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Beggaring Belief

 

HECTOR’S DIARY

HectorR

His regular diet of worms and other (usually) non-religious fare

The Cage, Bali

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

 

FAITH is a personal compact between a person and his or her deity. The faithful, of any ilk, should be honoured for their commitment to a life beyond secular concerns and for the higher calling that this condition imposes. Those who study their religious texts and who seek to live within the strictures these impose, are honourable people.

In the secular west – fundamentally these days a godless society – these things, and the various deities in whom a great many people believe, are often scoffed at or made the topic of comedic intervention. That is wrong, when the objective is only to get a cheap laugh. It’s possible – or it should be so in a rational society – to debate the existence of God. It’s plain rude just to slag off at people who believe, if you yourself don’t.

The three Abrahamic religions, each of which sprang from the Levant or its contiguous desert interior without any intervention from Europeans until after their invention (a seminal fact that Europeans should note and really should try very hard to comprehend) share syncretic theologies, a melange of mythologies, and, in the Old Testament, a common liturgical origin. Yet each has historically been at war with the others (and often with themselves) forever, philosophically if not actually.

That’s a rather cursive way to get into a matter of current concern in Indonesia, but it’s necessary to set the parameters of debate and to avoid stepping unnecessarily on possibly angry toes. Of course, the problem is far wider than just the archipelago. Islam’s sectarian schism leaves the former fatal fractures within Christianity for dead, so to speak.

In Indonesia, where, except for Aceh, Islam has traditionally adopted a Southeast Asian rather than an Arabian face over the half a millennium of its establishment here, a more fundamentalist mind-set is taking root. That cannot be denied. Neither can its future risk to the integrity of Indonesia if it flourishes.

The proselytes of Indonesian Islamic fundamentalism assert that theology is the driver of their intentions. It’s perfectly possible to encourage deeper religiosity in the faithful, and to prescribe firmer and more restrictive patterns of social behaviour for them, from a philosophical standpoint. It’s when the boys with the bother boots take to the streets that problems emerge. There’s very little that’s philosophical about a mob armed with sharpened sticks and intent on enforcing their own interpretations of Ramadan rules, after all. These actions may be clothed in Islamic cloth, but their purpose is political – it is to manoeuvre government policy – and thus is plainly secular.

There’s an interesting article in The Diplomat, written by Benedict Rodgers – for context: he’s East Asia team leader for the human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide – that illustrates the point. He instances a broken long-term friendship between two fifteen-tear-old girls at a Jakarta high school, one Christian, the other Muslim. Rodgers reports that the Christian girl got a phone call from her Muslim friend telling her: “We can no longer be friends. My God does not allow me to be friends with people like you.” It sounds almost apocryphal, or would if the messages that are coming out of the mosques weren’t couched in similarly simplistic and fundamentally threatening terms.

There’s much more than this to Rodgers’ article, which is very readable. He cites the conviction and imprisonment of now former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, for blasphemy; and Aceh, church burning, death threats and other signals of restrictive intent. He warns that Indonesia could become Pakistan.

That’s a bit dire, and Rodgers says so himself in the article. Indonesian culture is very far from those of the sub-continent and (like anywhere else) Pakistan is what it is because of its own cultural mix, not someone else’s. But it’s understandable that other Islamic sects, moderate Sunnis (the great majority) and other religious communities should feel deep concern.

The real risk, and the real warning that needs to echo through the rainbow archipelago, is that doltish insistence on Islamic exclusivity will ultimately risk fracturing Indonesia. Political figures whose vision fails to extend beyond the next convenient deal and endless machinations to buy votes should consider that. Seriously.

That said, there is some brighter news. Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defenders Front (the FPI), faces arrest when he returns from Saudi Arabia if he fails to answer his third summons from police – he ignored the first two, of course – to answer questions about alleged breaches of the anti-pornography law. He wanted the porn laws and he influenced their scope. What an interesting case this will be.

It’s That Man Again

THE unedifying spectacle of Donald Trump shoving through the throng and shouldering lesser leaders out of the way to get to the front of the photo opportunity at the NATO summit last week, and then posing, Mussolini-like, complete with superior grin, is further evidence that real-estate shysters and reality TV hosts do not necessarily make good leaders.

