Outraged Miss World organizers and human rights activists have condemned the Indonesian government for its lack of support for the event, saying the last-minute decision to keep the entire pageant in Bali is yet another example of authorities bowing to religious extremists.
On Monday, the MNC Group, the country’s largest media company and the main organizer of Miss World 2013, announced it would move the pageant’s grand final, slated for Sept. 28, from Bogor, south of Jakarta, to Nusa Dua in Bali at the request of the government, after the strong urging of Muslim hard-line groups.
Liliana Tanoesoedibjo, the event’s head organizer who was forced to find a new venue in the space of four days after spending more than three years preparing for the event, expressed disappointment in the nation’s leaders and the lack of effort from religious groups to compromise.
PHOTO: In this handout photograph released by Miss World on Sept.16, 2013 the 130 contestants from the Miss World 2013 beauty pageant pose at the GWK cultural center in Bali on September 13. Indonesian billionaire media mogul, Hary Tanoesoedibjo, who brought Miss World to Indonesia lashed out at the government on Sept.16, 2013 for bowing to Muslim hardline pressure by moving the entire beauty pageant to Bali. (AFP Photo/Miss World)
“They [those opposing the event] don’t understand what Miss World is about, and they don’t want to compromise,” Liliana, the chairwoman of the Miss Indonesia group — which is the organizing committee for Miss World 2013 — told the Jakarta Globe.
“Maybe if the government was stronger something could be done, but it’s because the government is not strong,” said Liliana, the wife of MNC Group owner Hary Tanoesoedibjo, one of Indonesia’s wealthiest individuals and a vice presidential candidate for next year’s election.
In a statement, MNC said that it had suffered heavy financial losses due to the Miss World relocation, having to rearrange activities at the last minute and moving the accommodations for the 129 contestants, their supporters and family members.
Liliana said the criticism the event had garnered had not deterred her but conceded she was growing increasingly frustrated by those in opposition to the pageant, believing they were using its widespread global attention to promote their own agendas.
“We know that some people are criticizing because they want to be acknowledged in the world. They want to have their own opinion so they take advantage of this event to make their name big,” she said, adding “if their motive was right they would want to talk with us.”
In the lead-up to the event many religious groups, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Islamic People’s Forum (FUI), have spoken out, held demonstrations throughout the country and accused Miss World of damaging women’s dignity by exploiting their bodies and degrading Islamic teachings.
In response to the negativity surrounding the event and the increasing threats of violence by Islamic extremists, Liliana said it was “sad,” because the very reason to hold the competition was to “promote unity and Indonesia to the world.”
“We all give the best for Indonesia, we have the passion for Indonesia, we love our country. We don’t want to degrade Indonesia,” she said, highlighting the benefits the international competition would bring to the nation, especially to the tourism sector and other industries including fashion, as well as promoting social causes.
Miss World is very happy with how MNC has managed the event despite the criticism it has received and the lack of government support, Liliana said.
“In other countries, Miss World is managed by the government, but we have done everything ourselves,” she added.
Speaking from Bali, Andreas Harsono, head researcher for Human Rights Watch Indonesia, said the only message the competition is currently sending to the world was that Indonesia was undergoing a “radicalization of Islam.”
“Of course we regret that the government does not allow the contest to proceed in [Bogor],” he said.
“They have broken no laws or regulations. They have a permit, but because of the Islamist pressure the government has revoked the Miss World contest.”
On Tuesday the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia released a statement by the US Embassy in Jakarta warning Americans in Bali during Miss World to “maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance personal security” on information that extremist groups may be planning to disrupt the pageant.
In two weeks Indonesia will play host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the biggest global conference Indonesia has seen since becoming a democratic nation. Leaders from all over the world, including US President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin of Russia are expected to attend.
The APEC summit, according to Andreas who is monitoring the situation in Bali, is the only thing preventing a violent attack from Islamic extremists targeting the beauty pageant as the government endeavors to save face.
“Sources have told me that the government will never allow a violent protest not because of Miss World but because of APEC, which is sad,” he said.
“The fact that Bali is holding the competition now merely because it has a majority Hindu population is a concern.”
The government is not preventing the protests at Miss World “because of the principles of diversity, the principles of religious freedom or freedom of expression” Andreas continued, “but this is because of APEC and it is disheartening.”
In March this year, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “In Religion’s Name,” which slammed the Indonesian government for its ignorant and at times complicit approach to religious conflict that HRW says has been escalating.
Several examples of government inaction in the face of religious intolerance, including a lack of arrests and denouncement of attacks on religious minorities such as Christians, Shia Muslims and members of Ahmadiyah, and the barricading and forced closure of houses of worship, have occurred since the report’s release.
The latest uproar over Miss World and the government’s submission to the demands of hard-liners is another step backward in the nation’s commitment to fighting faith-based intolerance, Andreas said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute, a religious freedom advocacy group, credited the government with at least permitting the pageant in the first place.
“Don’t forget in [former president] Suharto’s time he canceled the event because of pressure from Islamic groups. In this instance the government allowed the competition and tried to compromise so this is a show of progress,” he said.
However, Bonar criticized the government’s ongoing manipulation of Islam in politics, which he said had heavily influenced its passive position in the debate.
“The government has always considered Islam as a political force. It needs support from the Islamic community. Meanwhile, religious groups use this issue [Miss World] to get support or sympathy from the Indonesian people and they will try to show they are defending Islam. That’s their goal, that’s their message,” he said.
The Religious Affairs Ministry did not reply to the Globe’s request for comment.