Indonesian mainstream and social media are reporting street demonstrations in dozens of cities across Iran following the detention and death of a young woman because she did not wear a hijab in the correct way as required by law. The media however has failed to remind Indonesian audiences that what is happening in Iran could occur in Indonesia. The death of Mahsa Amini when she was under the custody of Iran’s morality police last week has sparked nationwide protests, including in 46 cities, towns and villages. More than 40 people have been killed as the police tried to disperse the mostly peaceful protestors. The people are angry with the morality police who acted arbitrarily against Amini, and women in general across the country. The protests apparently were a culmination of frustration and disappointment of the people with the state for its control of private affairs like clothing but its neglect of more fundamental needs. The government, unsurprisingly, has blamed western countries and Israel for fanning the unrest.
The outrage has lasted for 10 days since the police announced a heart attack was the cause of Amini’s death. Her family has denied the government version. She was detained in Tehran when she was visiting a relative with her family. People are outraged by Amini’s death because she lost her life simply because her outfit was seen as inappropriate in the eyes of the ultra-conservative groups, who order people to obey whatever they say about morality without questioning. For those feeling anger, the government is expected to address many things quickly, such as economic hardship and allegedly rampant corruption. The noisy demonstrations were directly aimed at ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi who won the mandate last year. He received strong support from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Before 2021, for eight years Iran had been led by a moderate and tolerant president Hassan Rouhani, who was more relaxed in upholding Islamic laws on the obligation to wear the hijab for women. He was often at odds with Khamenei and the much-feared Revolutionary Guard who answers to the supreme leader.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, is known as a representation of moderate Islam. But the tragedy in Iran could happen here if the state does not withstand the temptation to control the private lives of its citizens in the name of religion or ideology. Many female Muslims here wear the hijab voluntarily in a more fashionable way, although many also do it because they simply follow Islamic teachings and traditions. But there has also been a worrying tendency in the last several years where public schools have obliged their female students to wear the hijab including non-Muslims.
Each school has its standard and imposes stiff sanctions for deviant students, as reported in the mainstream media. Recently, a high school teacher in Yogyakarta forced a female Muslim student to wear the hijab. The local government suspended the teacher for his act.
There is also an increasing number of regional ordinances requiring women to wear the hijab. The Iranian government apparently will not bow to the protestors’ demand and will seek every path to disperse the demonstrations and silence critics. For Indonesia, this should be a strong reminder not to force the people to follow its rule yet ignore what the people need from the government.