Tsunami Aid Money Used to Establish Shari’a Law

Now the “Religion of Peace and Tolerance” is stealing money that people from around the world sent to Indonesia to help buy the Tsumami victims food, medicine and help them rebuild. Instead this money has gone to organize “a moral vigilante force that harasses women and stages frequent displays of humiliation and state-sanctioned violence”.

WHEN people around the world sent millions of pounds to help the stricken Indonesian province of Aceh after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, few could have imagined that their money would end up subsidising the lashing of women in public.

But militant Islamists have since imposed sharia law in Aceh and have cornered Indonesian government funds to organise a moral vigilante force that harasses women and stages frequent displays of humiliation and state-sanctioned violence.

International aid workers and Indonesian women’s organisations are now expressing dismay that the flow of foreign cash for reconstruction has allowed the government to spend scarce money on a new bureaucracy and religious police to enforce puritan laws, such as the compulsory wearing of headscarves.

Some say there are more “sharia police” than regular police on the local government payroll and that many of them are aggressive young men.

“Who are these sharia police?” demanded Nurjannah Ismail, a lecturer at Aceh’s Ar-Raniri University. “They are men who, most of the time, are trying to send the message that their position is higher than women.”

In one town, Lhokseumawe, the authorities are even planning to impose a curfew on women — a move that social workers warn will force tsunami widows to quit night-time jobs as food sellers or waitresses and could drive them into prostitution.

None of that daunts the enthusiasts for sharia, who gather in droves whenever there is an opportunity to glory in its enforcement.

The scene is always the same, and it has been enacted at least 140 times in squares and market places in front of mosques, from the towering minarets of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, to humble village places of worship.

The transgressor can be a man accused of gambling or drinking alcohol. But if it is a woman guilty of wearing “improper” clothing or being caught in proximity to a man, there is a particular ritual to the punishment.

She is dressed in white robes and veiled. Policemen escort her up on to a stage erected before a jeering crowd, which, witnesses say, is usually almost exclusively male.

Forced to kneel, the woman waits while a masked man ascends the platform. He is carrying a cane with a curved handle designed to give the inflictor of God’s punishment a better grip. From the loudspeakers, a man’s voice sonorously recites the appropriate religious chastisement. Then he begins to count. With each number, the cane descends with a vicious lash.

According to witnesses, male onlookers often roar in delight and hurl pious imprecations at the victims, working themselves up to a pitch of excitement.

In one collective punishment last summer, four women denounced for gambling were given between six and 10 lashes. One passed out as she was dragged off the stage.

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