Monday, June 17, 2013


On May 25 Aceh banned female dance performance in public. The irony is that Acehenese are proud of their own famous traditional dances like the Ranub Lampuan, Saman and Seudati. In all these dances the female dancers are properly attired and there are no gyrating or hip grinding movements.

However, the Islamist government in this autonomous region of Indonesia, believes that dances performed by adult females even if it were cultural dances when performed in front of an audience which includes males could cause uncontrollable surge in sexual desires. Body movements of a female dancer according to the authorities in Aceh can conjure eroticism and cause a surge to the men’s libido. So prevention is better than cure.  Henceforth ( until another religious dictate) only under-aged girls are allowed to perform in public.

Not too long ago in January, Aceh created a world first when the authorities banned women from straddling when riding pillion on motorcycles on the ground that women sitting astride (read- parting their legs) on a motorcycle and with their chests pressed onto the back of a male rider can set off wild sexual imagination in men and uncontrollable sexual urge. Thus, female pillion riders must sit sideways, never mind that riding posture pose a greater danger to the women pillion rider.

In is only a matter of time when a dictate will be pronounced to ban women to be seen in public altogether or only permitted outdoor if she wears the Taliban compliant garb.

Aceh is a classic case and a lesson to all as to what happens when Islamist with misplaced priority take charge. For these Islamist, the priority is never and never will be on developing the country, improving the standard of education and human capital, reducing poverty, reducing infant mortality or creating job opportunities.  All these are secondary for a simple reason – they are simply clueless about nation building.  Just watch the mess the Islamist are creating in Egypt. Instead, their focus and priority is the preoccupation for afterlife and after creating hell on earth. Their fixation and preoccupation is on women who are seen as a scourge and cause of all evils. Thus the necessity for moral police officers patrolling the streets rounding up women  wearing jeans or riding motorcycle astride or apprehending teenagers with nonconformist hairstyles. Not nation building.

What a shame. After decades of conflict, a peace accord was signed on August 15, 2005 between the Indonesian central government and Gabungan Aceh Merdeka which granted Aceh self autonomy. Aceh is a region rich in natural resources including oil, natural gas, minerals and timber, income from which can be used to develop Aceh. Add to that, under the peace accord Aceh is entitled to retain 70% of its natural resources revenue.  Despite all these, Aceh  still remains as one of the poorest region in Indonesia and very much beholden to the central government for development aid and government spending to fuel its economy.

The government in Aceh hardly has a development vision or a comprehensive strategy for nation building. They can even hardly attract foreign investment and the international investors still perceive Aceh a risky place to do business or plough their investment. So, chilly farming remains the biggest industry in Aceh. In fact, some say that the only time when there was an economic boom under the Islamist was when foreign aid poured into Aceh in the aftermath of the devastating 9.3 magnitude earth quake which unleashed a tsunami which killed some 170,000 people.

Aceh (and Egypt) must be a sobering reminder that we cannot gamble our country’s future or even allow a toehold for political misfits whose focus is on the afterlife.

Norman Fernandez