Endy Bayuni at PostGlobal

Endy Bayuni

Jakarta, Indonesia

Endy M. Bayuni took up the job of chief editor of The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s independent and leading English language newspaper, in August 2004 shortly after he returned from a one-year Nieman Fellowship at the Harvard University. Endy has been with the newspaper since 1991, working his way up from Production Manager (Night Editor), to National Editor, Managing Editor, and Deputy Chief Editor through all those years. He previously worked as the Indonesian correspondent for Reuters and Agence France-Presse between 1984 and 1991, and began his journalistic career with The Jakarta Post in 1983. Endy completed his Bachelors of Arts degree in economics from Kingston University in Surrey, England, in 1981. Close.

Endy Bayuni

Jakarta, Indonesia

Endy M. Bayuni took up the job of chief editor of The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s independent and leading English language newspaper, in August 2004 shortly after he returned from a one-year Nieman Fellowship at the Harvard University. more »

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Cute Veil! Where'd You Get It?

Take a stroll down any of the fully air-conditioned shopping malls in Jakarta and you will see girls wearing Muslim headscarves walking side by side with their peers in tight pants and tank tops, revealing legs, navel, and cleavage.

In Banda Aceh, the city made famous by the devastating tsunami in 2004, where headscarfs are mandated of all women, you can easily find girls complying with the rule, but wearing skirts that show their legs and pants that do not go all the way up to their waist and tight T-shirts designed to show the shape their body.

The contradictory ways that young girls in Indonesia -- the country with the world’s largest Muslim population -- dress is part of an ongoing battle between the religiously conservative forces and the more modern, liberal members of society. There is still no clear-cut winner yet, although the conservatives are clearly making headway.

While they are battling it out, however, the real winner is the fashion industry, which is raking in huge profits from the two different types of dressers. If you are looking for an example of how commercialism transcends the conservative and liberal divide, then look no further than the way young women dress in Indonesia.

For many young girls, wearing a headscarf is more a fashion statement than a pronouncement of their religiosity. Sure there are those who took up the jilbab, as the head scarf is called in Indonesia, for reasons spelled out in the Koran -- telling women to wear modestly so as not to attract attention, especially from the opposite sex. Others may have taken it up out of peer pressure, or ordered so by parents, boyfriends, or husbands. But for most part, wearing a veil is a conscious decision, just as it is for those who choose not to.

Going by what many young women who cover their heads wear from neck down, it is clear that fashion, or more precisely being fashionable, is their main concern in the way they dress.

Even the jilbab comes in different models and colors, clearly designed to attract rather than to avoid attention. Fashion shows presenting Muslim dresses made by some of Indonesia’s top designers today are as common as the fashion shows.

Obviously the industry is threading carefully not to offend the conservative forces, so sexuality does not come into the picture in this segment of the fashion market. But for the the main segment, almost anything goes. Anything produced and churned out by the West is available and quickly adapted by the fashion conscious. You can find the Britney Spears-wannabes in Jakarta malls and on Indonesian TV screens.

Television, of course, is the natural partner of the fashion industry in reaching out to their audience. Most TV stations have complied with a personal request from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to stop TV presenters from showing their navel, but the medium remains the most effective way for the fashion industry to advertise their products, whether they are targeting those wearing Muslim or regular dresses.

Last year, the conservative forces tried but failed to dictate the way women dress through the anti-pornography bill that would have required women to cover themselves as much as possible. It would also ban many of the erotic traditional dances in Indonesia. Not surprisingly, the motion was widely rejected, and now more than one year later the bill, still lingering in parliament, has been heavily watered down.

What the conservatives forgot, and what the big buck fashion industry is fully aware of, is that sexuality in the way women dresses in Indonesia goes a long way back before modernity found its way into Indonesia. Go to any of the elaborate traditional wedding ceremonies in Java and other sub-ethnic groups in Indonesia: bare shoulders and navels are the norm with the dresses the bride and her attendants wear.

These and the erotic traditional dances had their origins in Hindu India, and were introduced in this part of the world during the period of the Hindu kingdom between 8th and 14th century. They survived even after most Indonesians embraced Islam some six or seven centuries ago, and after the long period of Dutch colonial rule.

If they have survived all these centuries, they are not likely to change any time soon, in spite of the religious conservatives efforts. This obviously works to the advantage of the fashion industry that increasingly exploits sexuality.

So while the conservatives and liberals are slugging it out to try to impose their values on the rest of society, most Indonesian girls, like their peers around the world, just want to have fun. The question of whether or not to cover their heads for them is really a matter of choice, and it is theirs alone to decide. The fashion industry will only gladly comply and serve their needs either way.

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