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In Aceh Indonesia, Islamic police take to the streets

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Aceh is not alone. Across Indonesia, dozens of local governments – given wide scope to enact their own laws under a decentralized system – have adopted Islamic regulations on dress and behavior. In parts of Central Java and South Sulawesi provinces, female civil servants are now obliged to wear headscarves or risk losing their jobs.

While the trend threatens to undermine Indonesia’s reputation for having a relaxed approach to Islam, it does not appear to have wide support. At national elections last year, the share of the vote won by Islamic parties plummeted.

In Aceh, many people say they abhor the stoning penalty – yet to be signed into law – although few will criticize it publicly for fear of being branded bad Muslims. But enforcers of a stricter approach to Islam appear to be gathering momentum. Public canings have been carried out, and earlier this month women were banned from wearing tight trousers in one district of Aceh.

In his dilapidated office in Banda Aceh, Iskandar applauds the crackdown. “In our religion, it’s forbidden to wear tight clothes, because they can show the body shape and arouse men’s desire,” he says. “It’s all about protecting women and increasing respect for them.”

Busting up tête-à-têtes

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