Friday, February 07, 2014

No Sex Please, We’re Skittish

A proposed new law threatens to put a stop to unmarried hanky panky

Liberty lovers here in Indonesia once again find themselves under attack from the Machiavellian machinations and pompous paternalism of the political machine. Only a couple of months after I reflected upon a new proposal to outlaw alcohol completely in the country, a proposed KUHP (criminal code) revision is seeking to outlaw unmarried and premarital sex, on pains of a five-year stint in jail. Wahiduddin Adams, director-general for legislation at the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, is perhaps not getting into the true spirit of his ministry’s name when he states that a prohibition on the making of the beast with two backs outside the institution of holy wedlock merely reflects the prevailing norms in Indonesian society.

As if in an attempt to sweeten a somewhat bitter pill, it has been claimed that such a law would not be used to put together an anti-shagging riot squad who would roam the country kicking in doors in an attempt to surprise furtive lovers in flagrante before cuffing them and escorting them down to the station for extensive forensic tests on their nether regions. No, apparently this draconian new legislation could only be applied if a report against an individual was filed by others who deem that they have been put at a disadvantage because of the action.

This is a disconcertingly vague stipulation though and one that sounds open to abuse by everyone from jealous rivals to overprotective parents. Whatever could, "disadvantage" mean in this context, outside of being kept awake by the moans and groans emanating from the upstairs flat, surely a minor inconvenience for which a five-year jail term would seem somewhat severe?

Future laws banning alcohol, as well as extramarital and premarital sex, clearly seem to be symptomatic of a society intent on rolling back secular, liberal freedoms. Such "sharia-ization" has previously arrived via the back door of regional autonomy, as hardly anyone here votes for overtly religious parties in national elections. Now though it’s come a knocking on the front door. It should be noted however that all religions have historically had their more puritanical sides to deal with. As that irascible American legend Gore Vidal once suggested, the Christian Puritans didn't just leave Europe for the New World in order to be free from persecution, they went there to be free to persecute, which indeed they did, with great vehemence and with appalling consequences for those on the receiving end.

Fast forward to Indonesia 2013 and persecution of minorities and those who don't adhere to perceived norms of piety (which at any rate mask a multitude of corrupt hypocrisies) is on the rise. For example, more than 430 churches have been attacked, closed or burned down here since 2004. In this context, Indonesia's amazing economic growth masks a social trajectory that appears to be heading backwards rather than forwards. It’s an impulse perhaps best categorised by that other old irascible American man of letters, HL Mencken, who once claimed that Puritanism is the, “haunting feeling that somewhere, someone may be happy." Gay marriage in Indonesia? Far easier to imagine fleets of hover bajajs or snow falling on Senayan.

But just why exactly do religion and prohibitions on sexual behaviour so often go hand-in-hand across different faiths? Well, there are a number of possible reasons and it would perhaps be illuminating to unravel a few of these during what remains of this month's Big J.

Firstly, most monotheistic religions originally flourished among the poor and dispossessed, who sought reward for their misery in the next world. They would see their rich masters and slave drivers engaging in hedonistic behaviour such as gluttony and sexual promiscuity, activities not available to them. And so thus, making a virtue out of a necessity, fasting and sexual abstinence became seen as positive expressions of faith and were codified in their religions. These tenets have remained even as religion has been co-opted by the masters and the prevailing social power structures.

That's one explanation. Moving along to our second line of analysis, we enter the murky world of Freudian psychoanalysis, which perhaps offers a narrative account of human behaviour more compelling than most religions do. One of the central pillars of psychoanalysis is the concept of ego defence, which originates in early childhood and which inhibits normal, healthy functioning.

Projection is one such ego defence in which a person’s feelings of guilt and shame are projected onto others. It's like looking at yourself in the mirror and believing the image to be someone else. In Indonesia, social and religious taboos such as premarital sex are projected onto the West and the image in the mirror becomes that of the white man. The notion of Western liberal values however, is crudely reductive in any case, as democracy originated in Greece before reaching the West via the Islamic world, who guarded the flame of the whole Platonic cannon during the European Dark Ages. Projecting onto the West in this manner however serves the pathological function of preventing people from confronting their own failings and inadequacies, as measured against the edifice of their faith.

Another reason for sexual repression, especially of women (and if we're honest here, the ladies have traditionally had things a lot harder than men in this regard) was forwarded by Karl Marx's good buddy Engels. He noted that in economic terms, men like to leave their wealth to their sons, and if they do that, then they need to know who their sons actually are, which requires monogamy and strict prohibitions on female sexuality.

This also has the secondary effect of creating a climate of fear that makes people afraid to challenge society’s prevailing power structures. Religion has largely moved from being the domain of the dispossessed to being a bulwark for the establishment status quo, and is thus a useful tool of control for society’s elites, whose own personal adherence to religious rules hasn't historically, to say the least, been that good. If you're a woman in Aceh, for example, and are busy worrying about the religious police's interest in your tight jeans and veil, you may have little fight left in you to demonstrate against rampant corruption.

All fascinating stuff I trust you'll agree, although I should stress at this point that I'm a virgin and have an official certificate to prove it.