Friday, December 24, 2010

Sex, lies and … leaks

Julia Suryakusuma | The Jakarta Post Opinion | 12/22/2010

One of the best bits about being a writer is observing people — from the ordinary “little people” in the street to those at the top making decisions that affect us all. That’s why I love striking up conversations with strangers I meet. By understanding what makes people tick, I can write about the issues that mean the most to them.

But nowadays, I’m not alone in being fascinated by other people. In fact, almost everyone’s onto it now, continually looking at — or into — everybody else. New technology, digital media, the Web and Facebook are making cyber-voyeurs of us all.

Take the sad case of Nazriel Irham, a.k.a. Ariel “Peterporn”, for example. Thanks to his hot-sex home videos (allegedly with Luna Maya and Cut Tari) he found himself delivered straight to everyone’s cell phone and laptop (or just lap?) courtesy of the Internet. And soon he was exposed in court too, with the judges “forced” to watch the videos — six times already, and counting! Oh dear, what a chore! I bet they were watching with their fingers spread wide over their eyes.

In any case, Ariel has undergone a lynching for something done by many another Tomo, Diki and Haris (that’s the Indonesian “Tom, Dick and Harry”). I am sure there are plenty of politicians, prosecutors and police who have starred in their own porno movies. They’re just lucky they didn’t go viral, like Ariel’s did.

Yep, sex scandals are still a good way to destroy someone. Take the dubious allegations of rape the Swedes have brought against Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. He is a man hated by governments around the world (and especially by the US) but his supporters see him as a hero of transparency and openness.

They claim the rape charges are just a ploy to get him to Sweden so he can be extradited to the US to face espionage charges that carry the death penalty. If that’s true, then the whole thing smells a lot like the Sodomy I & II charges the Malaysian government brought against Anwar Ibrahim, the man who just happens to be the biggest political threat the ruling party has faced in decades!

The cases of Ariel “Peterporn”, Assange and Ibrahim all revolve around behavior that the state brands “sexual misconduct”. Sex is a private affair, but it has always been able to (ahem!) penetrate the public and political spheres as well.

These cases show that the reverse is true too, that politics and public opinion can also penetrate our private sexual lives.

Today, technology allows constant surveillance. With widespread use in developed societies of CCTV (closed circuit television) and sophisticated transaction tracking, almost everything people do is monitored and recorded. And Indonesia is catching up fast.

Next year we will have an Orwellian system of national identity cards (KTP) containing microchip “data” on each holder. Obviously it has advantages, but it makes me shiver too — it will be so much easier for the state to keep tabs on us. And who trusts politicians and bureaucrats not to abuse that sort of power?

But the good news is that technology is neutral; anyone can use it. The WikiLeaks “scandal” is proof that sometimes the people (read: computer geeks) can turn the tables on the powers-that-be. Through the Internet, Assange and his trusty band of nerds have waged a David vs. Goliath battle against the world’s most powerful nation.

US foreign policy, that frequent object of international loathing, has been subjected to unprecedented scrutiny through the release of more than 250,000 US embassy cables. Some of the things “revealed” have always been open secrets, but WikiLeaks offers proof positive at last. Living in fear of the next leak, governments will now find it much harder to deny things they know are true.

In Indonesia, Assange has inspired an Indoleaks website. So far it has focused on still unaddressed injustices from 1965 and 1966, when the military response to an alleged Communist coup attempt led to the massacre of an estimated 1 million people.

Indoleaks recently posted autopsy reports of four of the six generals killed in the coup attempt.

Soeharto’s New Order always claimed that they had been mutilated by the Communists, with their penises cut off. The reports revealed that this was a lie. Again, this has long been known to scholars of Indonesian history, but now it’s leaking out to the general public.

And surely that’s for the best? Despite 12.5 years of reformasi, there’s a heck of a lot of exposing still to be done in Indonesia. The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) is still frustrated by President Susilo Bambang Yu-dhoyono’s unwillingness to do anything about the many unsolved cases of forced “disappearances” of Indonesians, and the rapes of hundreds of Chinese women in 1998.

And what about the horrific murders of courageous citizens who stood up to an oppressive and secretive state — heroes like Marsinah, a factory worker, Udin, a journalist, and Munir, a human rights activist? Ariel might not agree, but the new cyber-voyeurism can be a good thing — provided it is not about circulating private porn, but leads to concrete action to make things better and right old wrongs.

So, will Indonesia’s techno-geeks and activists please get together and start leaking?

Julia Suryakusuma is the author of Jihad Julia (Mizan).

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