Lessons From Lady Gaga

A concert cancelation reveals a cultural pathology that is only getting worse.

Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, an American chanteuse also known as Lady Gaga, has been touring Asia to packed houses. She was to have performed in Jakarta, Indonesia, last Sunday, June 3, but had to cancel. So no show for Indonesia but perhaps a lesson or two in tolerance.

Lady Gaga opted to play Indonesia because she has fans there. According to news reports, more than 50,000 tickets had been sold, and that did not sit well with Muslim hardliners. They called her a messenger of the devil and issued threats of violence should the concert go forward.

Indonesia has more Muslims than any other nation, some 86 percent of a population of more than 248 million. Protestants and Catholics make up less than 10 percent of Indonesians, who are ethnically diverse. For some observers Indonesia is the model for how an Islam can be compatible with democracy and tolerance, but the Lady Gaga incident is troubling.

Her show is indeed sexually and religiously provocative, in the aggressive style of Madonna. Christians in the Philippines and Korea had protested her act, which some considered blasphemous, but Lady Gaga’s show went on in those nations. Her fans attended and those who didn’t like her saved their money and found other things to do.

In Indonesia, a hardline group called the Islamic Defenders Front threatened to prevent Lady Gaga from getting off the plane. Following threats of violence, the police refused to issue a permit for her show, prompting the singer to cancel. So the Islamic Defenders Front got what they wanted.

They were not content to let their fellow Indonesians decide for themselves.

Rather, the performance was not to happen at all. And this took place in a nation supposedly a showcase of democracy and Islamic tolerance.

“This incident does not have much to do with the American singer,” wrote Step Vaessen in an Aljazeera article headlined “Gag on Lady Gaga Stirs Indonesian Fears,” wrote that the cancellation “illustrates a far deeper conflict that is dividing Indonesia.”

The piece quoted Hendari, head of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace. “The fact that police can't guarantee security of the concert shows that our state is weak towards groups that promote intolerance.”

For Musdah Mulia, from the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, “This shows how our reforms after 14 years have failed. During the Suharto era, the military ruled. Now, in our so-called democratic era, religion is used as a political tool to cover up the government's weaknesses like corruption.”

Aljazeera estimates the Islamic Defenders Front at one-tenth of the population but “though a minority, they managed to gain a huge influence on the nation because of their violent actions and threats.  Local authorities stopped issuing permits for churches after the groups loudly and violently opposed them. Christian congregations are forced to hold their services on public roads because they are not allowed to build a church.”

According to the piece, the Islamic Defenders Front has also been active against the Islamic reformist movement Ahmadiyah. “In February 2011, three members of the sect were publicly butchered to death in the town of Cikeusik.”

On Twitter, Lady Gaga said: “There is nothing holy about hatred.” The Aljazeera piece concluded: “Many Indonesians believe it is this ‘hatred’ that the government should be most worried about.”

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