Tuesday, December 12, 2006


In 1983 (sic!) Goenawan Mohamed writes that “we are afraid. And censorship is an institutionalization of that fear. [P]eople who think that as there is one accepted Truth, it follows that all potential diversity must be whipped out. Pluralism is not important, it is a nuisance, brings problems, frustrates, and so on. It is the one Truth with a capital ‘T’ that must be promulgated.”
According to Mill “there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.” He writes this in On Liberty – and when he writes ‘the fullest’ he means ‘the fullest’: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person that he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Coercing a minority results in prejudice and intolerance, and, according to Mill, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” Uniformity – as we can call censorship – can be imposed by legal means, but also by social pressures.
And Indonesia is not doing well concerning freedom of expression – far from it.
In 2004 the teen movie ‘Buruan Cium Gue!’ (Hurry, kiss me!) was criticized by the popular ulema Abdullah Gymnasiar (better known as Aa Gym; Aa is Sundanese for brother). Aa Gym called this film – an Indonesian-style American Pie – pornographic, because, he claimed, it promotes premarital sex. Later he admitted he had not seen the movie, but the damage was done: the government banned the movie. Is a kiss porn? And does a kiss lead to sex? And not only AA Gym did not see the movie; it was easy for him to avoid seeing this harmless movie. (AA Gym finds himself now in the eye of a storm, because he decided to marry a second woman.)
Another example is Front for the Defense of Islam’s (‘Front Pembela Islam – FPI’; Van Bruinessen calls the FPI “more like a racket of mobs for hire than a genuine Islamic movement”, see http://www.let.uu.nl/~martin.vanbruinessen/personal/publications/genealogies_islamic_radicalism.htm) critique of artist Agus Suwage and photographer Davy Linggar’s work at the 2005 CP-Biennale in Jakarta. The artwork ‘Pink Swing Park’ depicts celebrities Anjasmara and Isabel Yahya in the nude, displaying them as Adam and Eve. FPI claims that portraying Adam and Eve in the nude insults Islam (if you google ‘adam eve’ you can find many nudes). Chief curator Jim Supangkat decided to meet the demands of FPI by making the artwork less visible, other artists responded by removing their work and the Biennale came to a halt. And Anjasmara, accompanied by FPI-members, aired his apologies on television. Art critic Carla Bianpoen says that all this is the consequence of confusing art with religion. Can art be pornographic? Is it wise to use criminal law to codify a taboo?
And the most recent example comes from this year’s Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest, see http://www.jiffest.org/). Yesterday I planned to see the new documentary by Leonard Retel Helmrich: Promised Paradise. This documentary tries to trace the roots of the Bali bomb of 2002. It was screened last Saturday and then it suffered a ban. No reason was given. (Dutch TV will screen this documentary December 18). Years ago Leonard Retel Helmrich spent short time in jail for filming a demonstration, and after release he was made persona non grata. And now his film is banned. Why? Are the Indonesian authorities afraid? Afraid that people will realize that these terrorists are Indonesians with no connection to global networks?
Liberty is not something absolute. When freedom is restricted it ought to be done in the name of freedom and not at the whim of this or that person. Liberty is a value which should not be treated in a trivial manner.

(The picture is from: http://ntnews.info/images/censor.jpg.)

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