Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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I fought the law and the law won – Punk’s Not Dead in Indonesia


Punk‘s been pretty dead in Europe for decades and in the US, this particular counterculture never really took off. But in today’s South and Southeast Asia, young kids turn to anti-culture in an effort to distance themselves from ultra conservative pears who leave no room for personal expression. Punks in Burma playing secret concerts in Rangoon have been covered extensively in the international media. Thailand too has a small hard core punk scene, and even in Kathmandu, Nepal’s Himalayan capital, I recently encountered 18 year olds sporting spiky hair-dos and listening to the Sex Pistols and The Damned.

On the day that TIME Magazine, without a hint of irony, crowned “The Protester” Man of the Year,  police broke up a punk charity concert, arrested the attendees, cut their hair and took away their clothes, in an effort to humiliate the kids and to enforce local ultra conservative culture that leaves no room for individual expression, according to this article in the Jalarta Globe.

Remarkably perhaps, the police acted without any consideration of their own jurisdiction. The concert’s audience had not broken any local or national law, but had merely acted against what the vocal majority felt was against ‘local tradition’. Exactly the kind of thing punks traditionally don’t like. But this irony escaped the police. Not a day for ironies, apparently.

Of course,the incident in Aceh is not really about 50 punks rebelling. The problem goes much deeper. Aceh society is atrophied by tradition and religion, both of which override local law. It is likely that anyone acting outside of the local norm will be persecuted. It’s a form of cultural fascism.

Aceh is on the northern tip of Sumatra, scene of a long civil war that concluded with the tsunami and home to Shariah law, which is no fun for anyone. Shariah law denies fundamental human rights, especially to women, lesbians and gays and should always be fought – with the law, by growing one’s hair towards heaven or by simply expressing one’s opinion. Aceh suffered terribly in the tsunami and has been rebuilding its communities virtually from scratch in the past years. Shame that the state’s resurgence is based on injustice, prejudice and keeping people in line, which is unlikely to nourish off  genuine development, whether that be social, personal, communal or otherwise, and place all power in the hands of a few people who will necessarily exploit this state of affairs to the best of their abilities.

But, to put this into some international context and keep the Islam bashers at bay, Punk rock and youth rebellion had the same effect in the West a few years ago.  Not any more. And TIME just made “The Protester” man of the Year. Do I really have to spell out that this is as absurd than arresting 50 kids for being alright?

Here’s a photo story on the incident from The Guardian.

For a lesson in youth rebellion, as seen by Hollywood, watch this clip with Marlon Brando…”Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”


The punk at the top of the page is a resident of Kathmandu, the one at the bottom of the pageis  a local punk rock enthusiast in Bangkok, Thailand.

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