burnside said Australia’s policy of indefinite mandatory detention was inhumane and unnecessary. Burnside also added that Australia’s tough measures on people smugglers was cutting the last chance of refugees
to seek escape.

Organized by State MP from the Greens Party Jamie Parker, the talk also featured a Hazara Afghan refugee and Francis Milne from the Uniting Balmain Church.

“Indefinite mandatory detention is completely unacceptable and it must end. This is an opportunity to begin a practical debate about the genuine alternatives,” Parker said.

In Australia, more than 4,000 asylum seekers are kept in detention centers. Since 1992 under the John Howard administration these incarcerations were mandatory and indefinite for people who came to Australia by boat without papers.

The detentions could last from six months to two years before the asylum seekers found out whether they would be granted protection visas or not.

Indefinite periods of detention have caused serious mental problems for detainees. The ABC Four Corners recent report showed that detainees harm themselves by cutting and many have attempted suicide. The frustration among asylum seekers being locked up for months have caused riots in detention centers on Christmas Island, with detainees setting ablaze the compound in March of this year. A month later, asylum seekers set fire to the Villawood detention center.

Burnside said that health and security checks should be limited to 30 days. Asylum seekers should be allowed in the community while immigration assessed their eligibility for protection visas.

Burnside said that asylum seekers who arrive by plane using tourist or student visas are allowed in the community through bridging visas. The percentage of people coming in by plane to be granted protection visas were a mere 20 percent, compared to 82 percent of the boat people who eventually receive asylum after spending time in detention. Hence, he questioned the need for indefinite periods of incarceration for people who are potentially granted refugee status as many end up having mental health problems after detention.

Burnside retold the story of Abdul Hamidi, an Iranian man who was detained at the Curtin detention center. He was granted asylum four years ago, but is now unable to work due to mental health problems. He was imprisoned in a small room and tortured in Iran. In Curtin, he tried to harm himself and attempted suicide. During times when Abdul has his bouts of frustration, detention center security guards place him in solitary confinement.

When the Labor government took power in 2008, the Immigration Department released seven new directives on detention centers. Among them were “detention in immigration detention centers is only to be used as a last resort and for the shortest practicable time” and “conditions of detention will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person.”

Burnside said if these directives were followed and more asylum seekers were allowed in the community awaiting their visas, the government would decrease their spending on detention centers and solve the problem of overcrowding in detention centers.

Burnside also commented on the government’s tough policies on people smuggling. Both leaders of the Liberal and Labor Parties have vilified people smugglers as evil people who make profits over the misfortune of others. In 2009 after a boat explosion that killed three asylum seekers, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd was quoted by ABC lambasting people smugglers as the “absolute scum of the Earth”. Burnside said that while Rudd lashed out at people smugglers, his own hero, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a people smuggler who evacuated German Jews to Switzerland. “Oscar Schindler is a people smuggler,” Burnside added, saying that he too did it as a business. And to make his point clear, Burnside said that the nuns in The Sound of Music, who helped evacuate the Von Trap family, were also people smugglers.

A recent report from ABC Radio National shows that the problem of fishermen-turn-people smugglers in Indonesia has a connection to Australia’s tough maritime border security. The Australian government burned some of the fishermen’s boats considered to be trespassing Australian waters. Having no means of livelihood, the fishermen who knew the way to Australia become people smugglers instead. Some are only teenagers.

For asylum seekers who ended up in Indonesia, their refugee granting process through the UNHCR might take 10 to 30 years. Burnside said he was sure that Australian leaders, if they were in the same position as the refugees, they would choose to go on a boat rather than languish for decades in uncertainty. Yet these leaders are cutting the refugees last chance to freedom by punishing people smugglers, he concluded.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Sydney | Features | Thu, November 24 2011

LGBT groups fight for their rights

Come out: People wave gay movement flags (left and right) and the Brazilian flag during a march against homophobia in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 18. AP/Eraldo Peres
Come out: People wave gay movement flags (left and right) and the Brazilian flag during a march against homophobia in Brasilia, Brazil, on May 18. AP/Eraldo Peres

As people become more aware on LGBT issues, protests follow. Hartoyo, the secretary-general of LGBT rights organization OurVoice, said that was normal.

