Indonesia is well known for having the world’s largest Muslim population at 205 million people, which is roughly 88% of the entire country and nearly 13% of the world’s Muslim community. Perhaps largely due to this religious backdrop, Indonesia’s sprawling underground punk music scene remains relatively unnoticed by outsiders despite its sheer size and momentum.
In 2011 the Indonesian government made significant attempts to subdue the punk subculture, referred to as “the new social disease,” by arresting 65 individuals without charge and forcing them to attend a 10-day moral reeducation program in Aceh (a Sharia-law governed province). The detained were forced to buzz off their hair, strip their bodies of piercings, and burn their personal clothing before being washed in a lake for “spiritual cleansing” and “reeducation."
These young adults did not receive the international media attention on par with members of Russia’s Pussy Riot during their two-year imprisonment in 2012, but like most governmental attempts at creating a chilling effect on a subculture, the efforts ultimately failed, creating a local backlash comprised of defiant political response fueled from within Indonesia and beyond.
The punk music scene in Indonesia has grown significantly since this crackdown. Despite the Aceh province’s increasingly strict Sharia law, which now also applies to non-Muslims, the punk music scene in the same region is thriving more than ever in the Muslim country. This seems antithetical until you look at how Indonesia also has the world’s fifth youngest population, with 123 million people under the age of 30.
Over in Bali, known for its surfing and nightlife, rock band Navicula has successfully merged the country’s gigantic hardcore scene with environmental awareness, having worked with Greenpeace in order to prevent the rapid destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests (thus near extinction of native orangutan, Sumatran tigers, and pygmy elephants) by the profit-driven, multinational palm oil industry.
Fortunately, now that the internet is relatively accessible, even within many impoverished communities, people have much more access to education and knowledge than generations before us. Learning is no longer confined to the narrow regimen of traditional schooling, which almost always carries with it an inherent bias that leaves little room for other perspectives. The internet has improved each culture’s innate biased education with access to other parts of the world too often ignored by institutional learning. Freedom of knowledge is what many governments are desperately trying to control these days, and this certainly isn’t exclusive to Muslim nations.