Balancing act of Indonesia’s morality law upsets activists and Islamists

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Just weeks after Indonesia burnished its international standing by successfully hosting a summit of G20 leaders in Bali last month, a suicide bomber reminded the world of the ever-present threat of Islamist extremism in south-east Asia’s largest country.

The attack last week on the island of Java killed one and wounded nearly a dozen others and came just a day after Indonesia, home to the world’s biggest Muslim population, made long-mooted revisions to its criminal code including outlawing sex outside marriage.

Although characterised by some experts as a compromise, the new code has managed to both alarm human rights advocates and anger Islamist groups, from moderates to extremists. Notes left near the bombing described the new criminal code as a “law of infidels”, according to police.

The controversy shows the difficulty for Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo of balancing the country’s deeply conservative religious culture with its efforts to present a modern face to international investors attracted by its growing middle classes and rich natural resources. As one of the world’s biggest democracies, the country is closely watched as a counterweight to more extreme interpretations of Islam around the world.

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