Contemplating Susilo’s Navel Fixation
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
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
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
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
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