They said of No. 45 that he probably needed time to become presidential. Time was not the only thing he needed, as events and growing awareness that they’ve been duped among many who voted for him last November now show. Some character would have helped. H.L. Mencken, who in the 1920s predicted that profane and populist politics meant that America would one day have an imbecile for its president, would be rolling his eyes if he were not rolling in his grave.

Trump still has a cheer squad, of course, not all of it confined to America where he’s making things grate again. We saw an Asia-based Australian observer’s view this week that suggested his hard line on NATO funding and self-reliance had paid off, because German Chancellor Angela Merkel had said publicly that America’s allies needed to do more.

They do. You get what you pay for. But the obverse of that coin, for “the leader of the free world” (whatever that is) and his country, is a proportionate reduction in America’s clout within NATO. That mightn’t be quite what the master of the universe is looking for, but it would be no bad thing, since the Custer gene remains ascendant.

Sent Home 

SCHAPELLE Corby, 39, the Australian woman who was convicted of drug trafficking in Bali in 2005 and spent nine years behind bars before being paroled three years ago, was deported from Indonesia on May 27. Immigration authorities put her on a plane to Australia. That is all.

HectorR

Hector writes a diary in the Bali Advertiser. It appears monthly. The current diary was published on May 24 and the next will appear on Jun. 21.

Lost in the Forest

Hector’s Bali Diary, Apr. 13, 2016

His fortnightly diet of worms and other non-religious experiences

 

A Hollywood actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, visited Sumatra and said he thought it would be a great idea to protect the rainforest and the orangutans living in it, especially from palm oil plantations. This is an unexceptional statement. It is also an ecologically sensible view to hold, as well as humane and in the wider interests of Indonesians as a whole. He made the statement, let it be noted, while a forestry minder was with him on his fleeting visit.

When what he said became public, the flatfoots set off in pursuit. The immigration department said it would investigate what he’d said and if he had misused his tourist visa to cause a disturbance or to harm the national interest, they’d look at deporting him. Even the orangutans would have had a good laugh at that, especially as DiCaprio had already left by the time they’d tied their shoelaces. Well, we all did, except that our laughter was a little hollow.

The forests minister has a much more sanguine approach to criticism, thank goodness. She said she’d like to work with DiCaprio on advocating sensible forest management policies and an approach to clearance that doesn’t just knock down all the trees and fail to ask questions afterwards. She did say, too, that DiCaprio might have been better briefing himself properly via her department, before hitting Twitter. And we’d agree. The modern fad for vacuity has created an instant tradition that holds that high-profile actors are repositories of great wisdom. Like many traditions, old and young, its central thesis is very much open to question.

A Greenpeace study, released late last year, lays bare the shocking maladministration of Indonesian landholdings and the corporate-governmental nexus that presides over this shemozzle at the big end of the business. Of course, environmentalists are as apt to over-egg their puddings as any other set of advocates, but there’s plenty of evidence that they’re not far off the mark on this one.

And Another Thing

In that classic protest anthem American Pie, singer Don McLean memorably tells us … “Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step”. That was just before he took his Chevy to the levee only to find that the levee was dry. Many of us have been in that situation.

At Renon, where the Governor dispenses governance, and at Dalung, where the Regent of Badung sits on his council, something of the same feeling must be becoming apparent. The row over the proposed destruction of Benoa Bay and its mangroves shows no sign of going away. Neither should it. A piece of official paper that purports to delist the bay as a natural environment, and which is then used to justify its total obliteration, is a weak and highly litigious excuse for environmental banditry. That’s if you don’t view it instead as a shocking obscenity.

Two embarrassing mass demonstrations – conducted with civility in the face of provocation, let it be noted – and continuing action to disrupt pre-project work, indicate that the local people aren’t going to shut up about it. The beautiful thing is that they’re going about their campaign using adat (custom law and practice). This is both proper and presents an argument the Balinese authorities would be foolish to ignore. Hindu ceremonies are being held at important temples – including on Nusa Penida, where there is a very important temple – and there was one on Serangan Island (site of an earlier despoliation) on Apr. 10.

