The ed­i­tor of Play­boy In­done­sia?

More than ten years af­ter his ar­rest for pub­lic in­de­cency, the ed­i­tor of the con­tro­ver­sial Play­boy In­done­sia opens up on how hard­line Is­lamist groups con­tinue to flex their mus­cles in the world’s largest Mus­lim na­tion

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - PAUL MIL­LAR

IThas long been joked that peo­ple read Play­boy only for the ar­ti­cles. The hun­dreds of rock-throw­ing In­done­sian mil­i­tants who de­scended on the fa­mously risqué and provoca­tive mag­a­zine’s lo­cal of­fice a week af­ter its 2006 launch may have missed the punch­line.

The en­trance of the mag­a­zine into the world’s largest Mus­lim na­tion was met with fierce demon­stra­tions from hard­line Is­lamist groups, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic De­fend­ers Front (known by its In­done­sian acro­nym FPI), a stri­dent group of self-ap­pointed moral guardians who were ag­gres­sively pres­sur­ing the govern­ment to pass an­tipornog­ra­phy leg­is­la­tion in parliament. More than 300 men, stirred into a frenzy by rhetoric de­nounc­ing the mag­a­zine as the van­guard of Western moral de­cay, laid siege to the pub­li­ca­tion’s Jakarta of­fice armed with clubs and rocks – even though this edi­tion con­tained no nu­dity.

For for­mer ed­i­tor Er­win Ar­nada, the sight of an an­gry mob hurl­ing rocks through the win­dows of his work­place would haunt him for some time – and sig­nalled the begin­ning of a cam­paign that would hound him into a prison cell.

Speak­ing with South­east Asia Globe from his home in Bali, the man who once faced that fu­ri­ous mob is frank in his assessment of In­done­sia’s me­dia land­scape.

“I don’t see free­dom of ex­pres­sion, free­dom of the press, do­ing well in In­done­sia. That’s bull­shit,” he said. “These groups are still go­ing strong, and our me­dia is very care­ful and wary of them. Be­cause hun­dreds of peo­ple, they bring sticks, they bring spears, and ev­ery­body’s afraid. So pub­lic dis­cus­sion can­not hap­pen. It’s al­ways like that – whether it’s film screen­ings, dis­cus­sions of books, any­thing that we can do with re­gards to free­dom of ex­pres­sion.”

Ar­nada said that groups like FPI cyn­i­cally stirred up moral out­rage to ad­vance their own po­lit­i­cal agenda.

“Be­fore I pub­lished the mag­a­zine, I had my friends warn­ing me: ‘Be care­ful, be­cause some­body will use you to ad­vance their po­lit­i­cal pur­pose’,” he said. “They used Play­boy to push the govern­ment and all the po­lit­i­cal par­ties to agree with their anti-pornog­ra­phy rules. Be­cause the mo­ment

Play­boy came out, they started to de­velop the rules to make it il­le­gal.” •

Although the idea of bring­ing the in­fa­mous Play­boy bunny logo to the world’s largest Mus­lim na­tion may seem some­thing of a hare-brained scheme, Ar­nada main­tains that it was Play­boy’s long his­tory of pub­lish­ing free­think­ing, out­spo­ken voices like those of Mar­garet At­wood, Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez and Ray Brad­bury that drew him to the brand.

“My con­cept for Play­boy was to deal with good ar­ti­cles, not nude pictures,” he said. “I was very strict with the con­cept – we wanted win­ning jour­nal­ism. It’s about the ar­ti­cles, eco­nom­ics, pol­i­tics, cul­ture – the con­tent. The Press Coun­cil in In­done­sia al­ready knew when I pre­sented the con­cept that I didn’t want nude pictures or any­thing. I showed them the dummy con­cept of the mag­a­zine, and that’s why they kept sup­port­ing and defending me. They knew it wasn’t pornog­ra­phy – it was jour­nal­ism.”

In­done­sia’s ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim groups were less clear on the dis­tinc­tion. Con­demn­ing Ar­nada as a “moral ter­ror­ist”, the FPI lob­bied the author­i­ties to press charges against him. Later that year, he was ar­rested for pub­lic in­de­cency.

But de­spite be­ing cleared of all charges in 2007, Ar­nada’s hard-won free­dom wouldn’t last. The FPI lodged a fu­ri­ous ap­peal with the na­tion’s Supreme Court, which found him guilty of pub­lic in­de­cency. The for­mer ed­i­tor was ar­rested in Bali and sen­tenced to two years in jail. More than ten years af­ter the first is­sue of Play­boy

In­done­sia hit shelves, though, hard­line Is­lamist groups such as the FPI have con­tin­ued to flex their power in the once fa­mously mod­er­ate Mus­lim na­tion.

“Even af­ter more than ten years, it’s get­ting worse in terms of the re­ac­tion – it’s more sen­si­tive,” Ar­nada said. “They trap them­selves with sym­bols. It’s easy to have anger, it’s easy to re­act in that way – even if you’re just dis­cussing books, they just get an­gry. On so many oc­ca­sions in terms of pub­lic dis­cus­sion, in terms of ed­u­ca­tion, these groups just get an­gry when they think their sym­bols are no longer be­ing treated as sa­cred.”