“As more [LGBT people] appear, rejection from certain groups will come too,” he said giving examples of groups such as the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and the Muslim Forum (FUI). These groups protested an international LGBT event in Surabaya last year, intimidating the organizers to the point they canceled the event.

Hartoyo said he believed that Indonesian society was tolerant. “Hatred toward the LGBT group is based more on lack of non-judgmental media communication,” he said.

That is why his organization uses the Internet platform through writings on their website and videos on Youtube. “Through our website we try to express what we feel is happing inside of us,” he said. “OurVoice can be a media form where everyone has the right to disagree but they also have to listen to what LGBT people are going through,” he said.

He said the LGBT rights movement in Indonesia developed from being composed of patron type organizations — such as the transgendered women’s group that holds dance events to organizations that focus on the rights of LGBT people. In its third decade the advocacy movement has progressed far from the days of the 1980s when homosexual men and women and transgenders networked exclusively through the first and — at that time — the only gay magazine GAYa Nusantara.

Hartoyo’s organization OurVoice, and Arus Pelangi, Ardhanary Institute, are working more on the human rights issues concerning LGBT.

“After the reform era, organizations based more on human rights issues emerged and they hugely contribute to Indonesia’s LGBT discourse,” he said.

Eventually, Hartoyo said that the group aimed to gain political power that could ensure the state provides policies on LGBT rights.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Feature | Sat, May 21 2011

Silver lining for gay and lesbians

Seek the light: Activists wearing masks hold up candles during a demonstration marking International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz, Bolivia, on May 17. According to LGBT leaders, 24 people from the LGBT community have been murdered in the last 18 months in Honduras because of their sexual orientation. AP/Juan Karita
Seek the light: Activists wearing masks hold up candles during a demonstration marking International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz, Bolivia, on May 17. According to LGBT leaders, 24 people from the LGBT community have been murdered in the last 18 months in Honduras because of their sexual orientation. AP/Juan Karita

Fady, 29, limits his imagination to the future of his relationship with his boyfriend.

A closet homosexual, except to a few very close friends, he keeps his sexual orientation a secret.

“I have a lot of things to consider if I come out to people outside my [circle] of close friends. I don’t have enough energy and time to go through that,” he said.

For him and his boyfriend, what they have is the present. He said he would be happy enough if he could be with his partner for the next year.

“We don’t think about how it would be when we’re old and etc,” he said.

In the country’s strong heterosexist culture, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people are either hidden or marginalized. Most LGBT people in Indonesia face rejection from families when they “come out” and are discriminated against by the system.

But, the country’s LGBT and liberal human rights groups are slowly working to fight the stigma of a lewd, mentally disordered lot attached to the LGBT community.

One of the country’s gay rights
organizations, OurVoice, is campaigning to fight homophobia in conjunction with the International Day of Anti-Homophobia that falls on May 17.

May 17 has been commemorated as the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) since 1996, after a conference on gay rights in Montreal, Canada.

The date, May 17, was chosen as the symbolic day, as it was on this date the World Health Organization scrapped homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association stated in 1975 that homosexuality was not a mental disorder.

In 2006, the Yogyakarta Principle, a guideline of International
human rights law in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation was signed.

Despite that, persecution against LGBT people still takes place around the world. According to OurVoice, there are more than 70 countries that criminalize a person based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Indonesia, regional bylaws in South and West Sumatra criminalize homosexuals and the 2008 pornography law states that homosexuality is a deviant behavior despite the Health Ministry’s declaration in 1993 that homosexuality is no longer a mental disorder/disease in their Diagnostic Classification on Mental Disorder Guidelines (PPDGJ).

Fady said he did not know that such a day commemorating the rights for LGBT people existed. He said it was a good thing that a group of people in the world was concerned for LGBT people, although it didn’t affect him much, he added, as he kept his relationship with his partner a secret.

But for Ramy, a 20-year-old lesbian, that day is very important. While Fady keeps his sexual orientation and relationship a secret, not daring to imagine the future, Ramy said she would make sure to follow her own life path. “For the next couple of years, I will make sure I will have a relationship, like it or not,” she said. “I will be true to myself and not undermine my true self to please society,” she said.

