His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences
Sep. 14, 2016
THE view that the state should legislate morality and sexual conduct is hardly novel. Those who think they know better are ubiquitous. They appear in all societies, proselytising a prescriptive view of how their fellow citizens should behave. This is foolish or worse. You cannot mandate faith, or for that matter morality. Anyone is free to believe that their views carry the mandate of their deity. Anyone is free to declare that they do not believe this to be the case.
It is never sensible to place a religious or political preference in juxtaposition to moral issues. The point is that there is a wide expanse of blue water – it’s dangerously rough water too – between criminal law and elective conduct. The business of social legislation should be to free people to make their own decisions.
So the judicial review of the criminal code as it relates to sexual conduct now under way in the Constitutional Court, while it has some benefits in the broad sense, is treading on dangerous ground when it canvasses laws to prevent sexual relations outside marriage. These things are better left to individual decisions. If not, they simply turn more people into criminals (under flawed and fundamentally unworkable sanctions).
It is perfectly possible to argue that Indonesia’s legal system is too liberal and that it represents responses to moral and ethical behavioural questions that do not accord with the country’s cultural traditions and practices. It’s also easy to do that, since it invites the gullible to bang the nationalist drum on account of the often-misstated view that Indonesia’s social problems and others date back to and are caused by the Dutch era.
That is a cop-out mechanism, a variant of the my-friend-did-it response. It is a facile and popular political pursuit, a banal one that should be in most instances ignored (and chiefly is, by the people those mandated by visionary affliction or self-importance seek to control).
We’ve just celebrated the 71st anniversary of independence. Indonesia’s problems, which are also often misstated or exaggerated, date not from colonial oppression but from two (arguably three) generations of domestic inattention to national codification, reform and progress. Morality and ethics should not be co-opted into law by religious cohorts in a country where the constitution affords recognition to five religions.
The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are Muslim, but there are substantial minorities of Christians and others, and in Bali – uniquely – of Hindus, who may well be socially conservative but whose views on sexuality are often different to those required of adherents to the Quran.
There is a general concept of morality and ethical behaviour in Indonesia that ignores religious boundaries and yet is – understandably and, again arguably, beneficially – out of whack with the views that prevail in what is increasingly understood to be the decadent West. But inculcating appropriate values is the job of parental leadership and education, not the state or (outside the faithful flock of adherents) the religious community.
Justice Patrialis Akbar said this during the Constitutional Court hearings: “Our freedom is limited by moralistic values as well as religious values. This is what the declaration of human rights doesn’t have. It’s totally different (from Indonesia’s concept of human rights) because we’re not a secular country; this country acknowledges religion.” He said the Constitutional Court was an institution “guided by the light of God.”
His judicial colleague Justice Aswanto said this: “I was a bit annoyed with what the government said, [that we should] let people commit zinah (adultery or casual sex) and not regard them as criminals. It’s a little bit annoying. I believe casual sex is a crime.”
Stand by for invidiously expanded operations by the No Nooky Patrol.
(For more on prescriptive proscription, see the Sep. 12 post below, headlined Drink Up.)
On the Other Hand
There’s been a welcome resurgence of Australian student interest in Indonesia, courtesy of the New Colombo Plan that has been assiduously cultivated by Canberra. Indonesian language studies have basically disappeared from Australian schools, displaced by a newly defined need to learn Mandarin because China is viewed as critical to Australia’s trade future.
Misconceptions about Indonesia are rife, something to which many Australians living here can personally attest from their own interactions at home. It’s about much more than trade, which in 2015 (in $A terms) ran out at $5,537 million in Australian exports to Indonesia and $5,619 million in imports, primarily in commodities. Australian exports to Indonesia represented 2.2 per cent of total Australian exports (Indonesia is the country’s 10th ranked export destination). Imports from Indonesia were 2 per cent of the national total and the country is Australia’s 12th ranked source of imports.
Cultural understanding and people to people links are critical to any relationship. It’s heartening to see that these facets of the two-way link have received a boost from the New Colombo Plan. This is not headline stuff: it’s basic building. The results may always be intangible. But it is unarguable that Australians need to know more about Indonesia. It’s telling, perhaps, that Indonesians seem to be more informed about Australia than vice versa.
There’s an interesting article by journalist Latika Bourke in The Sydney Morning Herald that’s really worth reading. It’s not on her usual beat, but she was last year’s Elizabeth O’Neill Journalism Award winner and she’s interviewed Australian students who have chosen to study at Indonesian institutions rather than the traditional Anglosphere icons. That these young people will eventually return home with a deep understanding of the cultural and social mores of Indonesia is immensely valuable.
Much more needs to be done, and many more Australians need to equip themselves with knowledge of their big neighbour, but this is a start.
If nothing else, it underpins the point that Australian defence writer Ross Eastgate (a former army officer) made recently: that Australia is the last European colony in Asia. Intellectual decolonisation of Anglo / European Australia might be a difficult social concept, but it is an outcome that must be achieved.
A Sad Farewell
Made Wijaya’s sad unscheduled departure on Aug. 28 missed the print edition of the Diary last edition, a function of that publishing imperative the deadline, a sadly apt term in these circumstances.
His friends – and they are rightly legion – have said many nice things about him. Rio Helmi, photographer and many other things and a fixture in the Bali firmament, wrote a lovely tribute, and then later another well deserved paean.
Wijaya made the Australian press. He also got notice in the engaging Garden Drum, an eclectic Sydney based on line magazine devoted to horticultural culture that (disclosure) is run by Catherine Stewart, cousin of Hector’s amanuensis.
It is probably at best an open secret that Wijaya, Michael White, was not a fan of Hector or his Diary. That may well be understandable, but we shall miss him and his indelible contributions to Bali.
We’re sure he will have swiftly settled into his new paradise and that he has already rearranged the pot plants.
We had lunch in Ubud the other day with writer and yoga exponent Jade Richardson, at Le Moulin crêperie, the local provider of Parisian ambience with éclat. For once we were there before the talent and this, by clumsy coincidence, provided its own reverse éclat. When we stood up to welcome our guest, in the cool greenery of the back deck, our chair departed noisily over the edge.
Déjeuner à deux is always fun, especially in decorative and discursive company. Though we might wish we hadn’t made quite such an impression. Never mind. The jambon beurre was very good. Our companion had a crêpe. It would have seemed improper not to order at least one for the party.
Richardson this week is in the midst of the latest of her Write of Passage series for aspiring writers in Ubud, and shortly will be overseeing another, multi-faceted, immersion course for writers here.
When we last checked, on newspaper deadline for this edition, the appeal for funds to support the widow and family of slain police officer Wayan Sudarsa had reached US$7,900 (Rp100 million).
The objective is to reach US$20,000. This is not an issue of the criminal law. That case will reach the courts in the fullness of time and be adjudicated there. It is one of assisting a widow and mother who otherwise will face financial hardship because of a tragic event in which she was not involved and over which she had no influence.
So let’s do it, people. Dig deep.
Hector’s Diary also appears in the print and on line editions of the Bali Advertiser