Last edited: December 24, 2004

Contemplating Susilo’s Navel Fixation

The Jakarta Post, December 22, 2004

By Meidyatama Suryodiningrat

Perversely speaking, it could just be a simple personal fetish on his part.

But by asking a senior Cabinet minister to convey concerns over the showing of navels on television, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is treading on the ever precarious trinity of sexuality, morality and politics.

With increasing regularity the issue of morality and public decency has protruded into the national debate.

After all the fuss over dangdut singer Inul Daratista’s gyrations, and the ulama’s furor over youthful lust in teen flicks, the president—after Friday prayers no less—took a moral stance and bellyached over the issue of navels on television.

Curiously it was not deep cleavage, the odd nipple or see-thru couture which worried him, but navels.

Even more incredulously, amidst starvation in Nabire, Papua, active terrorism, and an exhausting list of other life threatening issues, it should be an innocent bellybutton that attracts his attention.

People in the capital may well mock the president’s slur against naked navels, nevertheless his remarks signal a creeping conservatism within the political mainstream.

This is not a simple case of liberals versus conservatives. In reaction to the ‘anything goes’ post-Soeharto freedoms, the congregation of the ‘moral right’ has dilated to make religion a significant political force.

The vogue of puritanism even spurred legislators earlier this year to introduce a bill on so-called “Pornography”, threatening a one year jail sentence for public kissing and two years incarceration for private “sex parties”—a punishment more severe than those set down in the Criminal Code for instigating a riot.

As a nation of cultural enigmas, issues of morality will be the first test in the paradox of this new era.

Indonesia is caught in three worlds. One world embraces urban lifestyles where men groom to be metrosexuals, and women undergo retail therapy—shopping to make oneself feel happy. Where sex is a consumer good, and titillation is daily pastime.

They read books about oral sex, get bedroom tips from TV and watch local movies on homosexuality.

The second is a world clinging—or retreating—to conservative traditions. They include the organized worshipers in white, and the groupies of modern ulamas in turtle necks.

The third is the floating majority filled with those who can’t make up their minds. First world wannabes neglected by economic progress, or those pondering a morally austere life, being sick of the disparities and pervading depravity.

Ushered into power with the support of conservative elements, it is not surprising that Susilo has had to address these clash of values.

The question is whether the president can distinguish between an individual’s moral code and that which guides the government, and whether he believes governments should regulate personal morality, or intervene only when the rights of others are violated.

Religious conservatives know that a call for a religious state is a death knell at the polls. However, they understand that a nation disgusted with corruption and selfish rule can easily confuse the issue of good governance and moral righteousness. Unquestioned control over morality is an autocrat’s dream, since dissension can be conceived as being morally speciousness.

A government that can summarily define what is moral and immoral is tantamount to a religious state, by another name.

That is the delicate challenge Susilo faces in the coming years. To maintain the distinctiveness and cleavages of a nation which in affect is a salad bowl, not a melting pot.

Indonesian President Bellyaches about Exposed Belly Buttons

AFP, December 22, 2004

JAKARTA—Extremist violence and corruption are key problems facing Indonesia’s new President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono—but so, it seems, are women’s belly buttons.

For the second time in as many weeks, the president has spoken out against exposed navels, urging women in the world’s largest Muslim-populated country to cover up.

“Indonesian women, who are known for their courtesy, should refrain from exposing their midriffs or belly buttons, which now seems to be taken for granted,” Yudhoyono said at a function to mark Indonesia’s women’s day Wednesday.

“There are many ways to express beauty, as part of aesthetics, and to express freedom but not by showing things that lead to pornography,” he said.

Yudhoyono said the state could not dictate how people should dress but citizens were expected to respect the country’s moral values and courtesy.

Last week a cabinet minister quoted Yudhoyono as saying that he felt “disturbed and uneasy” to see television shows in which women exposed their navels.

Indonesian television is increasingly liberal in its programming. Kissing, formerly taboo, and skimpily dressed women are now common features in local soap operas, while pirated Western videos offer even racier viewing.

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