Islam and amphetamines – change on the island of Lombok

 

By Tony Young

 

In January and February 2007 I spent 6 weeks at Universitas Mataram in Lombok completing an intensive language program as part of an Indonesian Studies course at Charles Darwin University.

 

Lombok is sometimes called “Pulau Seribu Masjid” or “Island of a Thousand Mosques” and the civic motto of Mataram, the provincial capital, is “Kota Maju dan Religius” or “Developed and Religious City”.

 

The day after my arrival in Lombok was a public holiday, Hari Raya Korban or Festival of the Sacrifice. An important Islamic festival, it commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael[1]. In Lombok it is marked by the slaughter of goats, cattle and buffalo and the distribution of the meat to the poor. Animals were slaughtered throughout the city, in yards of mosques and public buildings. In the forecourt of the municipal offices dozens of neat piles of meat sat on squares of blue plastic ready for distribution and in one corner were piled the heads and horns of the recently slaughtered buffalo. The poor of the city queued outside the gates.

 

Everywhere in Lombok mosques are being built or renovated. On the weekends, at intersections in front of partly constructed mosques, children with plastic buckets seek donations from passing motorists.

 

However, other civic development is often absent and the infrastructure of Mataram is completely inadequate. Roads are crowded with motorcycles - driven by helmetless dare devil riders, cars and horse cart taxis or “cidomo”. The traffic is dangerous and accidents are common. Footpaths are broken and impassable and are used as another lane by the traffic or they are jammed with warungs, stalls and shop displays. Deep, open gutters run beside the footpaths. These are clogged with rubbish because of ineffective municipal garbage collection. People burn the rubbish in the gutter and the acrid smoke often hangs in the air. During heavy rain the gutters overflow and flood streets, warungs and shops.

 

But the inadequacy of civic infrastructure seems to call forth a spirit of mutual help and self-reliance among the people. Early one morning as my cidomo clip clopped along the busy road to the university I noticed a boy about 10 or 11 years old trying to cross the road to get to his father, waiting on a motorbike on the other side. The boy was frozen in the middle of the road, afraid to go forward or back, the motorbikes whizzing around him without slowing. He was likely to be hit at any moment. I was not the only person to notice the danger. A street vendor strode into the road, holding up his hand to slow the traffic, took the boy’s arm, and delivered him safely to his father. The boy climbed onto the pillion seat behind his father and the motorcycle sped away. I felt like giving the vendor a round of applause but no one else appeared to think anything of it.

 

The island of Lombok

 

Lombok lies to the east of Bali about 4 hours away by ferry or 20 minutes by plane across the Lombok Strait. The island is slightly smaller in area than Bali. Gunung Rinjani, a 3,700m high volcanic peak, dominates the north of the island. There are streams and waterfalls on the flanks of Rinjani and its slopes and foothills are covered by thick forest, inhabited by monkeys, birds and large, beautiful butterflies.

 

Lombok has a population of about 3 million people, most of who live in villages. Poverty is widespread. Many people seek work overseas, the men in Malaysia as labourers, particularly on building sites, and men and women in Saudi Arabia as labourers and domestic workers.

 

Wet rice is cultivated in the areas watered by the streams from Rinjani but in the far south of the island the land is dryer and only dry rice and other dry land crops are grown. The south coast is wild and beautiful with high rocky headlands, deep coves and great surf. The area is popular with surfers, particularly Aussies. The villages in the south are poor, with the inhabitants struggling to earn a living from farming and fishing. Many families receive food aid (often Australian made noodles) from the World Food Progam.

 

Lombok promotes itself as a tourist destination and there are many hotels aimed at foreign tourists at Senggigi on the west coast but they are often half empty. Tourism still suffers from the impact of the terrorist atrocities in Bali. The provincial government, dreaming of making the island into a second Bali, plans an international airport in central Lombok and has acquired a large area of farmland but the land is deserted. The proposal is beset by political and budgetary difficulties and disputes with the former landowners about the adequacy of compensation.

