Nachtwey in Indonesia

The National Geographic has a set of colour pictures by James Nachtwey that I find interesting, not just for the pictures themselves, but also for the questions they raise.

Indonesia: Facing Down the Fanatics  has on its opening page the statement “A more tolerant Islam is confronting extremism in the world’s most populous Muslim country“, but some aspects of what these images show are chilling.

A white hooded member of the ‘Front Pembela Islam’ points a finger to his head, imitating a gun.  The caption tells us that the red-letter motto on the hood reads “Live respected or die as a martyr“, and that this group intimidates bar owners, prostitutes and other “purveyors of vice” (and photographers are probably included among them) before and during Ramadan. It is perhaps little comfort that it also says that last year the leader of the group was jailed for inciting violence.

The next picture shows women from a Sharia Patrol issuing “citations” to men who failed to attend mosque, and although another caption comments that a “trend toward a stricter Islam hasn’t translated into support for militants, even among fervent believers”  it seems clear that it also hasn’t translated into the kind of free society that I would feel comfortable living in.

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