An extramarital affair involving a senior Indonesian politician and his mistress is highlighting a contentious debate in Indonesia over traditional Islamic attitudes towards sex and morality.
A 42-second video clip shot on a camera phone and circulating widely since early this month shows pudgy lawmaker Yahya Zaini naked, laughing and chatting as he advances on an equally naked and giggling woman named Maria Eva, a singer of the raunchy and sensuous local pop music known as dangdut. He soon climbs on board the chanteuse and puts a hand up to stop the recording.
The woman later told a packed press conference she loved her ardent suitor but the affair had actually ended two years ago, when she was pregnant and, according to her, the politician and his wife insisted she have an abortion. It was later reported that she had tried to convince a local production company to release the two-year-old video commercially. She is now being investigated by police under suspicion of seeking to distribute pornography, a criminal offense here.
Unfortunately for the legislator caught with his pants down, a member of the Golkar Party of former dictator Suharto, not only did he head the party's spiritual affairs department and religious affairs committee, which has responsibility for moral issues, but he was also a backer of the draconian Anti-Pornography Law. The party closed ranks and pressured the lawmaker to resign his seat in parliament, despite the fact that no laws had been broken.
Moralistic crusaders would like to make it impossible for scandals like that of the errant lawmaker to occur again and a complex struggle is underway in the society over sex, pornography, free speech, the role of women and Islam. The world's biggest Muslim country, Indonesia so far remains the pluralistic secular state designed by its founders to be tolerant of Hinduism, Christianity and other religions. It is a surprisingly freewheeling place, where extramarital sex, prostitution and alcohol, among other vices, are in plentiful supply, particularly in the big cities.
But these are tough times for secularism and Islamic morality is the rallying cry for some conservative religious leaders, who would like to force Indonesia’s Muslims to behave according to their strict and puritanical rules. One wonders if the latest round of squeeze and tickle will keep the moralists at bay or just fuel their passion for restricting passion.
Many Indonesian women from all walks of life have been brought up to connect sexuality with love, and engage in sexual activities only with the man they love, presumably their husband. A woman, it was believed, should not have sex with a man unless she loves him.
By contrast, the same traditional view fully accepted the right of males to have sex with any female they liked. In essence, females were only sexual objects, designed for a man's pleasure. Even though the status of women may be improving in modern Indonesian society, these traditions are still deeply embedded in the culture.
The sexual mores consequent on this emancipation of the male Indonesian are not difficult to imagine. Prostitution is not illegal. The 1913 morality law introduced by the Dutch bans pimps and the trading of males or females under age, nothing else.
But that might change. Adulterers, cohabiting unmarried couples and even those who kiss in public could all become criminals if a new Indonesian penal code to replace the old Dutch colonial law is approved.
The moral values within Indonesia's diverse cultures and subcultures vary widely and there is no plan to impose the same savage restrictions on women as the Taliban did in Afghanistan, for example. But eager officials at the Justice Ministry, where the draft law was conceived several years ago, believe they can legislate virtue and enforce the conservative morality of some vocal Muslims on society as a whole.
The head of the panel that drafted the law said Muslim beliefs about decency had influenced its decision. Neighboring countries with large Muslim populations, such as Malaysia and Brunei, already enforce laws defining "khalwat," or "close proximity," a crime akin to adultery for unchaperoned meetings between Muslim men and women.
Though it is very easy, generally speaking, for an Indonesian man to divorce his wife under Muslim law, those who impregnate women and refuse to marry them would also be liable to imprisonment under the new law. The bill stipulates jail terms for acts which are deemed indecent or are sexually arousing. Kissing would be prohibited in public, as would going around scantily dressed. The behavior associated with the wildly popular — and overtly sexual —hip-gyrations performed by dangdut singers like Maria Eva and national idol Inul Daratista would be equally verboten.
Indeed, the law, if passed and enforced, could make criminals out of the tens of thousands of people who cram discos, night clubs and dangdut joints on weekends in Jakarta and elsewhere. Jakarta’s night life, while not as wide open as that found in Bangkok’s go-go bars, is just as permissive, with night spots ranging from the posh to the plebeian opening late and grinding ‘til dawn with many nice Muslim girls joining the fun and often peddling their favors to men they meet.
