Ati Nurbaiti , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Fri, 05/29/2009 11:51 AM | Headlines
The veil, says one political researcher, does "all the talking". One look at the wives of election candidates Jusuf Kalla and Wiranto and they're bound to win a lot of votes, he said, offering an explanation for the reported internal survey of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). We're so sorry, says a PKS leader, we're definitely loyal to the coalition of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY), but we can't control the hearts of our grass roots.
It's up to everyone else outside the PKS to determine whether the veil should matter so much. PKS itself had garnered 8 percent of the total votes in the last legislative election, way below the nationalist parties. It might not realize that it's now getting a backlash, judging from comments and mockery going around cyberspace.
Their percentage inched up 1 percent from the 2004 polls, but respect remained for the disciplined, cadre party with the cleanest reputation among others. The same cannot be said in the wake of the recent "veil" comments of PKS leaders.
Every one of us has a girlfriend in a veil, and that piece of cloth does not come between our friendships. So it is not really amusing to have politicians from a minority party imply that the better leaders or their spouses are the explicitly "Islamic," and that it would be so nice if Ibu Ani Yudhoyono donned one.
The First Lady must spend a considerable amount of time doing her hair, coming a close second to Amy Winehouse, and if that was covered it would send only an unpleasant message.
The message would be one of an intolerant Indonesia - and the desperation of Bu Ani and SBY to maintain their status as the First Couple.
It would also confirm the casual observation that when you're about to become important in the public eye, you display religious attributes. Hence Prabowo Subianto, the running mate of Megawati Soekarnoputri - who would typically sneer at the PKS demands - now goes around in a peci, the cap men often wear for praying. Some day we might forget he used to wear the special forces beret. (The peci is also worn by criminals on trial, to display goodwill and regret.) Bu Rugaya, the wife of former military chief Wiranto, began to wear the veil a few months ago, and we would like to believe it was not conveniently timed for the elections.
Hayrunisa Gul, the first lady of Turkey, had it the opposite way. She was earlier tormented for her choice to wear the veil amid a cultural war, with one side determined to uphold secularism and ban the use of outwardly religious symbols among public officials and their spouses, and in other public institutions. The message from the furor over what Mrs Gul should or shouldn't wear was similar: intolerance.
"My scarf covers my head, not my brain," the bemused woman said.
Thus, there are at least two uncomfortable issues stemming from the veil comments of the PKS.
First, the PKS seems to have become more obvious in its imposition of values on everyone else, something their leadership has tirelessly denied all this time.
Second is that while we are striving towards progress, we are reminded of the tired old custom that women have a crucial, role to play - as a valuable political accessory.
It is the role of the "guardian," the clothes hanger, of what everyone supposedly wants. If society wants to be thought of as good, the benchmark is its women: pure, caring (wife and mother) and - more desirably - beautiful (especially those in the spotlight).
Thus, in Aceh in the first days of sharia law, it was the younger women who were hounded for wearing tight jeans, while the moral police left the old uncovered female vendors alone. How old poor women look is not important for those obsessed with symbols of morality.
That's why we laugh with satisfaction at movie scenes like in Chocolat, starring heart-throbs Juliette Binochet and Johnny Depp. The mayor, intent on closing Juliette's "evil" shop of temptation, is caught by locals in the store window, his face smeared with sweets. Juliette, a newcomer to the tiny French town, had refused to go to church, and opened a chocolate shop with mysterious recipes, just as people were fasting for Lent.
We can laugh at such scenes because they provide us with an outlet against the utter hypocrisy that demands displays of morality by women, as symbols of a God-fearing society.
In the current hubbub, don't be surprised if women who feel they chose to put on the veil out of personal conviction are insulted that the jilbab and those wearing them have been reduced to political bargaining chips