Who Has the Last Word on Lady Gaga?: Radical versus Tolerant Islam in Indonesia

Who Has the Last Word on Lady Gaga?: Radical versus Tolerant Islam in Indonesia (Photo: AP)

Those who read the media reports about the cancellation of Lady Gaga's concert in Jakarta may imagine Indonesia to be a xenophobic, conservative country that has no sense of freedom. The reality, however, is quite different.

About four weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I had the chance to sit down with a group of young Indonesian female activists, who dispelled any notion that Indonesia was on the verge of becoming an authoritarian state. In fact, they talked about the need for the younger voices to be heard.

"We are big fans of Lady Gaga and it was really disappointing that the clerics came out so angrily against her," said Asha Mahammad, an Indonesian university student in Kuala Lumpur. She feels that the concert's cancellation gives the world a distorted reality about the country, and the region's Muslims.

Indonesia is not anti-Western

She and her friends, who carry the latest technology gadgets, are hard to differentiate from young people the world over. While these women do not necessarily represent Indonesia in its entirety, they deserve to be heard. They're young, and their mission now is to bridge the gap between East and West and tell the world that Indonesia is not anti-Western.

"I have so many friends who were going to go to that concert. We had all been so excited when we heard Lady Gaga was coming that we started to memorize all her songs to sing with her," said Jumana, a 24-year-old master's student in Jakarta.

Jumana makes the point that there are more viewpoints in Indonesia than the ones of those who cancelled the concert. There has been a significant group of Indonesians speaking out on gender issues in recent years, for example, but "you don't hear about that in the media. All you hear about is that Lady Gaga was forced to stop her concert because the sheikhs were angry. It is sad."

And they are right to lament the struggle between outspoken Islamic clerics, who claimed Lady Gaga would spread "immorality," and the youth who are speaking out for tolerance and understanding, like these students.

Many women told me that young people in the region do not need a concert or a musician to tell them how to live their lives. They are choosing and forging their own paths, and for the most part this spans the full spectrum of social leanings, from liberal to conservative. Lady Gaga, they argue, was an excuse by clerics to vent their frustrations about the perceived changes in young people's actions.

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By Joseph Mayton

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