Punk Spirit Defiant In The Face Of Sharia Law

Who said punk was dead? After an Indonesian crack-down on punk kids, the worldwide subculture has woken up to prove it's still worth its salt.
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Who said punk was dead? After an Indonesian crack-down on punk kids, the worldwide subculture has woken up to prove it's still worth its salt.

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Detained punk kids sit under the watchful eye of armed Sha'aria police

It is not uncommon to hear of outrageous treatment of people under the rule of strictly implemented Sha’aria law in various Middle Eastern countries, be it the beating of a girl in Pakistan for spelling a word incorrectly (‘blasphemy’), or the rape victim who was sentenced to a hundred lashes (‘adultery’). On 13th December, however, a quite surreal story about a ‘Punk Cleansing’ in Indonesia started making the rounds on various social networking sites, before being reported in the news a couple of days later.

In Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where strict implementation of Sha’aria is permitted, police shut down a punk show, arresting 64 youths after complaints arose from some of the local community; not for making too much noise or causing trouble, but for ‘rehabilitation’ purposes. The group were detained, had their heads shaved and forced to enter a communal bath; they have since been taken to a remedial school which, according to a police spokesman, will give them “a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people”.

The group were detained, had their heads shaved and forced to enter a communal bath; they have since been taken to a remedial school which, according to a police spokesman, will give them “a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people”.

The underground punk, hardcore and metal scene in Indonesia has been quietly thriving since as early as the ‘90s, and this is not the first time that it has experienced harassment from the police. However, since the strict Islamic law was implemented in Aceh and cultivated a far more conservative environment, this has certainly been the most extreme action taken against the punk scene there, propelling the story into international circulation.

Despite this inane abuse and humiliation of those involved, the incident has highlighted and reignited the spirit of punk worldwide, with bands, labels, blogs and ‘zines all openly and explicitly condemning the crackdown, and expressing sincere sympathy for the affected youths. It has reminded the scene that it is not just an exclusive club or a fashion statement, but an astonishingly widespread network which enables people to identify with others who happen to like the same genre of music. Of course, when I go to shows in London, I often recognise people from the last one I went to and can more than likely strike up a conversation with anyone there, but to be able to reach out to people across the globe is incredible.

One record label’s gesture to the affected kids has been an appeal for mixtapes to send to them, as they have undoubtedly been, and by all means still are, an important part of punk and hardcore subculture. You can read their statement and find out more about the mixtape initiative here.

Although not nearly on the same level of inhumanity as the threat of corporal punishment, the Indonesian punk cleansing has still riled up human rights groups and provoked astonishment from the worldwide community. But at the same time, it has reinforced the solidarity of the international punk scene and reminded everyone that it is certainly alive and well. You can take the kid out of the punk, but you can’t take the punk out of the kid.

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