The involuntary dissolution of Irshad Manji’s book launch in Salihara Cultural Center last week is representation of the tyranny of conservative groups that suppresses freedom of speech.
Indeed, as Muslim liberal activist Manji who wrote a book titled Allah, Liberty and Love, has been known as pro-contra a thinker as well as a lesbian. It seems Manji’s sexual identity was the primary motive for the protesters to deny her speech regardless of the essence of the discussion.
In this case, first of all, we have to make a difference between the private and public domain. Sexual orientation as well as faith or religion is a private domain. Everyone has this right and of course the state bears the responsibility for protection of the right.
Second, a discussion forum is an academic area that should remain free from “moral judgment”. Here, the most important thing is brains, not muscle.
The disparity between the notions deserves a wide space for anyone without considering sexual orientation. There is no reason for certain groups — including hard-line religious activists — to disperse or ban an academic forum by use of threat or derision.
The threat targeting Manji’s book discussion should prompt the state, in this case the National Police, to provide protection and security. It is clear that such discussion, characterized by academic and open-ended dialogue, is not intended to generate social anxiety.
Nevertheless, the police, citing the absence of permit and potential for disruption — based on the law — dispersed the discussion and therefore hurt freedom of speech.
Sexuality has long invited many thinkers and scholars to start discussions and debates. For certain members of the Indonesian public, especially those in the Muslim majority, homosexuality is seen as a violation of norms and rules of the religion.
The tale of Prophet Luth suggests homosexuality is a prohibited sexual orientation. But such conclusion, although in the mainstream, is just one of many exegesis of the Koran.
On the other hand, the discourse of sexuality actually is a part of social, political and ideological construction. Sex is related with history-knowledge-language and all of them are directed to body control.
Therefore, in a democracy like Indonesia there should be no discriminatory treatment for people based on their sexual orientation. Heterosexual and homosexual have the same position to exercise freedom of speech. Equality, a primary principle of the law, must be interpreted as the state’s way to protect human rights and guarantee their implementation.
In addition, violence is the chief nemesis of true democracy. It is time for the state to resist any kinds of acts that discredit the minorities and set up “religious oligarchy”. Here, dialogue is the best way to express an opinion. Disagreement is justified but must not be translated in the use of violence.