Islamists getting more and more powerful in Indonesia. Or are they?

djenar maesa ayuWith regular attacks on non-Muslims and even non-Sunni’s raising the ire of Indonesian analysts and ngo’s like Human Rights Watch, it would be easy to conclude that Indonesia is slowly creeping towards Saudi-style orthodoxy. And yet, it seems to be more a problem of a bad security apparatus (police and army lacking the guts to protect minorities) than some broad societal shift: islamic political parties have almost no support among citizens, and when I visited an island in Kalimantan last month, inhabitants complained about a group of islamists from outside (“terrorists”, “Jemaah“) trying to get them to behave more like ‘righteous’ muslims. No drinking, going to the mosque, etcetera. The villagers hate their guts, they don’t want people from outside telling them how to live.

Still, it came as a surprise to see a series of books by Djenar Maesa Ayu prominently displayed in a Gramedia book store in Makassar: the kinky artwork and titles like ‘Don’t Play (With Your Genitals)’ (second to left), a book about masturbation, among other things. I knew Djenar from an article that Dutch journalist (and former Secretary of State) Ben Knapen wrote about sastra wangi, “fragrant literature”. Knapen quotes her as saying: “we write about sexuality and submission because there’s a conservative patriarchy setting the rules in our everyday life”. But: “women talk about [sexuality] nowadays, not just about cooking”. My translation.

Interestingly, in over a year in Indonesia I only saw two Dutch books in Indonesian translation: Hella Haasse’s classic ‘Oeroeg‘ (obviously, since it takes place in Indonesia) and… Ray Kluun’s pretty explicit book ‘Love Life‘ about a husband who decides to start cheating on his dying wife. There’s more wholesome stories written in the Netherlands, but this one made it to the other side of the world. Wait ’til the islamists find out.

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