As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins for the world’s Islamic population, fundamentalist groups in Indonesia have initiated a crackdown on alcohol consumption, prostitution, strip clubs, and other “sinful” establishments.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, including fringe groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and elements of Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist organization responsible for the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, as well as the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing.
According to the AFP, police in the capital city of Jakarta used a steamroller to destroy bottles of homemade alcohol, pornography, and pirated DVDs. However, groups like the FPI don’t believe that the government is doing enough to crack down on the so-called sinners. They have promised to take the law into their own hands, based on their strict interpretation of Islam.
The leader of an FPI sect located on the outskirts of Jakarta detailed some of his organization’s intended actions for the holy month. “We will take firm action against the circulation of alcohol, naked dancing and prostitution,” the man said, as reported by the AFP. “We will send out groups of two to three wearing civilian clothes to spy on sinful activities like the drinking of alcohol taking place around Jakarta during the Ramadan holy month.”
Last year, the FPI managed to have a Lady Gaga concert canceled after threatening to burn the stage down. The FPI cited Lady Gaga’s skimpy stage costumes and support of gay rights, likening her to the devil. Many Indonesians said the canceled performance was proof that authorities would rather look the other way than tangle with radical organizations.
“The impunity that hardliners often enjoy is due partly to the fear that officials have of taking them on,” said Ismail Hasani of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, according to Al Arabiya. “The police and courts have proved they cannot handle these issues fairly. They’re often worried of a violent backlash if they punish hardliners.”
Hasani added, “Hardliners often foster close relationships with local governments, and some police even use them to help enforce the law through violent means.”
This year has seen an increase in violence toward religious minorities and non-mainstream Muslims. The AFP has reported that FPI raids have already taken place across Jakarta. Over fear of reprisals, nearly 900 bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, and gambling centers have made the decision to shutter their doors for the entire month.
Those that remain open employ varying tactics to avoid attracting the attention of hardliners. Some pretend to be closed, by pulling their blinds closed. Others serve drinks in mugs instead of glasses. Some go as far as asking patrons to enter and exit through back or side doors.
The Ramadan holiday is marked by fasting from dawn to dusk. Fasting is part of the third pillar of the Islamic faith, and it is meant to help Muslims develop self-control and form a sense of empathy for those less fortunate. Ramadan ends on the evening of August 7, which also marks the start of the Eid al-Fitr celebratory feast.