, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 04/08/2002 7:17 AM | Opinion
There are fears that the official implementation of syariah, or Islamic Law, in Aceh since March 15 has compromised demands for bringing human rights violators to trial. There have been also been incidents of violence involving syariah. The Jakarta Post's Ati Nurbaiti spoke with Suraiya Kamaruzzaman, director of the Banda Aceh-based Flower Aceh women's organization, and a co-recipient of last year's Yap Thiam Hien Award for human rights.
Question: Are people content now that you have the syariah?
Answer: That the official implementation of syariah was the ""desire"" of the Acehnese has been politicized.
But male and female victims have said that they want human rights violators put on trial, and that victims be rehabilitated.
Over time this issue disappeared -- while anywhere between two to five people are still being abducted and killed on a daily basis. There have been many interpretations regarding syariah, but there is no credible institution to interpret it and, hence, there has been violence among the people.
Hardly anything else has changed. The main issue now is that of women whose dress is not in accordance with what the (dominant) idea of what Muslim dress is.
In Banda Aceh there was a huge billboard with the picture of a young woman without a jilbab (headscarf) cowering in fear with an image of a scissor near her, next to a smiling woman in a jilbab.
The syariah in Aceh is a means to silence womens' voices.
How did you come to that conclusion?
Without belittling all the parties which strived to end the periods of heavy military operations (1989-1998) in Aceh, it was the testimony of two women victims in Jakarta that began to reveal the atrocities, through their description of how they were among thousands of widows.
That led to the special investigation team on Aceh.
Now if women, when they are about to leave their homes, are so busy attending to themselves, of whether a single strand of hair is exposed, whether they are wearing anything tight or brightly colored, they might contemplate little else (other than how to avoid being victims of violence).
In Banda Aceh, one young woman on the street screamed as a group of men cut her jeans open -- saying that women shouldn't wear men's clothing, including jeans -- and no one came to her aid (she cites many similar cases). By cutting the jeans, they instead exposed what was earlier covered.
Don't they know that men in the Middle East wear gowns?
So why aren't you wearing your jilbab as you have for years?
I still wear it when I teach (chemistry) and at official occasions. But I became so mad when I heard cases of women being chased and pelted with eggs and tomatoes for not wearing the jilbab. Women in Lhokseumawe (North Aceh) were angry and chased men who did not go to Friday prayers. A woman on a bus to Takengon was so angry with a group of young men who harassed her for wearing a loose shawl that she threatened them with her sickle. I've concluded that the issue of women's dress can be used to domesticate women for many purposes.
No one used to fuss about women wearing shirts and jeans.
Any man, from school boys up to old men, now think that they're the morality police.
Interpretation of Islam varies around the world. A friend, visiting Egypt, thought a woman was crazy when she didn't cover her head when praying, before realizing that many others also did so. We are mostly of the Syafi'i school, while some others are from the Maliki school. Must we punish others who are different?
Aehnese have been said to be used to dialog regarding religion. Why did the start of the syariah go through despite protests following incidents of violence?
For many, the label of being anti-Islamic would be very dangerous. The reactions to our protests alone were that we were secular women against the syariah.
What we had said was that we protested the violence caused by interpretation of religion and that by the state; that people must be careful against being provoked into actions which cause conflicts among ourselves; and that these issues have become blurred those of human rights violations.
We are worried that these conditions will continue without anyone daring to challenge the dominant interpretations.
Now people must pay more for new uniforms; and even though one university applied a grace period, the mobs didn't care and would chase female students not wearing the ""proper"" dress ... The drawing up of rules on special autonomy in Aceh has hardly involved any women. Even ulema and some women condone the imposing of the dress code saying it's a necessary process.
Offices must put up in Arabic name plates. I suppose cars will be exchanged with camels. The province secretary even said that the military and police have been asked to help draw up implementation rules.
We reject the implementation of syariah based only on symbols.
What should the issues be?
Why is there no rule on the protection of women and children based on Islam? Rehabilitation of victims of violence based on Islam should also be discussed. Rules are needed on collusion, corruption and nepotism (KKN) involving the administration.
It's easy to provide Rp 1 billion for free jilbabs; what about providing sanitation facilities all over Aceh to ensure that we have clean water for wudhu (washing before prayers)?
There's a plan to fine Muslims Rp 2 million or a sentence of two months in prison for not adhering to dress code. No one will be able to pay so prisons should be expanded.
So while public space has narrowed, imposing the dress code on women is the only area where men can still show they are macho.
Authorities have now changed tack through ""persuasion"" of religious teachings (syiar) through the distribution of free jilbabs from the Governor's wife, policewomen, and others.
Why don't they also spread the syiar that arbitrary killings and abduction are not allowed in Islam?
Very recently, 15 entertainment workers were arrested in Banda Aceh and their pictures were so big in the media. We support efforts to stop vice -- but a presumption of innocence must be upheld. The women were only performing karaoke at a hotel.
None of the male customers was arrested. Neither were those providing protection for such business, who have weapons. And with so few opportunities to gain income, some women may indeed have been desperate (to become prostitutes). Many lack capital and still don't feel secure. Aceh has some 350,000 single-mother households. An approach based on morality will not work.
The syariah so far only enforces Aceh's patriarchal culture.
This started since ulema, who were encouraged by the last of Aceh's queens (in the 17th century) to study in Cairo. Upon their return, they issued a fatwa (or religious edict) that women were not supposed to lead.