'Sexy dancing' ban fuels fears of Islamic laws
THE arrest of four women for "sexy dancing" during a Hogmanay party in Bandung has raised worries this may be the prelude to wider Islamist restrictions in Indonesia.
The women, as well as a manager and event organiser, could become the first people charged under a one-year-old anti-pornography law banning public displays of naked flesh.
However, performers, some politicians and academics fear the zealotry behind the law could also proscribe traditional dancers and wedding parties.
The law was brought in with the backing of the small but influential Islamist political parties in the country.
Critics said the parties' real intention was to use the law to spread fundamentalist Islam to control artistic and cultural expression in a multicultural society. The law, they warned, threatens pre-Islamic cultures, which have long co-existed with moderate Islam.
Hafizh Utsman, 70, leader of the West Java branch of the Indonesian Ulama Council, the leading clerical organisation,
is pleased with Islam's growing influence in Bandung, and would like to see a more widespread crackdown.
"We are trying to eliminate the non-Islamic parts of West Java's traditional culture, to make it more Islamic," Utsman boasted. For example, he said that participants at weddings are urged to celebrate by reciting Koranic verses, not by dancing, as is the custom.
To that end, the governor of West Java, where Bandung is located, cited the anti-pornography law to criticise a local dance called jaipong as being too sensual.
The dance, which is rooted in West Java's Sundanese culture, features graceful movements of the arms and hands as well as swinging of the hips.
However, fearing that the Sundanese culture was under attack, Nanu Munajah Dahlan, 49, a dancer, has formed a jaipong support group in Bandung's outskirts.
In recent years, he said, Sundanese culture has lost ground to the Muslim fundamentalists.
For example, at official events, the kecapi, a Sundanese stringed instrument, was played less often than the rebana, a drum used in Islamic music.
At official events featuring jaipong dancers, government officials pressed organisers to tone down the dancers' alleged sensuality.
But Nanu refused and, in a recent after-school dance lesson, he was pursuing his protest as elementary and secondary school girls accompanied by their mothers came to practise the jaipong.
The girls danced to songs about the flower of a yam or a tiger awaking from a deep sleep. The jaipong dancer, Nanu said, represented the goddess of rice. Her movements symbolised her fertility
"I'm Muslim, but I also want to keep our traditional culture," Nanu said.
He feared, though, that the arrest for "sexy dancing" under the anti-pornography law may only be the beginning.
"I'm worried that we could be next," he said.
Though a couple of weeks have passed since the arrests, it was still not clear what happened at Belair, which showcased bikini-clad women dancing on a bar counter.
Arman Achdiat, the Bandung police chief of detectives, said the authorities had received complaints, via text messages, that the dancers had gone beyond bikini dancing and offered customers flashes of full nudity. "This happened at private table dances," said Achdiat, declining to say whether investigators caught the dancers in the act.
Holding a 441-page copy of the anti-pornography law, Achdiat, 38, said more questioning of the dancers was needed to determine whether to charge them under the criminal law or the more severe anti-pornography law, which entails punishment of up to 10 years in prison for the dancers and 15 years for the manager and organiser.
Clubs such as Belair came to Bandung more than a decade ago, and about 10 now offer what is known here as "sexy dancing," often featuring some nudity, said Budi Rajab, 49, a sociologist and expert on Bandung at the local Padjadjaran University. Though new, the clubs recalled at least part of this city's history.
"There's always been some debate over why Bandung was called the Paris of Java," Rajab said. "Was it the cool weather? Or was it because the women here were considered more beautiful? When I examined colonial-era documents, it was clear that it was the beautiful women."
But just as the power of religious and political conservatives has grown nationwide in the past decade, there has been a movement here to take the Paris out of Bandung.
Dada Rosada, the two-term mayor, has tried to close the city's old red-light district, Saritem.
"It existed for 200 years and I shut it down," Rosada said, adding that he wanted to keep gambling and sexy dancing out of the city.
"If people want gambling, they can go to Singapore or Malaysia. If they want sex, they can go to Thailand," Rosada added.
The mayor's crackdown seems to be working and Saritem's business has yet to recover fully.
On a recent evening there were few customers in the district's warren of narrow streets, where family-owned brothels employed young women from rural Java.
"A lot of people think Saritem is still closed, or they're afraid to come," said Rully, 38, who uses only one name, as is common here.
Rully, whose family has worked in Saritem for four generations, waited for customers outside his home, chatting with a woman selling deep-fried vegetables out of her stall.
If the current political zeal continues, their wait could be a long one.
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