 

Ethnic and religious groups

The Sasaks are the biggest ethnic group in Lombok, about 90% of the population. They are overwhelmingly orthodox Muslims. There are still some adherents of Waktu Telu, a syncretic mixture of Islam and Buddhist-Hindu elements that came to the island hundreds of years ago. Waktu Telu is not an officially recognized religion so it is difficult to know the number of adherents but some locals estimated that they are about 5% to 10% of the total number of Muslims. There is also a small congregation of a Muslim sect called Ammadiyah who claim that Muhammad was not the last prophet, a claim abhorrent to many Muslims. The members of this congregation have been subjected to violent attacks and presently live as refugees in their own island under police protection.

 

There is a large ethnic Balinese minority, making up around 10% of the population, who practice Bali Hinduism. The Balinese first arrived in the 18th century as colonizers and established themselves as the ruling group in the west of Lombok. Their dominance began to weaken with the arrival of the Dutch at the beginning of the 20th century and largely disappeared with the advent of independence but a strong cultural influence remains. There is also a small minority of Christians, mostly ethnic Chinese and people from other islands in eastern Indonesia.

 

The different ethnic groups seem to live relatively harmoniously but in 2000 local Muslims, stirred up by the religious and ethnic wars in Maluku and Ambon, attacked and burned churches and homes of Christians. There is lingering suspicion and unease as a result.

 

Living in the suburbs of Mataram

 

The better off residential areas of the city are pleasant. There are neat houses behind substantial fences with lovingly tendered gardens, often with orchids and other interesting plants hanging in pots.

 

In the poor areas of the city small, dark shacks line narrow lanes. The people look careworn and pinched. Rubbish is everywhere: plastic bags and containers litter every bit of waste land.

 

The city is divided in other ways. The Balinese often live in ethnically homogenous Balinese areas or “kampungs” where the laneways are lined with high walled family compounds. Behind the walls are spacious courtyards, often with lovely gardens and family shrines. In the kampungs the Balinese can follow their distinctive way of life without concern for the sensibilities of their Muslim neighbours. A walk around a Balinese kampung at dusk invariably results in a chat and the offer of a glass of “brem”, the sweet, pink, fermented alcohol of the Balinese and one might hear a pig being slaughtered inside one of the walled family compounds.

 

Our course was a language immersion course so students were encouraged to live in a homestay with a family. I spent 3 weeks living in the household of a professor from the Faculty of Agriculture at Universitas Mataram (generally known as “Unram”), Professor Sunarpi, and his wife, Dr Widy, also an academic at Unram.

 

Our suburb, one of the better off areas, was neighbourly and tranquil. Away from the main roads there was little traffic and children played unsupervised in the street, flying kites or kicking a soccer ball. A Balinese family, father, mother and two sons, lived across the road. The boys, about 18 and 20 years old, were training to be teachers. The family eked out the father’s public service pension by running a little shop. They also made beautiful little flower arrangements placed by the local Balinese in their driveways and elsewhere as offerings to the gods.

 

Sunarpi (his only name, as is common in Indonesia) is a Sasak and his home village is not far outside Mataram. Sunarpi and Widy (also her only name), after completing undergraduate degrees at Bandung in Java, both obtained their doctoral degrees in science at Latrobe University. They spent 5 years in Australia. Later both undertook post doctoral research in Japan for 18 months and Sunarpi still maintains research links with a Japanese university. His research area is the genetic modification of soya beans for dry land farming and developing strains of seaweed for cultivation and commercial exploitation. Both areas of research promise real benefits to the farmers of Lombok and other areas, particularly in the poorer and dryer areas and coastal villages.

 

Professor Sunarpi is also a leading figure in a large and influential Islamic social organization on Lombok, Nahdlatul Wathan[2]. The organization was founded by a famous religious scholar and Indonesian nationalist from Lombok, Mohammed Zainuddin Abdul Majid. Since his death the organization has been led by his daughter, a “charismatic leader” according to Sunarpi. Nahdlatul Wathan operates many educational institutions, including a university and dozens of pesantren or Islamic boarding schools[3] in Lombok. It also has a political wing, Bintang Reformasi[4] that rivals Golkar[5] in influence on Lombok.

 

Sunarpi received a constant stream of visitors at his home; people from his village seeking advice or assistance, post graduate students and others wanting to discuss the coming gubernatorial elections.

