Lady Gaga's Jakarta Saga Continues

After having been given conditional permission to put on a show in Jakarta over the heated objections of Islamic fundamentalists, pop singer Lady Gaga’s US manager told reporters Thursday that she would rather cancel dates than make changes to appease critics.

The pop superstar’s Jakarta concert, slated for June 3, has been the subject of threats of violence by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a violence-prone group of young males who have often been tied to the National Police, which in turn are said to use them to accomplish various aims outside the law.

Observers in Jakarta believe there will be considerable negotiating between now and the June 3 date, but that the concert will probably go ahead.

There have long been questions in Jakarta over whether the FPI is actually playing hardball over religion in what has traditionally been regarded as a laid-back and tolerant country, especially in Jakarta itself, or whether they are being used to extort money from performers and others who do not conform to strict Islamic ideals, and that the events go ahead after a payoff.

The Islamic People’s Forum, (FUI), another of the Islamist hardline groups, said Tuesday that Big Daddy, the concert’s promoter, had offered “hundreds of millions” of rupiah to allow the concert to go ahead. FUI spokesman Munarman made the charge, but then refused to name the person who made the offer and added the organization would protest against the concert anyway.

The concert has ignited considerable pushback from liberals and Lady Gaga’s followers, dubbed “little monsters,” who said the national police had knuckled under to Islamic fundamentalists who don’t represent anything but small numbers of radicals. The event is expected to be the singer’s biggest concert on her Asia tour. Some observers say the 26-year-old singer has as many as 1.3 million rabid fans in the country who have been permanently turned against the Islamists.

The Indonesian Council of Churches (PGI), a Christian organization, has thrown its support behind the concert, saying Indonesia’s constitution protects freedom of expression. Gomar Gultom, secretary general of the PGI, said it was the job of religious leaders — not pop stars or the police — to keep the nation’s moral fiber intact.

One Indonesian lawmaker, Ahmad Basarah of the House of Representatives' legal affairs commission, said the National Police cannot choose to only ban imports pushing western ideology when Middle Eastern influences often run counter to Indonesia's Pancasila ideology, which stresses tolerance for all religions.

"The government shouldn't discriminate when upholding the law," the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician said. "If they dare to cancel shows that push a liberal-capitalistic ideology like Lady Gaga, then they should also take firm action against demonstrations pushing ideologies from the Middle East." Thursday, the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry director general for cultural value, arts and film said the government had given its blessing for the concert, and that a recommendation to issue a permit had been sent to the National Police.

The Jakarta Police said they were ready to supply as many as 2,000 to 4,000 officers to make sure the Islamic Defenders Front and other hardline groups didn’t disrupt the show. The FPI had said earlier that it had purchased 150 tickets to the sold-out show and would seek to enter the event to stop it from going on.

Senior Jakarta Police spokesman Rikwanto said, however, that the police were ready to smuggle their own officers in plain clothes into the concert to make sure it went off safely. More than 52,000 people are set to attend the show at a stadium in Central Jakarta.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyantoko said last week that a compromise might involve Lady Gaga’s lyrics, choreography and appearance. But the singter’s manager, Troy Carter, said she would rather cancel appearances than make changes to appease censors and religious groups. In any event, Carter told reporters, it wasn’t possible to appease religious hardliners who have denounced appearances in South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines ad well as Indonesia. The shows have gone on as scheduled without changes. She is due to perform in Bangkok tomorrow night, followed by four appearances in Singapore.

“We’ll skip them,” Carter told a music conference in Singapore, insisting that Lady Gaga would not tone down any upcoming concerts. “We play the show as it is. It’s a very specific show, it’s a very specific audience.”

On Twitter this week, according to Agence France Presse, the performer said she would perform solo if necessary rather than bow to demands from Indonesian censors or the threats of violence.