Friday, April 07, 2006

Playboy Middle East: The Controversy Heightens

Playboy has released the first edition of Playboy for Indonesia, home to the most populous Muslim community in the world. So tell me, are you surprised that more than a few people are upset about this? Not me, I saw it coming a million miles away when the new locale was announced for the 53 year old magazine with massive distribution and questionable ethics. And it’s only just beginning, folks, only just beginning!

First off, let’s make it clear that the publication of an edition of Playboy in Indonesia makes absolute sense. Indonesia maintains a secular government, supposedly tolerant of all religions despite 85% of the 220 million citizens being Muslims. But the country maintains a thriving pornography trade, much of which makes the current version of Playboy look tame. Even the mainstream pornography is more graphic than the United States Playboy, and Indonesia’s version is of Playboy is far tamer.

This is the 20th geography-specific version of Playboy to go into publication, as Playboy tries to appeal to new markets and increase their already large share of the lucrative pornography market. And recognizing the challenges of entering such a volatile arena, Playboy responded with a very conservative issue, including no nudity, no racy sex talk, really nothing very controversial.

"I didn't see any surprising thing in this magazine. It depends on how people interpret it. For me, no problem," Alex, a white-collar worker who did not want to give his full name, told Reuters Television.

But that has not abated the controversy. Militant groups are definitely up in arms over the publication, and threatening to take matters into their own hands.

Tubagus Sidiq, a senior leader of FPI (the Islamic Defenders’ Front), told Reuters: "FPI opposes (Playboy) in whatever form. According to our commitment, if they don't withdraw it then we will act in our own way, the forceful way. Our crew will clearly hound the editors ... We even oppose the name Playboy."

Demand is very high for the magazine, and people who can get their hands on the mag are passing it around in their office places as curiosity abounds. Still, resellers are afraid to carry Playboy, which isn’t too surprising.

"I am afraid to sell the first edition because it has been reported that the Islamic organizations would be on alert," said newsstand owner Ronni, 30, who operates near the headquarters of hardline Muslim group FPI.

Excellent bloggers, like ShrinkWrapped, have mistakenly come to the conclusion that the issue is one of Islam not being progressive on their views of women and sexuality. But we’re talking about Indonesia, one of the largest pornography markets in the world. This is not a case of being prudish about sexuality or looking to mask female sexuality.

Rob’s Blog sees the lack of nudity as proof that the claims of the Muslim conservatives against the magazine were unfounded, and that these people should just choose not to buy if they don’t like the product, instead of attacking the product before they know the moral content of it.:

"Moral terrorism"? That has to be the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. Permission granted to simply not buy the friggin' magazine! I'm sure the protests will be very sensible...if by "sensible" they mean "bloody, explosive riots".

The problem is, the issue at hand really isn’t the content; the issue that is causing so much umbrage with the conservative Muslim community in Indonesia is the US spreading our values into Muslim society. Let’s face it, Indonesia obviously has no problem with pornography, as long as its Indonesian pornography. But the presence of the American magazine name, Playboy, which is the issue. Even the government has made it clear that the magazines don’t violate the laws.

"The laws that we can use in this case (are) whether there is a publication that violates decency. So, we need to check the content first. Just using the name is insufficient to ban it," Information Minister Sofyan Djalil told reporters.

Bambang Kuncoko, a national police spokesman, said at a news conference that "the public should follow the law and must not take arbitrary actions. If that happens, the police will absolutely take legal actions."

Despite that , FPI protestors met with Playboy publishers in Jakarta, where most street corners include sidewalk vendors with pornographic movies. But evidently protests against the magazine will commence. Perhaps because, when trying to be sensitive to the Muslim people, they didn’t realize that it was the words, not the pictures, that would really set off the Muslim people, spreading Western moral values. Or perhaps because the magazine would never be given a chance in a Muslim society.

Either way, the conservative Muslim voice in Indonesia, and maybe in other countries, will be heard on this issue. Maybe it will be heard louder than the Muslim voice during the Mohammed Cartoon protests, maybe not. But the voice will be heard, and will continue to grow louder with each issue it speaks out against.

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Posted by Scottage at 2:46 PM / | |