Indonesia’s Starbucks boycott is just the tip of anti-LGBT iceberg

By: Euan Black - Posted on: July 7, 2017 | Current Affairs

The recent calls for Muslims in Indonesia to boycott Starbucks because of the chain’s support of gay rights has shined a light on the limits of ‘moderate’ Islam

The logo of Starbucks Coffee is seen at a coffee shop in Jakarta, Indonesia, 06 July 2017. Photo: EPA/Mast Irham

In recent weeks, prominent non-governmental organisations from Indonesia and Malaysia have made repeated appeals to their fellow citizens to boycott the US-based coffee chain Starbucks, after news of the company CEO’s support of LGBT rights spread across the two countries.

The leader of Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organisation, the relatively moderate Muhammadiyah, was the first to call for a boycott last week. The Malaysian nationalist group Perkasa soon followed suit, issuing a similar statement that called upon the government to revoke Starbucks’ operating licence as it was “promoting something that is against the human instinct, against human behavior and against religion”.

While Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in Malaysia, in Indonesia, it is legal everywhere except the northwestern state of Aceh, which passed a law in 2014 banning homosexuality.

But while homosexuality is legal across most of the country, Indonesia’s LGBT community has long been a “soft target for political and religious leaders” and an easy way to score political points, according to Thomas Power, an Indonesia political researcher at Australian National University.

“The comments don’t represent anything particularly new. LGBT people are already facing severe repression in Indonesia, and this looks set to continue,” he said. “Attacks on the LGBT community are broadly supported by most Indonesians.”

The calls for a boycott follow a recent spate of action against gay men. In May, two men were publicly caned in Aceh for being in a same-sex relationship in the first case of such a punishment being handed down. Two days prior to the public caning, 141 men were arrested for attending a ‘gay sex party’ in Jakarta on the basis that they had violated the country’s rules on pornography by organising a live gay strip show.

According to Bonar Tigor Naipospos of the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Indonesia’s conservative Islamic groups view LGBT rights as a form of Western cultural imperialism that threatens the stability of the country.

“Some politicians say that the LGBT community is not only forbidden in Islam, but is used by foreigners as a way of creating hostility in this country” he said.

Last February, Indonesia’s defense minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, likened the LGBT movement to a proxy war.

“It’s dangerous as we can’t see who our foes are, but out of the blue everyone is brainwashed – now the (LGBT) community is demanding more freedom, it really is a threat,” Ryamizard said in a speech outside the Ministry of Defense.

“In a nuclear war, if a bomb is dropped over Jakarta, Semarang will not be affected – but in a proxy war, everything we know could disappear in an instant – it’s dangerous.”

Despite President Joko Widodo’s insistence that “Islam in Indonesia has always been a force for moderation”, that moderation has proven to be limited when it comes to how his administration has dealt with social issues, said Power.

“’Liberalism’ is often portrayed as a bad thing – even by Jokowi and people of his ideological ilk – and the liberal forces that support LGBT rights and equality in Western settings are extremely peripheral in contemporary Indonesia.”