It isn’t only the Balinese who are voicing objection. Other Indonesians are too. ForBALI is an alliance consisting of student groups, non-governmental organizations, musicians, artists and others concerned about Bali’s environment and who believe the Benoa project is part of an irresponsible environmental policy. They have a petition out on Make a Change.

So we’ll just underline the point. The people aren’t going to walk away from this.

Update: Indonesia’s Hindu high priests ruled on Apr. 9 that Benoa Bay is a sacred area.

It’s a Scream

There’s no denying that Christina Iskandar and the Bali DIVAs do it in style, or that they do so with considerable verve. The ladies raise a lot of money for worthy causes and usually come up with greats gigs at which to do this.

So we’ve made a firm booking with them to be at the next show, on May 27, 12 Noon as always, at Cocoon, Seminyak. That’s not because Iskandar has recently spent an inordinately lengthy time in Sydney and we want to get all the gossip. Although, of course, we do: A diarist devoid of gossip is like a carriage without a horse. It’s because the headline act she’s stitched up for May 27 is Carlotta, the DIVA of all DIVAs, the original Les Girl and an icon of the Sydney entertainment scene.

Not to be missed. Neither is the special guest star, Polly Petrie, who for more than 20 years has been giving new drag queens a chance to showcase their talents at her weekly Sydney revues.

Tickets are Rp650K and went on sale on Apr. 7.

The Big Cheese

Steve Palmer, Bukit resident, surfer and now formally former Bali business icon having fully handed over the reins at Surfer Girl, posted a photo on Facebook recently that really caught our eye. It wasn’t one of miraculously deep and crisp powder snow in the Rockies and other places, where he has been snowboarding. We’d seen plenty of those and wished we were there. This one was from Carmel, the Californian seaside town where action film actor Clint Eastwood made punks’ days for a while as mayor.

It showed the packed interior of an emporium called The Cheese Shop. It looked absolutely divine. Some photos are almost olfactory. This one certainly was, and Bali-resident cheese fans live in a very challenged environment, as we know.

We posted a note to him: “Steve – the Cheese Shop photo! How could you!” He was in no way contrite. He posted back: “The aroma when entering this shop was divine … and the samplings were spectacular.”

There was nothing for it. A one-word response was clearly indicated. “Bastard!”

Latex-Faire

Bringing in condom supplies for free distribution to the HIV/AIDS community in Bali seems like a sensible and generous thing to do. On official figures, one in four sex workers on the island is HIV positive. Handing out free protection is a significant help in curbing the spread of the disease.

Leaving aside idiocies such as regulations that list condoms as pornographic material – pornography is a banned import – there are certain forms to observe when travelling here. There are very few laissez-faire customs boundaries anywhere. The quantity of products you can bring with you is limited and a common factor is “commercial quantities”. It’s frankly strange that Kim Gates, head of the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council, didn’t know this. She claims she was scared and surprised when she was detained on arrival back in March when quantities of latex (720 condoms) were found in her luggage and judged to be beyond reasonable bounds. It would be worse if (like many a numbskull tourist) she didn’t care; and it is curious that she apparently failed to read her customs declaration form.

It’s perfectly permissible to have a giggle at some of the things some countries have a problem with at their border crossings; and even to speculate about their sanity, if you wish. Though it’s often better to do that privately. Thick heads are so often paired with thin skins. It is, however, common sense to abide by the regulations. Don’t try to take an apple into Western Australia, for example.

The most sensible advice came from the Consul for Information, Social and Cultural Affairs at the Indonesian Consulate-General in Darwin, Ardian Nugroho. He said they were happy to provide letters for people taking large quantities of donated products to Indonesia, to show to immigration authorities on arrival.

Groan…

This is so bad that it’s very good. A meme site of our acquaintance called The Northern Drunken Monkey (well, how could we resist?) offered it the other day.

A Mexican magician tells the audience he will disappear on the count of 3. He says, ‘uno, dos…” He disappeared without a tres.

Hector’s Diary, edited for print publication, appears in the fortnightly publication the Bali Advertiser