Strong unity: Youths take part in a rally near the presidential house in Tegucigalpa on International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. Reuters/Edgard Garrido
Strong unity: Youths take part in a rally near the presidential house in Tegucigalpa on International Day Against Homophobia on May 17. Reuters/Edgard Garrido

Ramy, who chose not to disclose her last name, said her family learned of her attraction to the same sex in mid-2009. “My brother suspected that I liked women. I’m a tomboy, and he started to be suspicious. He followed me and found me with my girlfriend and took me home,” she said.

Her family interrogated her, asking why she couldn’t be “normal”. “I just told them that I was just following my heart; that I desired a woman,” she said.

Ramy said her family took her to an Islamic boarding school that treats “drug addicts and stressed out youth”, where she had to bathe in water mixed with seven kinds of flowers in an attempt to “cure” her.

After two months at the boarding school, Ramy, who lives with her mother, never brought her partner to her parent’s house again.

“My wish in the future is that my family can have an open mind and not be as rigid as now,” she said.

Ramy said that, among her friends and colleagues, she does not hide her homosexuality. “The first time they found out they were surprised, but later they said, ‘It’s her life,’” she said. “While my friends at work, luckily they are people who mind their own business,” she added.

When her colleagues found out, Ramy said that usually the first thing they would say was, “How did that happen? Since when?”

“My friends were surprised at first but later got used to it, while my colleagues at work mind their own business,” she said.


In urban areas, public knowledge, awareness and acceptance of homosexuality have increased compared to 10 years ago, general secretary of OurVoice, Hartoyo, said. Films with themes of homosexuality have been well-accepted, such as Nia Dinata’s Arisan! (Savings Gathering). A gay-themed film festival, Q Film Festival, also has been successfully running for almost 10 years.

“I think people are more accepting. Not that I’m saying they 100 percent accept [LGBT people], but information about LGBT is more open, which enables communication to happen,” Hartoyo said.

Hartoyo himself has experienced discrimination and abuse due to his sexual orientation, when in 2007 policemen in Aceh abused and tortured him for having homosexual relations.

Hartoyo said LGBT people gathering at places such as gay bars and clubs in big cities also indicated people were accepting.

Another example of how society is accepting — to a certain extent — towards LGBT people can be seen in Dino’s (not his real name) experience. Dino, a straight guy, pretended to be gay so he could live with two girls in a shared house without arousing suspicion and rejection from surrounding neighbors.

Dino said that to live in the house in South Jakarta, his housemates suggested that he pretend to be a stereotypical gay man by acting effeminate.

“I’d heard that some people protested when a guy lived in the house before I moved in,” he said. “When he moved out and I was about to replace him, my friends told me to act gay,” he said.

“My neighbors feel that their space needs to be protected,” he said.

Dino said that this could be an indication that LGBT people were more accepted, but he doubted that if an “outed” gay couple lived in the neighborhood, people would be as accepting.

For Hartoyo, it comes down to society’s perception of sex and the lack of sex education. “Sex is seen as sacred and on the other hand dirty.

“What is sacred is heterosexual relations under lawful marriage according to religious laws. Outside of that, sex is considered dirty, which means homosexual and lesbian sexual relations and heterosexual relations outside of marriage,” he said.

He said that there was a lack of sex education in the country. “Sex is always a taboo and feared. Sex education is something that is feared, with the assumption that by giving sex education people will have sex,” he said. “That’s not the case, and the state should not have a phobia of sex,” he said.

“When talking about reproductive health, safety, equality and justice, relationships do not have anything to do with halal (allowed by religious law), but mutual respect and understanding,” he said.

He said if a sexual relationship was based on equality between partners, it should not be considered a public matter. “Unless there is discrimination and violence, then what’s private can be a public matter,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Sat, May 21 2011

A beautiful mind

Showing solidarity: Participants to the World Autism Day held on April 2 walk down the streets of Yogyakarta. Antara/Wahyu Putro
Showing solidarity: Participants to the World Autism Day held on April 2 walk down the streets of Yogyakarta. Antara/Wahyu Putro

For the first 10 years of her son’s life, Sri Astuti never heard him utter a word.

Her son Raditya Parasadi is autistic. When he was growing up, information on autism was hard to come across, Sri explained.

