In recent months, Indonesia has been appearing in the Asian media every time there is a non-Muslim celebration. I first noticed this with the debates on wishing “Merry Christmas” by Muslims to Christians, on Christians holding Christmas mass, and the accounts of violence done to churches in December 2012. A few weeks ago, the same debates were repeated on the occasion of Imlek, or Chinese New Year, on the mistaken basis of it being a Buddhist tradition, even though it is a national holiday. Now, the latest controversy — which repeats itself each February — is Valentine’s Day, deemed a ”foreign” and “infidel celebration”, and an excuse for teenagers to engage in premarital sex.
Several groups in particular prominently voiced their opposition to Valentine’s Day: Nadhlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest orthodox Muslim organisation; the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam or FPI), and the Indonesian Council of Ulema (Majlis Ulema Indonesia or MUI), a clerical body that includes the previous groups among others. This year, government officials and clerics from various cities called for boycotts, and in response, students (even those from elementary schools, which shocked some readers) from several cities and islands across Indonesia organised Valentine’s Day protests on 13 February.