Home to a decades-long separatist insurgency, Aceh has been mostly peaceful for the past seven years. Last month former rebel Zaini Abdullah was elected governor of the province in largely non-violent polls that international observers called a successful test of the peace process.
With his win, Gov. Zaini Abdullah, the former foreign minister of the separatist Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM, gained control of the resource-rich land for which he and his group of rag-tag supporters fought for more than 30 years.
His entrance into politics, however, belies another fracture that has grown deeper recently, say analysts.
Narrow roads of Indonesia are hustling with motorbikes, cars and vans, small businesses on both sides and kids playing right off the road (my friends who are parents would probably lose their mind from the idea). This is the world that is not regulated by many streetlights or signs (especially outside of big cities), doesn't have many handrails or clearly designated pedestrian areas, but nevertheless lives in order. And while child car seats are mandatory in the U.S., in Indonesia many times the little ones just hang off their parent's shoulder who is riding the motorbike.
Indonesia's religious affairs minister Suryadharma Ali has been appointed to run Indonesia’s new anti-porn taskforce, and as he told reporters yesterday, he's starting by 86-ing "pornographic" short skirts:
"We will arrange meetings with different stakeholders from the public to get input on how they understand pornography, and I'm sure that they will come up with different definitions [of pornography]. However, there must be a set of universal criteria to define something as pornographic, of which one will be when someone wears a skirt above the knee."
In a province where alcohol is outlawed, unmarried couples are not allowed alone together after dark and women’s dress is strictly dictated by law, being a punk has a much broader definition than it does in other places of the world. For many, it is a form of revolt against the government’s interpretation of sharia law, which they say is merely a means of restricting expression.
Aceh, on the western edge of the scattered Indonesian archipelago, enjoys broad autonomy and is an anomaly in a country where most of the 240 million people practise a moderate form of Islam.
Alcohol is freely sold in the rest of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, but it is banned in Aceh. In some of the province's regions, women are forbidden from wearing tight trousers.
Gamblers and imbibers are publicly caned. Debate still churns in Aceh over whether adulterers should continue to be publicly flogged, or stoned to death.
Over the past decade, however, Indonesia’s religious compact has frayed, strained by the same fundamentalist forces that have long plagued other parts of the Muslim world. The struggle in Indonesia reflects the global debate within Islam, pitting a loud, radical fringe against a more liberal camp that may be larger but has shown less desire to shout. A recent string of violent episodes—including the killing of the three Ahmadis on Feb. 6—has raised the question: will Indonesia remain liberal?
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has long been considered a place where different religious and ethnic groups can live in harmony and where Islam can work with democracy.
But that perception has been repeatedly brought into question lately. In East Java, Sunni leaders are pushing the provincial government to adopt a regulation limiting the spread of Shiite Islam. It would prevent the country’s two major Shiite organizations from organizing prayer gatherings and sermons.
Indonesia has seen great turmoil in recent years, having faced the Asian financial crisis, the fall of President Suharto after 32 years in office, the first free elections since the 1960s, the loss of East Timor, independence demands from restive provinces, bloody ethnic and religious conflict and a devastating tsunami.
Disaster agencies across the region issued tsunami alerts and ordered people to evacuate to coastal areas after the earthquake, which measuring 8.6 on the Richter Scale and subsequent 8.2 aftershock which was felt as far away as Thailand and India.
In the Indonesian province of Aceh, where 168,000 people died in 2004, the roads were gridlocked with cars as people tried to reach higher ground while the warning sirens blared for more than an hour.
Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation of the world, covers a vast area of SE Asia. Its people are unevenly distributed among more than 15,000 islands, many of which are too small or too barren to offer a settled living to anyone. The islands vary enormously in size, climate, soil, and population density.