Paper Money

Note’s portrait of woman draws criticism in Indonesia

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.

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