 

From time to time Sunarpi and I discussed his religious and political beliefs and views. For him one of the central tenets of Islam is the requirement for charitable and educational works[6]. He and other successful members of his home village had set up an educational fund for the village to help the children of the poor to go to secondary school and university. He and others met regularly to oversee this project.

 

Politically, he thought an Islamic state was desirable for Indonesia but on condition that it be democratic. He rejected the Iran model of an Islamic state and thought the relatively mild form of official Islamism of Malaysia was an appropriate model for Indonesia.

 

Interviews with Indonesian lawyers, academics and officials

 

As part of our course we were required to identify areas of interest and arrange interviews with people working in those areas. As a practising lawyer I was interested in legal education and institutions.

 

My first interview was with Professor Syapruddin from the law faculty at Unram. Syapruddin is an expert in adat Lombok or the customary law of Lombok and also had an interest in the common law systems which he called “sistem anglo-saxon”.

 

Adat regulates important private law areas in Indonesian life including marriage, marriage age, inheritance, aspects of land law and contract. The customary law of each region or ethnic group governs the application of adat with the result that adat varies throughout Indonesia. In Lombok the law of inheritance might be governed, in the case of a Sasak family, by adat Sasak and in the case of an ethnic Balinese family by adat Bali. However, for example, in the case of a Sasak tenant farmer and a Balinese landowner rent and other terms of tenancy would be determined by the adat of that area regardless of the ethnicity of the parties.

 

To add to the complexity, most Sasak are orthodox Muslims and often, but not always, will follow Islamic law in marriage and inheritance. Islamic inheritance law provides that the portion of the sons be twice that of the daughters but with the proviso that the sons have a continuing responsibility for the welfare of their sisters. Adat Sasak, on the other hand, provides that the inheritance is divided according to the age of the testator’s children with the eldest receiving the most and the youngest the least. The older children have a responsibility for the welfare of their younger siblings.

 

There are also uniform national laws regulating areas such as marriage. Commonly, these would apply to people such as ethnic Chinese and other groups or individuals who do not regulate their lives according to adat.

 

According to Professor Syapruddin disputes are common but are usually resolved by negotiation or conciliation at a local level. However, parties may bring a suit in a “pengadilan umum” or public court if the dispute is regulated by adat or a “pengadilan Islam” if Islamic law applies. Courts applying Islamic law are an integral part of the national legal system.

 

Choice of law disputes are resolved according to national legislation.

 

There is a lack of access to the courts because of widespread poverty and ignorance of the law.

 

A moot court

 

Professor Syapruddin invited a couple of us to watch a moot court or “pengadilan semu” conducted by the students. Curiously, the Indonesians commonly use the English name. The moot court was conducted with great authenticity: the participants wore lawyers’ robes and followed the format of an Indonesian criminal trial with its frequent adjournments for indictment, examination of witnesses, written addresses, decision and sentencing. The trial I watched was conducted with skill and enthusiasm by the students with some fiery cross-examination by defence counsel. The “charge” was murder in the context of a neighbourhood fight. The “accused” was found guilty of a lesser charge on the basis of self defence with excessive force.

 

The notable difference between a trial under our system and the Indonesian continental system is the greater role of the judges in the examination of the witnesses. Nevertheless, the prosecutor and defence counsel still play an important role in the examination and cross-examination of witnesses. A trial is conducted without a jury. Some Indonesian lawyers I spoke to thought the jury system was attractive for a number of reasons including faster decisions and less risk of outside interference in the decision[7].

 

Professor Syapruddin told me that during the Soeharto era the legal system was not respected because of political interference and corruption. Consequently, the law faculties did not attract the best students. He said the perception was changing somewhat and better students were now attracted to study law.

 

The legal academics I spoke to expressed a profound sense of frustration at the problem of judicial corruption in Indonesia and the generally low level of enforcement of the criminal law.

 

Among other Indonesians I noted ambivalence about the law. Educated Indonesians knew of the concept and desirability of rule of law but were also painfully aware of the abuses present in the Indonesian legal system, particularly the problem of corruption and the ability of the rich and powerful to evade legal responsibility for their actions. Many people made bitterly cynical remarks about the failure to bring the former president, Soeharto, to trial for corruption and the release of his son, Tommy, from prison after only 4 years after his conviction for the murder of a judge.

