Indonesia’s halal tourism bid faces pig pushback

The weekend festival-turned-protest features pig races, chubbiest hog contests and a porcine fashion show. (AFP)
Updated 31 October 2019

Indonesia’s halal tourism bid faces pig pushback

  • Political Islam expert says pushing Halal tourism in religious minority areas may do more harm than good
  • Indonesia’s deputy minister of religious affairs said halal tourism does not equal Islamization

MUARA, Indonesia: Indonesia’s bid to lure more visitors by spreading halal tourism across the archipelago is facing a backlash, with a Christian celebration of pigs — forbidden for Muslims — the latest act of dissent.
The weekend festival-cum-protest in Sumatra, featuring pig racing, chubbiest hog contests and a porcine fashion show, comes as holiday hotspot Bali pushes back against rolling out more Muslim-friendly services on the Hindu island.
Critics say a government plan to cash in on halal tourism — part of a broader campaign to replicate Bali’s success nationwide — is another threat to minority rights in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.
And critics have warned that the sprawling nation of 260 million — where nearly 90 percent of the population follows Islam — is taking hard-right turn with a conservative cleric now installed as vice president and hard-liners growing increasingly vocal in public life.
Indonesia’s reputation for tolerant Islam has been under fire for years.
Pushing halal tourism in areas with religious minorities — including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus — may do more harm than good, warned Ali Munhanif, an expert on political Islam at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta.
“The phenomenon signals an effort to institutionalize conservatism,” he said.
“Bali successfully manages its tourism sector without using a ‘Hindu’ label.”
But advocates say halal tourism is misunderstood.
“There is a public misperception that halal tourism is Islamization. That is wrong and it’s why some people overreact to the concept,” said Zainut Tauhid, Indonesia’s deputy minister of religious affairs.
“It is about providing necessary facilities for Muslim visitors such as prayer rooms. So it is facilitation rather than Islamization.”
That view isn’t shared by some around Lake Toba, a scenic crater lake in Sumatra where the weekend pig festival was held.
Most locals are Batak, a Christian ethnic group that puts pigs at the center of its traditional cuisine, with hog farming a key source of income.
Last month, provincial governor Edy Rahmayadi raised eyebrows when said he wanted to boost tourism with Islam-friendly facilities and services.
That included opening more halal restaurants and mosques, as well as banning the public slaughter of hogs, with the governor saying the practice could turn off Muslim visitors.
“This idea to bring in halal tourism is going to divide people,” festival organizer Togu Simorangkir told AFP
“It’s a step back for tourism here,” he added.
About 1,000 people dropped by the event, including children who scribbled in pig-themed coloring books and adults watching as hogs were judged on their plump proportions.
“Batak culture is particularly known for its pigs,” said higher schooler Edo Sianturi.
“We’ve been raising them and earning a living from them for generations.”
Visitor Sabrina Singarimbun, a Muslim student in a head-covering hijab, was keen to see which best-dressed pig would win the festival’s fashion contest.
“I disagree with the (halal tourism) idea because it’s Batak culture here and most people aren’t Muslim,” she said.
Elsewhere, halal tourism is often seen as a lucrative business opportunity.
Thailand and Taiwan are among regional destinations tapping the halal tourism sector, which a 2017 study found will be worth some $300 billion annually.
This month, Indonesia ushered in new halal labelling rules for consumer products and services, as the government eyes travelers from other Islamic nations to rev up its much-touted “10 New Balis” tourism push, which includes Lake Toba.
But efforts to cater to Muslim visitors has drawn controversy.
This summer, officials in Lombok — an island next to Bali that has many Muslim-friendly services — quickly rolled back plans to set up separate camping areas for male and female hikers in Mount Rinjani National Park after a public backlash.
Two restaurants in Makassar on Sulawesi island, meanwhile, were forced to close after a Muslim group in July complained that the smell of their pork dishes was wafting over to nearby mosques and halal restaurants.
Back in North Sumatra, the governor’s spokesman Muhammad Ikhsan said his boss was misunderstood.
“He just wants to make Lake Toba a friendly place for Muslim visitors,” Ikhsan said, adding that he hoped it would also curtail the environmental impact of pig farming.
“What we want is just to make things organized, not to make it a halal place.”


India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

Updated 26 January 2020

India celebrates Republic Day with military parade

  • Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route

NEW DELHI: Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the capital amid tight security to celebrate the Republic Day on Sunday, which marks the 1950 anniversary of the country’s democratic constitution.
During the celebrations, schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through New Delhi’s parade route, followed by a military hardware display.
Beyond the show of military power, the parade also included ornate floats highlighting India’s cultural diversity as men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances, drawing applause from the spectators.
The 90-minute event, broadcast live, was watched by millions of Indians on their television sets across the country.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest for this year’s celebrations.
He was accorded the ceremonial Guard of Honor by President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the sprawling presidential palace.
Bolsonaro joined the two Indian leaders as the military parade marched through a central avenue near the Presidential Palace.
At the parade, Bolsonaro watched keenly as mechanized columns of Indian tanks, rocket launchers, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and other hardware rolled down the parade route and air force jets sped by overhead.
Apart from attending the Republic Day celebrations, Bolsonaro’s visit was also aimed at strengthening trade and investment ties across a range of fields between the two countries.
On Saturday, Modi and Bolsonaro reached an agreement to promote investment in each other’s country.
Before the parade, Modi paid homage to fallen soldiers at the newly built National War Memorial in New Delhi as the national capital was put under tight security cover.
Smaller parades were also held in the state capitals.
Police said five grenades were lobbed in the eastern Assam state by separatist militants who have routinely boycotted the Republic Day celebrations. No one was injured, police said.
Sunday’s blasts also come at a time when Assam has been witnessing continuous protests against the new citizenship law that have spread to many Indian states.
The law approved in December provides a fast-track to naturalization for persecuted religious minorities from some neighboring Islamic countries, but excludes Muslims.
Nationwide protests have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.