A hardline Islamist group filed a blasphemy complaint in Indonesia on Wednesday against politician Sukmawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of modern Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno and the sister of ruling PDI party leader and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Sukmawati, who is commonly referred to by her first name, was accused of insulting Islam in a poem she wrote.
The hardline Islamist group the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the same group behind the blasphemy allegations that forced Jakarta’s popular Christian governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama out of office and into jail for two years in May 2017, filed the complaint. Ahok, incidentally, is still in jail; he just divorced his wife and obtained custody of their three children because she was having an affair with another man.
Sukmawati was reported to the police for writing a poem called “Mother Indonesia,” which she read out loud during Indonesia Fashion Week in Jakarta last Thursday. The verse that outraged Islamists reads:
I don’t know sharia, but I know the konde of Mother Indonesia is so beautiful, more beautiful than your niqab.
I don’t know sharia, but I know that the ballad of Indonesian mothers is so beautiful, more melodious than your adzan.
Sharia is Islamic law. The konde is the traditional Indonesia bun hairstyle. A niqab is an Islamic women’s garment that covers the face. The adzan is the wailing call to prayer issued for Muslims five times per day. In other words, Sukmawati’s poem asserted that traditional Indonesian dress and music is more beautiful than Islamic face coverings and the call to prayer.
Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority country and is trending toward becoming a Muslim state period, despite having sizable Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist populations. Islamists seized on Sukmawati’s poem as an opportunity to extend their momentum from the fall of Ahok. In fact, FPI lawyer and adviser Eggi Sudjana used exactly those terms, as quoted by Reuters: “It’s clear there is an insult toward the teachings of Islam in the poem. We hoped that Ahok’s case would be the last one, but now there are others who dare to insult Islam again.”
Another group called the United Islam Forum filed a police report against Sukmawati and signaled its intention to have her prosecuted for blasphemy. A third hardline Muslim organization called GNPF Ulama declared, “the call of jihad is back” and urged the “arrest, trial, and jailing of Sukmawati, the religious blasphemer.” Protest marches have already been arranged for this weekend by Islamic organizations.
Sukmawati tearfully apologized for the poem in a press conference on Wednesday, pointing out that she is Muslim herself and her father held important positions in two major Islamic organizations. She said the poem was intended to reflect her “artistic point of view” during the fashion show, which had a theme of “cultural identity.”
“From the bottom of my heart I extend an apology to all Muslims of Indonesia, especially those who feel offended by the poem,” Sukmawati said.
She said her intention was to express her concerns about “nationalism” and “honor our motherland’s rich cultural traditions and diversity.”
The FPI responded to her press conference by saying it accepted her apology but would not withdraw its legal complaints. “There will be no mercy for those who blaspheme,” a spokesman vowed.
Andreas Harsono warned that an “atmosphere of fear” is building in Indonesia because “people never know when someone could report them to the police for blasphemy against Islam.”
Channel News Asia reports that the atmosphere of fear seems to have settled over Sukmawati’s prestigious family and the current president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo. The family distanced itself from Sukmawati and said the poem reflected her opinions alone, while a Widodo spokesman said the president “did not want to be associated with the issue.”