Miss Universe Pageant for Indonesia?

The intrepid Puteri Indonesia Foundation is talking up the possibility of hosting Miss Universe in Indonesia.

Ever since the Netherlands officially recognized Indonesia’s independence in 1949, moderates have wrestled with Islamic hardliners who would like to bring the country under Sharia law and punish the mildest offenses with the rough end of a rattan.

Judging by Islamist protests in recent years, it is not difficult to imagine how zealots would react to the sight of scantily clad women strutting across a stage in an international beauty contest held on home soil.

The Puteri Indonesia Foundation, however, is putting these views to the test by proposing a Miss Universe pageant in Indonesia.

And why not?

Putri K. Wardani, head of the foundation’s council, pointed out to that international beauty pageants have been held in Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand, to name just a few countries. So when will it be Indonesia’s turn?

She says Indonesia was considered a potential venue in 2005 when Thailand hosted Miss Universe. Costs and security were cited as the major reasons for not pursuing the event.

“Security threat” is often a euphemism for Islamic militancy in Indonesia, which has interfered with other international events. Last year, Lady Gaga cancelled the Indonesia leg of her tour after militants issued threats.

Such behavior is part of everyday life in Indonesia, and raises questions about Islam’s influence on the country’s ability to remain an inclusive and tolerant society.

The threat posed by extremists has been challenged over the past decade by the War on Terror, as terrorist groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) have been marginalized and divided with its leaders jailed or killed.

As a threat, groups like JI have largely been relegated to the history books. Nonetheless, the idea of holding a Miss Universe contest in the world’s largest Muslim country will no doubt test the resolve of moderates and tempt extremists to issue the same sorts of threats they directed at Lady Gaga.

“There are various obstacles we need to overcome,” Wardani said in regards to staging the contest. That’s putting it mildly.

Staging a Miss Universe pageant in Indonesia is a brave notion. But given the security environment, it’s unlikely to become reality any time soon.