Now, 13 years later, Raditya communicates freely. He can hold conversations on various topics from religion to marriage. He also has a penchant for designing clothes.

While he has now blossomed into a talented young man, Sri said raising an autistic child wasn’t easy, mainly because society perceives autistic children or people as strange and freakish.

Raditya once worked in a hotel, Sri said, but when his old boss moved on, Raditya was laid off because his new superior wasn’t open to having an autistic employee.

Actress-cum-activist Christine Hakim recently launched a campaign to eliminate the negative stigma surrounding autism, which was accompanied by a documentary film on autistic children.

Christine, through her foundation Christine Hakim Feature, aims to educate the public about autism.

“People say the [autistic] children looks crazy, while in fact they [children] are not. We have to approach them to understand them,” Christine said during the launch of the documentary.

For her campaign, Christine is working with neurologist Andreas Harry as a producer and advisor, and Ricky Avenzora, a lecturer in child recreation and disabilities, as a documentary film director.

Sri said that meeting with Christine, Andreas and Ricky was like a miracle.

“I don’t shed tears anymore. I’ve cried too much already,” she said.

“I say stop the tears. Don’t be sad. It’s a miracle from god. Our child is a gift we should care for. Give as much love as you can,” Sri said.

Autistic children and their parents gathered recently in a restaurant in a central Jakarta office tower for lunch. They came to share their stories and watch an extract of the documentary film on austistic children Love Me as I am.

Christine, award-winning actress who has produced documentaries on Indonesian heritage, started doing research for the documentary on autism in January this year. The film’s launch on April 1 was meant to coincide with Autism Day on April 2. Christine plans to screen the documentary film in schools, to change the perception that autistic children should not attend regular public schools.

Studying in a regular school allows autistic children to interact with other children who aren’t autistic, she went on. Children who aren’t autistic also benefit because they get to know about autism, and stop stigmatizing it.

Documenting the lives of autistic children and their families has been both painful and inspiring for Christine. She said she wanted to educate people about what autism was really about.

Autism is not a disease, according to the medical community, Andreas said. It is a syndrome caused by a different anatomic structure in the brain, Andreas explained. Difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, including difficulties making eye-contact; unstable emotions and having one repetitive single interest were the general symptoms of autism.

According to Andreas, the film plays an important role raising awareness about autism among society.
“There are more children born with autism than before,” he said.

In 2008, eight out of 1,000 babies were born with autism, compared to one in 1,000 in 2000, Andreas stated.

Andreas, whose child is autistic, said autistic children had great potential in several fields. “My child is a doctor at 21,” he said.

He added that researchers in the UK claimed Einstein might have been autistic. He has symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism.

The documentary recounts the stories of autistic children with exceptional talents. One of the talented children is 7-year-old Michael Anthony. He is autistic and blind.

The sound of his fingers dancing on the piano keys comes out like that of an adult maestro playing classical music. Christine said that listening to Michael play brought tears to her eyes.

Michael can play around 100 songs, including sonnets from Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. His mother said he first listened to his brother playing the piano, and then started to play around with the piano himself.

Andreas said that at his age, Michael could still be exposed to different areas of interest. Music might just be one of many areas Michael possesses talent in, he said.

“He might have more than one talent,” he said.

Emilio, another autistic child, does paintings with vivid colors. One of his paintings could have sold for US$5,000, but Emilio and his family declined to sell it.

Christine said it was important for the government and the public to get rid of any misconception about autistic children. The latter should be allowed to study in public schools and interact with non-autistic children, she said. Denying them a place in regular schools was a violation of human rights.

“Because our principle is education for all,” she said.

Irma, a mother of two children, said her autistic son had learned to interact socially with his younger sister, who isn’t autistic.

Christine explained that autistic children improved their social skills when studying alongside other children in regular schools. Children who are not autistic care more for their autistic friends and help the latter at school.

She cited as an example Global Mandiri School, which has 59 autistic students.

“The students [who are not autistic] do not tease their autistic friends. They are caring and they help them out,” Christine said.

Andreas added that autistic people could have an independent and meaningful life.

“In the end they are able to fall in love and form families. We want to go to that direction,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Wed, April 13 201