According to Human Rights Watch, Indonesia’s queer panic began in January 2016, when several prominent politicians, including the vice-president, issued strong anti-LGBT statements. They were reacting to queer student activism at the University of Indonesia but the discourse rapidly took on a life of its own. Indonesians went to the polls to elect a new president today. Neither the incumbent, Joko Widodo, nor his opponent has a significant track record of supporting LGBT rights. Queer activists have been at the forefront of the voter abstention movement. Early counting suggests Widodo will serve another five years in office.
Friday, 28 September was the first and, it turned out, only day of the Nomoni cultural festival in Palu, a city in the heart of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island. Nomoni means ‘resounding’ or ‘ringing’ in the indigenous Kaili language; Palu’s mayor revived the vaguely animist celebration three years ago to attract more tourists. Festivities include throwing live goats and food as offerings into the sea, boat races and live music. Last year, Nomoni was met with heavy rain and floods – a bad omen, but nothing compared to what happened this year, when the city was pulverised by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and the tsunami that followed it. They struck at around 6 p.m., when Muslims were performing the last of their day’s prayers and Nomoni festivalgoers were taking sunset selfies. The ground beneath their feet liquefied. The death toll is 2000 and rising.
In 2005, Australian officials learned of a plot to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia. They passed the information onto the Indonesian authorities, saying they should ‘take what action they deem appropriate’. Nine people, now known as the Bali Nine, were arrested and convicted. The Australian ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were last night tied to a post and shot dead. They refused blindfolds. There were twelve marksmen for each prisoner, but to ease their consciences only three fired live rounds.
After cancelling Obama’s planned visit to Indonesia this month so he could stay in America and handle the BP oil spill, the White House moved quickly to tamp down any concerns that the cancellation, which is the third time the president has nixed a trip to Indonesia, would hurt bilateral relations. A spokesman told reporters that Obama had called the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to express his regret, and other White House officials suggested in private that Yudhoyono and other senior Indonesians understood the magnitude of the oil spill and held no grudge.
During his trip to Asia this month, Barack Obama is visiting China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. All four are critical to US policy in the region – three Northeast Asian economic powerhouses and Singapore, which has the closest relationship toWashington of any country in Southeast Asia. And yet Obama is skipping the largest nation in Southeast Asia, Indonesia. That’s a mistake. The White House wants to demonstrate that, after eight years of the Bush administration ignoring Southeast Asia, Washington is once again focusing on the region. On Capitol Hill, too, lawmakers seem eager to establish that the US is not willing simply to cede Southeast Asia to China, which has made enormous gains in the region while America was distracted.