 

On the other hand, the newspapers give detailed reports of corruption trials and other prosecutions and there seems to be a growing sense that legal redress can be pursued in the courts.

 

Student politics

 

There were examples of the growing seeds of confidence in the effectiveness of the legal system to combat corruption. One was the attempt of the Universitas Mataram student organization (Badan Exekutif Mahasiswa or “BEM”) to have the governor of the province of Nusa Tenggara Barat charged with corruption. The students had been campaigning with marches and sit-ins against corruption in the provincial government. With a couple of other students from my course, I interviewed some of the members of BEM.

 

Two students were particularly articulate; Ali Akbar, the president and Fihir, the secretary of BEM. They told us they had compiled a dossier, using public documents obtained from parliamentary officials, that provided evidence of corruption. They were planning to present the dossier to the local office of the Kejaksaan Republik Indonesia (equivalent to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions) in Mataram. They told us they expected it to be rejected at the local level but were confident that national office of the Kejaksaan Republik Indonesia in Jakarta would take the case up.

 

I also spoke to Ali Akbar and Fihir on a later occasion when they visited my host, Professor Sunarpi. Both were training to be teachers. Fihir appeared to have political ambitions. He was an activist with Partai Keadilan dan Sejahtera (Justice and Welfare Party). This is a national Islamic party popular among Muslim students, professionals and the educated. Its activists are well educated and it has a reputation as a “clean” or non-corrupt party[8].

 

Fihir told me he supported socialism and also an Islamic state for Indonesia. He was vague about what the content of an Islamic state might be but he firmly stated that it must be achieved democratically. Incongruously, his political hero was Napoleon! We also talked about Guantanamo Bay and they both fiercely condemned the lack of a legality of the American project there. These comments and comments from other Indonesians indicated to me that the Americans - and their Australian allies - had lost, or never obtained, the support of moderate and well informed Muslim opinion in Indonesia in the “War on Terror”.

 

A visit to the Public Prosecutor’s office

 

The Kejaksaan Republik Indonesia or Office of the Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Indonesia has branch offices throughout the provinces. I spoke to Ketut Sumedhana, a Balinese. Ketut was the head of “Sospol” or the Social and Political Section of the Public Prosecutor’s office in Mataram. He held a master’s degree in law and was intelligent, personable and enthusiastic about his job.

 

The primary function of his section was to monitor publications: particularly for pornography[9], the activities of social and religious groups, including Islamic groups, and the activities of tourists. In Lombok there had recently been a well publicized case of a foreign tourist being convicted on child sex charges.

 

Ketut spoke about the problem of low salaries for prosecutors and judges which he saw as the primary cause of judicial corruption.

 

On another occasion I also spoke to the local head of Peradin, the Indonesian advocates association, about the problem of judicial corruption. He told me that he had not seen direct examples of judicial corruption in his day to day practice but he had occasionally seen unusual results in cases that he suspected were the result of corrupt practices.

 

A visit to Mataram prison

 

After some weeks of negotiation a couple of us were invited to visit Mataram prison. The prison is in the centre of the city and had been used since Dutch times. We entered through a small door off a main street. The prison sat around a central courtyard. There were about 300 prisoners. Conditions were cramped but the prison facilities we saw – we did not see inside any cells - were clean. There was a small medical clinic and we were told that a doctor visited regularly. There were posters in the clinic warning about AIDS and safe sex. The prison officers told us that one prisoner was HIV positive.

 

We were told that about 80% of the prisoners were serving sentences for drug offences, mainly to do with amphetamines.

 

Most of the rest were serving sentences for robbery or theft. A couple of prisoners were serving sentences for murder or homicide.

 

Prisoners were allowed conjugal visits.

 

We were told that the prison offered no rehabilitative or other programs.

A time of rapid change

 

The fall of the Soeharto regime brought dramatic change to Indonesia and the country now has a free press and democratic institutions, although money politics and corruption remain serious problems. People are happy to discuss politics and there is a genuine commitment to making democracy work. There are many non-government civic organizations and an active civil society. Most people thought the military had returned to the “barnyard” for good.

