Wednesday, August 24, 2011

That of Banda Aceh

For the last phase of my PhD data collection, I travel around the country (Denpasar, Banda Aceh, Jayapura, Makassar, Jayapura, Banjarmasin, and, err, Jakarta) to explore the dynamics between Islam, national identity, and television culture among young Indonesians. I have completed my Denpasar and Banda Aceh visits and, as usual, what I've learned so far - although far from finished - has made me felt just about the size of a pebble.

I met with a former student of mine, a local Acehnese, and one of the most intelligent human beings I've had in my class. Overlooking Lampuuk beach, she told me about her childhood, the long history of violence in Aceh, and how, during dinner with family, they overhear gunshots and continue eating. "When a relative has gone missing, it means they're not coming back," she told me.

Lampuuk Beach, Aceh.

Exploring the thoughts of my Acehnese respondents, the local customs, the food, the panoramic view, and reading about its political history - it is difficult not to realise the uniqueness of this region. I believe if it were not for the acculturation between traditional Acehnese culture and Islam, the socio-cultural practices would not be as peaceful, particularly after three decades of military occupation.* I found instances that prove the implementation of Islamic law in Banda Aceh a result of consensus, far more consciously formed than most of Javanese Muslims I have come to know all my life.

I cannot help but fall in love a bit with Serambi Mekkah, where the women I meet veil their heads and not their minds.

* For those interested to read more about the history and culture of Aceh, I recommend Aceh: History, Politics and Culture by Arndt Graf, Susanne Schroter, Edwin Wieringa (Eds).


Anonymous said...

Fully acknowledging that there are many remarkable Acehnese women and men who are devout Moslems, I wonder whether your adoration for Aceh's sharia has taken into account the number of women's rights violations that have occurred under the name of Islam.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Hmm, your question made me think. Firstly, it depends on what women's right violation you're referring to. Before visiting, my own account of Aceh was mainly from news articles. Events that made the news were ones that contained news value, in that it was sensational. I tried to let go of my own preconceptions and try to understand the cultural workings.

Secondly, I have to admit my own Aceh experience was limited to the 'educational elites' that I met. So the women I conversed with could afford to speak for themselves. And based on these interactions, I concur that Acehnese women (that I met) are both Muslims and independent thinkers - an oxymoron in more popular discourses of the modern practices of Islam.

Thirdly, for arguments' sake, is it still human rights violation if the punishment was consented by the 'victim'? The respondents I interviewed claimed that they believe in physical punishment to instill shame and that none of the punishments are carried out if not consented. These methods of 'purification' is also known in other religious practices such as Catholicism.

For the record, I am personally against physical punishment and I support humane treatment to all perpetrators. But I also believe that what constitutes 'violation' is contextual to the society within which it occurred.

colson said...

Oops, do we disagree here? Because I've to admit I had doubts like "Anomymous".

Whatever long and heroic history Aceh has and how much many of the socio-cultural practices are peaceful, to me it's hard too see in what way public humiliation and physical punishment for having shown deviant behaviour from socio-cultural rules imposed by scribes on liberals, help to build a society of tolerance and moderation.

Inaya Rakhmani said...

I'm not sure we disagree. I personally do not agree with public humiliation, but I think that each person has the right to perform their beliefs, collectively (Banda Aceh) or personally.

What made me think twice was the fact that the people I met explained, very rationally, how they support Sharia. Then I asked myself, as I am an avid supporter of freedom of expression and human rights, if a community 'democratically' chose against it 'rationally', would I still condone it?

Tikno said...

Hello Inaya,
In their heart whether the majority of Aceh people really want the implementation of caning?
As you have said "... where the women I meet veil their heads and not their minds."

Inaya Rakhmani said...

Hello Mas Tikno,

No, I've given this a lot of thought. The women I met during my visit were very empowered. The more agency one has, they have the capability to either change the system or work their way around it.

I read an article in Al Jazeera, where the author (unfortunately I can't remember) argue that a state that does not embrace pluralism - one way or the other - will inevitably marginalise. Because it is impossible, absolutely impossible, for minds to think alike. Even people of the same religion interpret and practice differently. Those not of the dominant interpretation, within a religious state, will be marginalised.

And so far, I can only argue that humanism is the only common denominator of human kind. And within a religious state, even if it were achieved democratically, humanism cannot be fully upheld. And that is why, now, I would perhaps argue against it.