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Indonesian Punks Arrested and Sent to Rehabilitation Camp

An Event that Makes Even the Crustiest Punk Say "God Bless America"


Indonesian Punks Arrested and Sent to Rehabilitation Camp

Anti-Flag couldn't happen just anywhere...

© Nicole Lucas
Punk rock has pretty much helped build its name by being critical of the government. Like folk music and '60s protest music that came before it, it has served as a vehicle for open discourse and criticism of political and social issues. Sometimes it has served as a vehicle for change through its attachment to various causes, events and charities like Plea For Peace, Take Action and Punk Voter. But just as often, it has simply been a place for the disenfranchised youth to voice concerns, offer solutions or simply complain about the government.

Which is fine, because it's well within our rights.

At least in some places.

Not in Indonesia.

There, in the conservative Sharia-ruled province Aceh, police detained and arrested more than 60 young punk fans at a concert on December 10. And their crime?

Simply being punk.

At a concert that was actually a benefit show to raise money for orphans, police, under orders from the local government, stormed into a venue and arrested these kids simply for being punks.

It gets worse, too. They weren't sent to jail for their heinous crime of being punk in public. In something that smacks of 1984 or Clockwork Orange, they were sent to a "moral rehabilitation camp" in a nearby town, where their heads were shaved, they were forced to change clothes, bathe in a lake and pray. It's an attempt to force these kids to integrate into everyday society.

The Aceh police chief went so far as to address punk rock like it was a mental illness and a deviant rime, stating to AFP that “They never showered, they lived on the street, never performed religious prayers. We need to fix them so that they will behave properly and morally. They need harsh treatment to change their mental behaviour.”

Honestly, I am dumfounded when I hear that situations like this take place in this modern day and age, especially when they're not even politically motivated. It's simply not something that is on my radar, or anything I've ever had to deal with in my home country of the USA, or my current home in the Netherlands.

In the early days of punk rock, it was singled out culturally, made the focus of talks shows, news programs and even spawned the cultural phenomenon known as the punk rock episode of Quincy. Punks were made into walking caricatures for sitcoms and dramas. Kids were singled out and harassed by their peers and communities, and some more notorious events like the Brian Deneke murder took place, but these were multiple isolated events, not a wide scale government sanctioned crackdown, and certainly nothing that found punks in "rehabilitation camps."

Kids may have had a hard time finding jobs, but that as about it, and there were always options for those who didn't want to take that ring out of their nose. I had a job in a restaurant where the kitchen was filled with punks (and many high-end kitchens are filled with punks, just ask punk rock chef Jamie Bissonette), and today it's even easier. If nothing else, you can get a job at your local Hot Topic if you don't want to cut your hair.

It's not very fashionable to say this in a punk rock forum, but I'm rather fortunate to have grown up a U.S. citizen, and to now live in the Netherlands, both places where legally people are allowed wide freedom in regard to political and personal expression. I've been at house shows where the police showed up to break things up, but it was honestly nothing personal. House shows are often illegal, violating, if nothing else, local noise ordinances along with a ton of other possible laws. And if the police arrested anyone, it sucked, but it was rarely, if ever, for absolutely no reason. In most instances, anyone who was willing to leave quietly was allowed to.

Granted, things have recently taken a turn for the worse in the States as well, if the harsh and malicious treatment of some Occupy protesters at various locations are any indication, but for the time being, most U.S. citizens still retain a wide range or personal and political freedom.

Anti-Flag? Jello Biafra? The Sex Pistols? None of them would even exist had they tried to emerge in an area under Sharia Law. But they had and have the good fortune to have come about in countries where political dissent is allowed, if not always encouraged. And for that, we're all lucky.

So once again, I'll make that most unpunk of statements even more clearly - God Bless America and God Save the Queen. All of us in places where we are legally allowed to voice our opinions. And while may not matter for much there, I'd like to formally offer my support and solidarity with the punks in Indonesia. Here, I can say that. There, a statement like that would get me sent to the camps. And while I'll admit that I'm in desperate need of a haircut, I could do without the rest.

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