In the Dolly district of Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, the sprawling low-end red-light zone has been a fact of life for decades. Almost all the women are Muslim, as are the customers.
The new code, which is still being debated at the House of Representatives, has 93 provisions and is divided into 11 chapters. It also deals with pornography, media, art and erotic behavior — any the bill defines as "indecent acts of sexual exploitation.”
Jail terms of up to 12 years are proposed for casual sex. Striptease artists would risk two years' in jail but those caught deep in the act of sodomy or oral sex could get between three to 12 years in jail. Simply cohabitating without marriage could be punished by up to two years in jail.
Prostitution would be hard hit. The adultery provisions in the draft proposals include a clause that could see married men who visit prostitutes doing up to 12 years in jail, though single men would get off lightly with only seven years.
Morality is also behind a controversial push for an immediate anti-pornography bill. Mainstream Islamic organizations warn of moral decay, while politicians, long wary of alienating the silent Muslim majority, are backing a growing anti-porn movement.
Those opposed to the bill include Christian leaders, former president Megawati Sukarnoputri and her party, the PDI-P, the second largest in parliament, the tourism industry and artists, cultural activists and human rights groups.
The latter consider the proposed bill to be a threat to freedom of expression. They fear that the state will take control of the private lives of individuals.
Golkar, the largest party in the parliament, supports the bill. The party's leader, vice president Jusuf Kalla, has said that while he supports the bill its provisions should be restricted to dealing with those who profit from pornography, such as magazine editors,
Playboy Indonesia, which contains no nudity, was forced to temporarily suspend publication because authorities seemingly decided that Islamic militants should be allowed to trample on press freedom.
The magazine’s insipid first edition was launched in April to a blaze of publicity, helped by weeks of warnings from hard line Islamic groups that the publication would destroy the morality of the nation’s youth.
The radical Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI) on April 12 attacked the magazine’s office, smashing windows and injuring two policemen. The editor-in-chief Erwin Arnada is currently on trial on charges of indecency over the magazine, and could face up to three years in jail if convicted.
Baharuzaman, co-chairman of FPI, who filed the complaint against Arnada, claimed in court recently that the magazine is “the world’s icon of pornography”.
In recent years, the hunting season for these guardians of morality has been Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, when they have been known to attack nightspots and places of entertainment with clubs and mobs. Some bars disguise their activities during Ramadan by pretending to be restaurants; others just close up for the month for fear of being attacked by radical Islamic thugs.
When Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso formally closed down East Jakarta's Kramat Tunggal brothel complex back in December 1999 he was moved to say that the closure was a signal from God. "We are reminded that this is wrong and we should go back to the right path," Sutiyoso at the time.
The reality was that the signals had come from FPI and other conservative Muslim groups and Sutiyoso caved, in the process giving impetus to the drive to force morality on the nation.
There is strong pressure from extremists, and even from moderate Islamic groups, to merge mosque and state by having Islamic Sharia law imposed nationwide. Already in place in a handful of provinces, if these faithful have their way, Indonesia would be transformed into a very conservative society. In Aceh controversial "Sharia police" have detained women for not wearing head scarves and publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol.
Meanwhile, even without benefit of legislation, the saga of Maria and Yahya has been grabbing plenty of headlines.
Apparently feeling they have the right to probe, police summoned the former legislator to explain himself at Jakarta Police Headquarters this week over the distribution of the video. Press reports say police also asked Yahya about Maria's claim she had an abortion when she was two months' pregnant from their affair.
Previously, police questioned him about his relationship with Maria and his wife Sharmila. "I told police everything because I feel that I have been treated cruelly," he said after the questioning.
Yahya’s lawyer, Hotman Paris Hutapea, said his client had no knowledge at all of Maria having had an abortion. "But he confessed to having an affair with her, for which he is now suffering the consequences by relinquishing three high political positions," he said.
For now, that is all he will suffer. Future lotharios may not be so lucky.
The steamy video clip can be seen here: