Several months ago, when Indonesia announced a new series of four
coins and seven bank notes, ranging in denomination from 1,000 to
100,000 rupiah, and that it would be dedicated to revered official
national heroes, who thought it could be controversial? Certainly not
authorities at the Bank of Indonesia.
No one at the bank took into account that Indonesia is the world’s
largest Muslim country. Of a total population of 264 million people,
87.2 percent is Muslim, and while most are moderate, pockets of
radicalism exist, particularly in Aceh province.
It turns out that five of the 11 national heroes were non-Muslims,
or, as one Prosperous Justice Party member called them, “infidels.”
Especially egregious to the party apparently is the 1,000-rupiah note
(7½ cents) because it shows a national heroine from the late 19th
century without a veil or headscarf.
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The portrait is of Cut Meutia (1870 to 1910), an early freedom
fighter who fought against the Dutch colonialists until she was shot
in the head and chest while resisting capture. She has appeared
bareheaded on a stamp in the past without controversy.
Nonetheless, the Foundation for the Acehnese People’s Advocacy has
lodged a formal complaint with the Bank of Indonesia. The group says
the 1,000-rupiah note contravenes sharia law and calls for its
withdrawal and the replacement of Meutia’s image with that of a woman
in a headscarf.
The Bank of Indonesia responded that the new currency has national
heroes representing different parts of the country, and added they
were not chosen based on their religion.
Meanwhile, the PJP member who made the “infidel”remark is being
investigated by police for a Twitter comment that violated a law
against electronic activity that provokes “hatred based on race,
religion, ethnicity and group affiliation.”
As if one controversy was not enough, on Jan. 19 the Jakarta Post
had to print a denial from the Bank of Indonesia that the “BI” logo on
the notes was somehow affiliated with the Indonesian Communist Party,
an entity that no longer exists.