International pop star Lady Gaga was recently denied a concert permit for her upcoming Jakarta concert due to pressure from a few conservative Indonesian-based Muslim groups. The majority of Indonesians are likely offended by some of Gaga’s music and her concert performances, as her art is viewed as immodest and out of line with Islamic principles. However, the overwhelming majority of Indonesians have also taken little interest in actively preventing Gaga from taking to the stage on June 3. Interestingly, however, Indonesian authorities, supposedly following secular laws, have had a poor track record on cultural and religious tolerance, and since 2008, socially conservative Islamic organizations have successfully campaigned against a variety of western artists from performing in Indonesia: Mötley Crüe, N*E*R*D, Rihanna, Akon, 50 Cent, and Avenged Sevenfold have all cancelled their shows due to similar types of pressure.
This story has generated a great deal of attention and touches on a number of issues we’ve discussed here in previous posts and radio shows. Reem recently wrote about the differences of opinion related to the acceptability of music in Islam. Although perspectives on music in Islam vary among those who lobbied to prevent Gaga’s Jakarta concert, her lyrics and music were not the driving force behind protests.
Gaga’s provocative outfits and sexuality-focused performances were the primary concerns of some Indonesian Islamic interest groups. Similar disapproval prevented fans in other countries from attending Gaga’s concerts as well. In South Korea, Christian, and other socially conservative groups loudly protested against Gaga’s show in Seoul, citing her sexually provocative shows and her “promotion of homosexuality.” As a compromise, attendance was limited to only those over 18 years of age. Earlier today, both youth and adult members of Filipino Christian group took to the streets of Manila in protest of Gaga’s upcoming shows on the 21st and 22nd of May. Their opposition was most prominently expressed around Gaga’s song, Judas, which many Christians find to be offensive and disrespectful toward Jesus.
The emphasis of the Gaga-opposition in Indonesia is slightly different than in South Korea or the Philippines. Islamic opposition groups also accused Gaga’s music of being satanic. This seems to be factually incorrect, especially given Gaga’s public spiritual practices. She was recently photographed praying before her latest show with her entire concert crew. Further, and not unique to Indonesia, Lady Gaga’s public declaration of being bisexual is disturbing to many interpretations of Islam and for the overwhelming majority of Indonesian society. But this shouldn’t be all that surprising, give that almost all Muslim-majority contexts and most countries in general are fervently homophobic.
So as a result, Gaga’s show has been cancelled altogether. Indonesian authorities said that they could not guarantee Gaga’s safety during her stay in Jakarta, implying possible security threats during or after the show. There’s no way to verify or measure potential security threats, but the story does provide perspective on Indonesian politics, culture, sexuality, and religion.
Officially, Indonesia’s government is structured under a secular model, but the government also seems to be relatively responsive to particular Islamic sensibilities. Further, secular Indonesian authorities seem to be walking a fine line between upholding the Islamic principle of no compulsion in religion and preventing certain artistic expression due to its offensive nature toward particular groups of people.
There’s little doubt that Gaga’s outfits and concert performances are sexually provocative and offensive to a whole host of people from many cultures, religions, and political orientations. But the most interesting question that has surfaced relates to freedom of expression and the role of religion in any society.
In a self-declared secular society, should all forms of thought and expression, no matter how sexual or religiously offensive be permissible in a particular setting? In a very religious country, where a large minority of people are followers of a particular religious tradition (like Indonesia), and assuming that religious minorities are given rights to freely practice their faith, what are the merits of governing the society under a secular framework? Please share your thoughts below.