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Orlando attack reveals homophobia in RI

by June 18, 2016 General

On early Sunday morning, an American who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) radical movement, attacked a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty died in the shooting, while about 53 were wounded. It became the deadliest attack in the US since the 9/11 tragedy.

The New York-born gunman of Afghan descent, Omar Mateen, was then shot dead by police as he tried to flee.

His family and former wife said although Mateen is religious, his motive was not driven by religious values. According to his former wife, he had shown his abusive attitudes toward her. Some media outlets reported that what drove Mateen to commit this deadly crime was his outrage over the sight of two men kissing.

This “homophobic” hate-crime led President Barack Obama to label the tragic mass-shooting as an attack on the nation and call on people to unite in grief, in outrage, as well as in resolve to defend the targeted people.

Although Mateen was married heterosexually, he was known as a regular at the LGBT nightclub Pulse and used a gay-dating application. His colleague also reported that he often made slurs to gay people, blacks, Jews and women.

Putting aside a moment the speculation that he might be gay-in-denial and seeing Indonesians’ responses in social media on the tragedy, this senseless incident must lead us to reflect on Indonesian public perception on LGBT persons’ human rights, inclusion and respect toward diversity and differences.

While many Indonesians condemned the mass-shooting, unfortunately many also still expressed agreement with the massacre, citing religious norms.

Some comments highlighted Mateen as a real jihadist and hero who fought sins and indecency and some even expressed hope that more Mateen would do the same thing in Indonesia, to banish Indonesian homosexuals from the country as they are against religious norms.

Similarly, although our foreign ministry expressed its deep sympathy to the victims, families and the US government, the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Fahri Hamzah, blames the victims, tweeting that the attack happened because LGBT persons are too visible.

Indonesia’s reform era has triggered various civil society movements, including rights-based activist groups, religious-fundamentalist and vigilante groups, which were previously suppressed during former president Soeharto’s military New Order regime.

Although Indonesia is a democracy, religion does play an important role in influencing and determining policies, particularly when it comes to sexuality-related issues. Jeremy Menchik of the Boston University characterizes Indonesia’s democracy as “godly”, instead of liberal-secularist.

Under this terminology, the promotion of belief in God helps to unify the diverse population, thus the state is partly responsible for the citizen’s moral conditions, instead of relying on the notion of individual freedom.

During the formation of the republic, the debates as to whether Islamic religious values should be explicitly mentioned in The Jakarta Charter (Piagam Jakarta) had triggered debates between religious nationalist vis-à-vis secular-nationalist groups. The explicit mentioning of Islam was taken out by Sukarno, reportedly to appease non-Muslims.

Such dynamics thus show how religion and the belief in God have been a part of Indonesia’s unique democracy. Nevertheless, Indonesia is neither purely secular nor a religious state. If we drew a line between a secularist and a religious state, Indonesia would be properly placed in the middle.

Currently the plurality of social movements after the New Order’s collapse has led to the increasing power of hardline religious groups. As the term “godly” is abstract, it can be interpreted in different ways. The “godly” discourse can be imbued with humanity and inclusive aspects for all people regardless of gender, sexuality, race and social class.

But it also can be interpreted in a strict moralistic fundamentalist meaning that denies marginalized groups’ rights and often produces systematic and symbolic violence against those deemed “immoral”. The latter has now unfortunately been dominating religious discourse and space in Indonesia.

Homophobia and hate speech continues and is even often perpetuated by religious organizations and public officials.

In March 2015, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) officially issued an edict or fatwa stating LGBT sexuality as haram — “sodomy” for instance, has a recommended punishment of caning up to the death penalty and the council has urged the government to establish a rehabilitation center to “cure” LGBT persons.

An almost similar sentiment also came from the former communications and information minister Tifatul Sembiring during anti-LGBT hysteria early this year. He tweeted a hadith that justifies the murder of homosexuals.

Furthermore, hatred against LGBT and persons with non-conforming gender identity and expressions has spread widely.

In February, the MUI continued calling on the government to criminalize LGBT activities and campaigns, while the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission also followed similar steps to prohibit “effeminate” men to appear on television shows.

The vice chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly, Hidayat Nur Wahid, also called for a law to criminalize LGBT persons. In Aceh, transgender women or waria are banned from working at beauty salons, which economically and socially marginalizes them even more.

The glorification of Mateen’s senseless crime by many Indonesian netizens, along with the discriminatory statements from public officials and organizations, has shown how deeply embedded homophobia is in the country.

This hatred combined with bigotry continually dehumanizes and denies the dignity of a large group of people, and justifies violence and discrimination against them.

Homophobia, as the activist and author Coretta Scott King said, is no different from racism. It is just sadly all about hatred toward differences.

The writer, who obtained his Master’s in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies. He is currently pursuing his Master’s in gender and cultural studies at the University of Sydney.