Women in Indonesia (photo: AP)
Radical versus Tolerant Islam in Indonesia

Who Has the Last Word on Lady Gaga?

It may seem like the clerics who cancelled pop star Lady Gaga's concert in Jakarta had the last word. But Indonesian female activists offer another side to the story, says journalist Joseph Mayton

Those who read the media reports about the cancellation of Lady Gaga's concert in Jakarta may imagine Indonesia to be a xenophobic, conservative country that has no sense of freedom. The reality, however, is quite different.

About four weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I had the chance to sit down with a group of young Indonesian female activists, who dispelled any notion that Indonesia was on the verge of becoming an authoritarian state. In fact, they talked about the need for the younger voices to be heard.

"We are big fans of Lady Gaga and it was really disappointing that the clerics came out so angrily against her," said Asha Mahammad, an Indonesian university student in Kuala Lumpur. She feels that the concert's cancellation gives the world a distorted reality about the country, and the region's Muslims.

Indonesia is not anti-Western

She and her friends, who carry the latest technology gadgets, are hard to differentiate from young people the world over. While these women do not necessarily represent Indonesia in its entirety, they deserve to be heard. They're young, and their mission now is to bridge the gap between East and West and tell the world that Indonesia is not anti-Western.

photo: dapd
"Those who read the media reports about the cancellation of Lady Gaga's concert in Jakarta may imagine Indonesia to be a xenophobic, conservative country that has no sense of freedom. The reality, however, is quite different," writes Joseph Mayton. Pictured: protests against Lady Gaga in Jakarta on 25 May 2012

​​"I have so many friends who were going to go to that concert. We had all been so excited when we heard Lady Gaga was coming that we started to memorize all her songs to sing with her," said Jumana, a 24-year-old master's student in Jakarta.

Jumana makes the point that there are more viewpoints in Indonesia than the ones of those who cancelled the concert. There has been a significant group of Indonesians speaking out on gender issues in recent years, for example, but "you don't hear about that in the media. All you hear about is that Lady Gaga was forced to stop her concert because the sheikhs were angry. It is sad."

And they are right to lament the struggle between outspoken Islamic clerics, who claimed Lady Gaga would spread "immorality," and the youth who are speaking out for tolerance and understanding, like these students.

Many women told me that young people in the region do not need a concert or a musician to tell them how to live their lives. They are choosing and forging their own paths, and for the most part this spans the full spectrum of social leanings, from liberal to conservative. Lady Gaga, they argue, was an excuse by clerics to vent their frustrations about the perceived changes in young people's actions.

Promoting the Idea of Tolerance

"We have our problems and so do other countries, but what the foreign media don't do is address the many sides of our countries so people understand us and learn about what makes us who we are," she added.

Lady Gaga (photo: AP)
Is that what a threat to Islam looks like? Police in Indonesia had refused to issue a permit for the US pop star Lady Gaga after Islamic groups objected to her show, claiming it was too vulgar

​​In Indonesia, the many different religious tendencies make for a diverse society. Many members of the younger generation, however, liberal or conservative, believe in the idea of tolerance and building a country that does not force specific values on citizens.

When Lady Gaga cancelled her concert, she left 40,000 ticket holders in Jakarta disappointed, frustrated and even angry at how vocal clerics had been able to influence whether or not the concert was cancelled.

At the heart of the issue, sadly, is that those who speak loudest in today's world tend to receive more media attention than the silent majority who hopes that the world becomes more tolerant and mindful of the many different aspects of each individual society.

These young Muslim women, who are bucking the trend by speaking out, don't believe that one concert would change their belief system. Let us hope that the world understands that the few loud clerics condemning Lady Gaga do not overshadow Indonesia's tolerant and open mainstream society.

Joseph Mayton

© Common Ground News Service 2012

Joseph Mayton is Editor-in-chief of the Egypt-based news website Bikyamasr.com.

Qantara.de editor: Lewis Gropp

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