Friday, August 26, 2011

Lesbian Couple Forced Apart in Indonesia

Apologists for Islam often point to Indonesia as an example of Islam being compatible with democracy. Granted, Indonesia has a representative parliamentary system, but it is seldom pointed out that the country never had a direct presidential election until 2004, and that two of the 20th century's most ruthless dictators - Surkano and Suharto - ruled over the country collectively for 53 years. The country has also acted as a breeding ground for terrorist groups (such as Jemaah Islamiah) and has an Islamic police force in Acheh.

This very police force has recently separated a lesbian couple and placed them under close surveillance. Although homosexuality is legal in the country, the province of Acheh has been granted a degree of autonomy that has allowed for the passing of brutal Islamic laws and the establishment of a religious police force. The police have warned the couple that they may face beheading.

The apologists will certainly have a hard time in explaining how this is not an example of Islam eroding democratic politics, but they will still point to Indonesia as a beacon of light for the Muslim world. Indonesia is of course much more moderate than a country like Saudi Arabia that adheres strictly to Sharia, but this level of democracy has nothing at all to do with Islam. Without condoning colonialism, it should be recognised that Indonesia inherited secular and liberal institutions from the Dutch. The Netherlands were of course often exploitative of the indigenous peoples, but their rule did bring open commerce as well as a legal system that rejected Sharia. I am not for a second saying that the forceful rule was justified, but it must be noted that Dutch secularism played a big role in quelling the potential dangers of political Islam.

Much of the same can be said of Malaysia; another country often touted as an example of Islamic democracy. It is still a country of corruption and religious thuggery, and its wealth and degrees of individual freedom are much to do with its geo-political position and its history of open trade and secularism which were facilitated by the British.

That leaves us with just one more country to pick on: Turkey. Again, the level of democracy and freedom in the majority-Muslim nation has next to nothing to do with Islam. The Ottoman empire was a formidable opposition to European powers in the 1600s, and much of this was to do with their acceptance of science over religion as the best way of discovering knowledge. But how did they come to that conclusion? It was certainly not from consulting the Koran; it was from observing the amazing progress of European nations that had allowed their scientists to freely advance their ideas and findings. Islamic forces were eventually defeated, but Turkey chose to embrace science and reason as a way to compete with the rest of Europe. I recommend this documentary for a greater account of Ottoman history.

Islam is not democratic, and any majority-Muslim country which is democratic is simply not exercising political Islam. It is yet another reason to keep religion private and to prevent religious thugs from taking office.