Banda Aceh – the ugly face of religious fanatacism

Here are some young Indonesians locked up in the province of Banda Aceh after they attended a punk rock concert last Saturday. What did they do wrong? If the concert was in London, New York or even other parts of Indonesia, the answer would be nothing – they did nothing wrong.

They are a bunch of kids – punk kids with zany hairstyles, rebelliously adolescent clothing and a few tattoos and piercings. All pretty average stuff and even if you prefer young people to dress like Mormon preachers, you will probably think let them dress as they want because it isn’t doing anyone any harm.

Actually, I think these extravagant hairstyles are great – I am more than a bit jealous of both their style and the thickness of their hair.

I have had more than my share of silly haircuts through my life and I have always celebrated the use of hairstyle as a life statement. It is a Sixties thing no doubt – as a schoolboy, I endured my share of minor punishment and disciplinary procedures at school because I chose to defy the authorities over the length of my hair.

Good luck to those kids from Banda Aceh – you look just great. Enjoy your youth, delve into your individuality, express yourselves and question the opinions of your elders. Go for it if you can.

Sadly, for these kids, 65 of them were rounded up last Saturday after the concert was broken up by baton-wielding policemen because they were thought to be breaking Islamic law by insulting Islam with their body piercings, hairstyles and clothes.

They were then forced to have their heads shaved. The secret hippie in me still recoils at this act of humiliation.

This was lesson one in their “rehabilitation.”

They were then stripped of their piercings and an “offensive” clothing and given a “ritual” cleansing in the river.

They don’t look so much cleansed as insulted, demeaned and violated.

The police chief defended his actions: ‘We’re not torturing anyone. We’re not violating human rights. We’re just trying to put them back on the right moral path.”  They will be held for ten days for military-style training and religious classes before being returned to their families.

It is the Banda Aceh authorities that need rehabilitation. They could do with some lessons in respect for human dignity and individuality.

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