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.”


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 23 January 2020

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

 Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

 Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

 The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

 Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

 Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

 The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

 “Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

 “So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

 Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

 The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

 Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

 Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

 She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

 One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

 There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

 The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”