By Julia Suryakusuma
Mar 7, 2012
A few days ago, I uncovered a deep, dark secret: Rick Santorum, an uber-conservative candidate in the 2012 Republican Party presidential primary, is a member of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), the militant Islamist organization!
Well, actually that’s not true. He’s not really a member of JI. It’s just that in her widely syndicated New York Times column, Maureen Dowd calls him a “small-town mullah” (“Rick’s Religious Fanaticism”, NYT, and Feb. 21, 2012). You see his views on issues like religion; women’s rights, homosexuality, abortion and birth control are very similar to those of JI and other hard-line (religious) right-wingers in Indonesia.
Santorum says, for example, that the US should end the separation of religion and state that is one of its foundational pillars.
He also claims that babies conceived as a result of rape are “a gift from God” and wouldn’t allow his daughter to have an abortion if she was raped. He says he’s against abortion because he believes in the sanctity of life — but, like most true-blue conservatives, he also supports capital punishment. Go figure.
For Santorum, contraception is also a sin because it’s a “license to do things in a sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be.” Supposed to be … according to whom? Go figure again.
He also says that government should stay out of business and the economy — but it’s welcome to meddle in people’s private and sexual lives. Go figure once more.
On gay marriage, he says, “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever … included homosexuality… It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever ...” Hello? Man on dog? He’s equating homosexuality with bestiality? I see...
Still, all this makes Mullah Rick a source of mirth and amusement for the electorate, and rich fodder for political satirists like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Reacting to his anti-gay statements, sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage held a contest to create a definition for the term “Santorum” in 2003, the results of which I cannot reprint in a respectable paper like The Jakarta Post.
How did someone like Rick Santorum, whose values are so anti-American (i.e., anti-freedom, anti-choice, anti-individual) that he claims John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech makes him “want to throw up”, ever get to be a serious Republican presidential contender?
First, he is a beneficiary of not being Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich. They’ve all been knocked out of the race, so he is pretty much the only one left standing against Mitt Romney (who the far Right don’t believe is really conservative at all). Second, in times of economic downturn — like the one the US is still going through — loonies like Santorum come to the fore. His campaign is an ugly appeal to people’s fears. It resonates with those who hit hard by the global financial crisis — and there are plenty of them.
Does Indonesia have a Rick Santorum? Not yet. Of course, the religious right has always been here, just like in the US. They wait for times of popular discontent and uncertainty, and exploit people’s fears, as Santorum does. Look at the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), for example, which emerged after the Asian economic crisis, when everyone lost confidence in government and religious conservatives in general, and got a kick-start from the opening of democratic space.
But Indonesia is not suffering economically like the US or Europe, so the religious right is weaker for now. Despite all the moral panic we have had from Muslim conservatives since Reformasi in 1998, things aren’t so bad here, believe it or not.
For now, we’ll have to do with the likes of Tifatul Sembiring (who, like Santorum, has seven kids!), a PKS member and Minister of (Mis) Communications and Information. Notorious for his ambition to filter the Internet for “negative” content, he blames pornography for HIV/AIDS, and has even linked the Ariel sex videotape scandal to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (see “Tifatul chided for linking sex tape scandal to crucifixion”, The Jakarta Post, June 19, 2010). Luckily no one seems to think he has a remote hope of being a presidential candidate.
But Indonesia may yet find its own Santorum as the Yudhoyono era comes to a close. There’s already a great loss of confidence in democratic reform, and disillusionment with government policies, national leadership, the legislature and political parties. According to a survey by the Indonesian Survey Institute (LSI), SBY’s Democratic Party — the largest in the last election — would now only receive 13.7 percent of the vote. Not surprising, given it’s become infested with corruption.
Is this good news for the other parties? Nope. Golkar would get only 15.5 percent, the other parties would fare even worse and it looks like many people will simply not bother to vote at all (see “More absentees in 2014 legislative, presidential elections?”, The Jakarta Post, Feb. 28, 2012). This will obviously advantage the Indonesian religious right, waiting in the wings.
The current presidential hopefuls — Aburizal Bakrie, Prabowo Subianto, Jusuf Kalla, Wiranto and Megawati — are all conservatives, but they are also old names, and problematic in different ways.
There are two years yet to go. Let’s hope we don’t use that time to create the perfect setting for the rise of an Indonesian mullah Rick.
An Indonesian Obama would be nice, but even our own local Romney would be better than another Santorum!
The writer is the author of Julia’s Jihad.
Source: The Jakarta Post