Nowhere, he said, has this been more ev­i­dent than in last year’s gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign in Jakarta. In­cum­bent gov­er­nor Ba­suki ‘Ahok’ Tja­haja Pur­nama, a staunch ally of pro­gres­sive In­done­sian Pres­i­dent Joko ‘Jokowi’ Wi­dodo and an eth­nic Chi­nese Chris­tian, was tar­geted by the FPI and other hard­line Mus­lim groups af­ter a video cir­cu­lated de­pict­ing the politi­cian com­ment­ing on a Qu­ranic verse in­ter­preted by his op­po­nents to de­cree that Mus­lims could not serve un­der non-Mus­lim po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. Af­ter months of vi­cious protests, the once-pop­u­lar can­di­date found him­self not only los­ing out to con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim can­di­date Anies Baswedan, but sen­tenced to a shock­ing two years in prison on blas­phemy charges.

Ar­nada said that the fe­roc­ity of the anti-Ahok camp did not sur­prise him.

“No – I think that was noth­ing new,” he said. “Be­cause

I al­ways predicted that once they had suc­cess with those pres­sure groups, like what hap­pened to me, putting me in jail, they would keep do­ing the same things. So five or six years be­fore the elec­tion, I al­ready predicted that re­li­gion would be used for po­lit­i­cal ends. Be­cause the po­lit­i­cal party the PKS [the Is­lam-based Pros­per­ous Jus­tice Party] has a lot of sup­port – and it’s get­ting big­ger and big­ger. And they rely on these pres­sure groups to at­tack the govern­ment.”

It is a tac­tic, Ar­nada said, that will likely rear its head again in next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which is predicted to pit Jokowi against es­tab­lish­ment Gerindra Party can­di­date Prabowo Su­bianto in a re­match of the bit­terly fought 2014 elec­tion.

“It will be the same pat­tern [in 2019],” he said. “Be­cause it’s use­ful, it’s pow­er­ful – they’ll do it just the same, only bet­ter this time. It’s easy to sell re­li­gion to in­flu­ence the com­mu­nity, for our cit­i­zens, our peo­ple. When you use poverty, when you use re­li­gion to frame an is­sue, our peo­ple buy it. Re­li­gion is a com­mod­ity right now in In­done­sia. It can be sold for po­lit­i­cal ends.”

Although Ar­nada has left jour­nal­ism be­hind, he con­tin­ues to ad­vo­cate for tol­er­ance and free­dom of ex­pres­sion in In­done­sia. Since his re­lease from prison in 2011, Ar­nada has writ­ten, di­rected and pro­duced a num­ber of films ex­plor­ing the so­cial and re­li­gious di­vides in In­done­sia – and the strug­gle to over­come them. His most fa­mous film, the award-win­ning The House at a Thou­sand Waves, is based on his prison writ­ings and de­picts the lives of two young boys over­com­ing a shared his­tory of trauma that brings them to­gether de­spite their dif­fer­ent faiths. The film­maker also lec­tures at uni­ver­si­ties in Bali and Jakarta on the im­por­tance of the free press.

“I keep telling them that be­ing a jour­nal­ist is a very, very pow­er­ful thing, be­ing a film­maker as well,” Ar­nada said. “Be­cause you can cre­ate a state­ment, and a state­ment can be use­ful in in­flu­enc­ing peo­ple in a pos­i­tive way – build­ing mo­ti­va­tion, con­fi­dence. We have the courage to speak in ac­cor­dance with our thoughts and prin­ci­ples, and we have to fight the neg­a­tive in cases such as ter­ror­ism. When we know that re­li­gion is be­ing used for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, we can speak against that.”

Ar­nada be­lieves that if the In­done­sian peo­ple are to avoid re­peat­ing the re­pres­sive mis­takes of the na­tion’s past, they must first study it.

“Some peo­ple have told me that I’m a vic­tim of the politi­ci­sa­tion of re­li­gion, and that I went to jail as a vic­tim,” he said. “Peo­ple tell me I’m a mar­tyr for jour­nal­ism be­cause af­ter me, no­body could use the crim­i­nal law against jour­nal­ists. But I al­ways tell them I’m not a hero and I’m not a vic­tim – I’m just an­other ver­sion of his­tory. They can re­mem­ber me, they can learn some­thing from my fate, but I’m not a vic­tim or a hero – just an­other ver­sion of his­tory like them.”

For­mer Play­boy In­done­sia founder Er­win Ar­nada. Ar­nada was sen­tenced to two years in prison for pub­lic in­de­cency fol­low­ing the

mag­a­zine's launch

Then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joko Wi­dodo, pop­u­larly known as "Jokowi" (R) and his wife Iri­ana, show their inked fin­gers af­ter cast­ing their bal­lots dur­ing the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Jakarta (top); In­done­sian Mus­lims gather to at­tend rally call­ing for the ar­rest of Jakarta's Gov­er­nor Ba­suki Tja­haja Pur­nama, pop­u­larly known as Ahok, who is ac­cused of in­sult­ing the Qu­ran in Jakarta (bot­tom)

An Is­lamic hard-liner holds a copy of the lo­cal ver­sion of Play­boy mag­a­zine as And­hara Early, In­done­sia's first Play­boy mag­a­zine model, ar­rives at a court in 2007 (top); con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Prabowo Su­bianto (R) has been ac­cused of tak­ing ad­van­tage of a ris­ing tide of politi­cised re­li­gion (bot­tom)

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