 

Poverty remains widespread. For the poor educational opportunity, and hence social mobility, is limited or non-existent. Many graduates cannot find jobs. Government and other official institutions often seem to be ineffective. It was sometimes said that society had become more lawless since the fall of Soeharto. The rise of a serious amphetamine drug problem is a new phenomenon for Indonesia.

 

The appeal and obvious resurgence of Islam on a social and political level must be seen against this background. I saw little evidence of extremist views, possibly because most of the people I met in Lombok were university academics and students. Nevertheless, some people assured me that there were plenty of “fanatics” in Lombok. Although most women wore the Indonesian jilbab or head scarf which simply covers the hair and neck, I also noticed a small number of women dressing in the Saudi/Wahhabi style of complete cover, something generally considered foreign to Indonesian Islam. I had not observed this on my earlier visits to Indonesia.

 

I heard widespread expressions of hostility towards the United States, George W Bush and his one time “deputy sheriff” John Howard. But I think this is the product of current or recent events: the US actions in Iraq, its lawless “extraordinary renditions” of Muslims suspected of links to terrorism to states that are alleged to routinely practice torture and, of course, Guantanamo Bay. The Muslim students and academics I spoke to are intelligent and well informed. They are aware of the concept of rule of law. One of the Muslim students I spoke to described Guantanamo Bay as unlawful and barbarous. The lawlessness of United States policies is deeply damaging to its international reputation and image.

 

Similar expressions of view are heard in Australia and I did not link these to any generalized anti-Western ideas. Many of the academics at Unram had studied in Australia and all expressed very friendly feelings toward Australia and Australians. They had invited my fellow students and me into their homes and treated us with the greatest friendliness and hospitality.

 

I left Lombok convinced of the profound importance of engagement with Indonesia, its government and people. The provision of academic scholarships to Australian universities is dramatically effective in fostering good relations with Indonesian intellectuals and decision makers. The provision of aid to the poor or for reconstruction after natural disasters is not simply a moral necessity but is recognized and acknowledged by the Indonesians and fosters friendly feelings. These are essential steps towards understanding between two countries, two peoples apparently so different but with so much in common.

 

 

 



[1] Not Isaac as in the Jewish and Christian tradition. According to the Torah, Bible and Quran Ishmael, Abraham’s eldest son, is the ancestor of the Arabs and his brother Isaac the ancestor of the Jews.

[2] Derived from Arabic and meaning “awakening of the nation”

[3] Coincidentally, I visited one of these secondary boarding schools with my fellow students. We were greeted very hospitably by the teachers and students and had lunch at the school. We were encouraged to walk around the school and speak to the students. I was impressed by the school and the friendliness of the students. One student, who told me he regularly listened to Radio Australia for English practice, wanted to study medicine. The students at the school were obliged to speak Arabic and English on alternate days in order to improve their language skills. If they did not they were disciplined. Discipline was the responsibility of the student body itself. Corporal punishment was banned in the school and, my informant told me, generally in Indonesian schools.

[4] “Reformation Star”, the “Star” being a reference to the party’s Islamic platform not the beverage.

[5] The party of the unlamented Soeharto but still strong, especially in the regions outside Java.

[6] One of the many similarities between Islam and its sibling, Christianity, particularly the Protestant Calvinist branch. Islam, with its emphasis on the sovereignty/oneness of God, emphasis on scripture, its simple or non-existent liturgy, its unadorned places of worship, equality among its followers and hostility to the idea of a priesthood and priestly hierarchy, calls to mind Presbyterianism.

[7] I tried to arrange a visit to one of the local courts to meet judicial officers and to watch a case but despite the assistance of Unram staff in the negotiation this was impossible to arrange for some reason.

[8] One of the Australian academics involved with the course, Stephen Miller, whose research interest is the Indonesian Communist Party, told me that Partai Keadilan dan Sejahtera found its support base in Jakarta in almost exactly those areas that had supported the Indonesian Communist Party before its destruction in 1965/66.

[9] Pornography is an interesting issue in Indonesia. The first Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine has been prosecuted under the anti-pornography laws for some very innocuous photographs of models showing no more than bare legs and arms. The prosecution appears political, backed by some of the Islamic political parties. However, in the internet cafés springing up everywhere in Indonesia one of the viewing staples is hard-core porn. The authorities seem to ignore it or recognize their powerlessness to stop it.