POST D: Understanding Cultural Conflict: Islamic Law vs. Aceh’s Punk Youth

The birth of punk lifestyle in Indonesia by the mid 80’s can be seen as a direct response, although gradually built, to the strict governing of citizens in the sharia province of Banda Aceh. As the only province governed by Islamic law, it is interesting to note the “entangled and contradictory processes” to which the extreme westernised lifestyle of punk emerged in the polar opposite climate of strict religious culture (2014, Martin-Iverson). But of most importance to note is that the adoption of punk culture in Banda Ache specifically goes far beyond a mimetic relationship to Western scenes (2014, Martin Iverson). Instead, it is used as a tool by Indonesian youths to escape strict political law, an escape from what they considered a completely encompassed society of religious dominance. To them, punk is not just a fashion statement but a medium to express as a basic human right, aligning Indonesian punk with a much broader definition than it does in other places of the world (2012 Schonhardt).

The intensification of these conflicting ideologies came to a breach in December, 2011, when sharia police arrested 65 punks at a charity event under claims they did not obtain a permit. The arrest made public, both nationally and internationally, enforced the governments view that the punk lifestyle was a social disease that should be extinguished from the community of Aceh. These ‘punks’, detained for ten days, were made to shave their heads, complete physical training and were forced to pray in an attempt to crush these ‘outlaws’ and publicise punk as haram. Such extreme punishment did not go unnoticed and it can now be better understood, 4 years on, of the social and environmental context that birthed such reprimand.

Indonesian punks forced to shave their heads in detention
Indonesian punks forced to shave their heads in detention, Photography by Holti Simanjuntak (2011)

The Tsunami of 2004, heavily affecting the country of Indonesia, saw an immediate strengthening of the people’s faith in Allah. Specifically in Aceh, the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, despite its grounding on sea level, served as protection to many in the local community as they emerged unharmed after the disastrous waves that destroyed the surrounding community. Many Indonesians saw this as a sign from their God, and immediately strengthened their devotion to Allah. This consequent devotion saw not only the strengthening of such religious laws, but essentially fostered the entire communities adherence to sharia governing the province. The consequent repression of the punk lifestyle, accumulating to the arrest in 2011, can now be better understood by a community bound by a religion that has helped to overcome the trauma and devastation of the 2004 Tsunami. Those individuals who have chosen to adopt the punk lifestyle are seen as making a direct insult to Allah, who to them, has granted life and safety from natural disasters.

The grounds of Banda Aceh's Baiturrahaman Mosque in Aceh province following the 2004 tsunami. ABC, 2004,
The grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman Mosque in Aceh province following the 2004 tsunami. ABC, 2004,
Lampuuk District Mosque following the 2004 Tsunami Joel Saget (2011)
Lampuuk District Mosque following the 2004 Tsunami Joel Saget (2011)

Now better understood with environmental, social, and religious contexts in place, it can be seen of how cultural identities within Aceh run on two different, all encompassing streams. Although polar opposite, both punk and sharia communities identify the desire Indonesian communities have for a sense of belonging, of banding together as large families – although this is ironically revealed through a major clash of minority and majority social groups.

The Guardian, (14th December 2011 11:43 AEDT) ‘Indonesian Punks Detained And Shaved By Police’ viewed on 20th April 2015,

Martin-Iverson, S (12th Dec 2014), ‘Inter Asia Cultural Studies’, ‘Bandung Lautan Hardcore: Territorialisation And Deterritorialisation In An Indonesian Hardcore Punk Scene’, Vol. 15, No.4, 532-552, Routledge

McCarthy, J (26th December 2014, 1:12 pm) ‘Boxing Day Tsunami: Aceh’s Baiturrahman Mosque Stands as Testament to Survival and Reconstruction’ News ABC, viewed on 20th April 2015,

Punks Vs. Sharia, 2014, Video Recording, Vice Media Inc, Indonesia, viewed 20th April 2015,

Schonhardt, S (6th June 2012) ‘Crackdown On Punks In Indonesia’, Christian Science Monitor, EBSCO Host

Image One – Holti Simanjuntak (2011) viewed on 20th April 2015,

Image Two –  ABC News (2011)  The grounds of Banda Aceh’s Baiturrahaman Mosque in Aceh province following the 2004 tsunami. viewed on 20th April 2015

Image Three – Joel Saget (2011) viewed on 20th April 2015

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s