Sat, 01 Oct 1994

Ulemas on the censors' board

The controversy that has been raging during the past fortnight over the film True Lies touches another, more essential, dimension: that of the role of the ulemas (Moslem religious leaders) as an institution, particularly in minimizing the negative impacts of entertainment events.

Two weeks ago, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (Indonesian Council of Ulemas) threatened to withdraw its representatives from the Film Censorship Board (BSF). It appears to have made true that threat. Two MUI members -- who had been representing the voice of the ulemas -- were absent from the board's plenary meeting which was assembled to discuss the film True Lies on Wednesday.

It is not clear whether the MUI's decision is final. However, the action appears to have been prompted by dissatisfaction over the board's working mechanism so far. To us, the business that is still unfinished concerns not so much the question of whether or not the MUI is represented on the Film Censorship Board, but how the ulemas -- as guardians of the believers' morals -- can play their role effectively and with quality in taking film censorship decisions. Even up to 10 MUI representatives on the board, for instance, would carry little meaning if they cannot show their quality as ulemas.

The MUI's declaration that their representatives in the Film Censor Board are inactive should, therefore, not be seen as final and non-negotiable. It would be wiser to use the case as an opportunity for introspection by the various parties involved. It would seem that the MUI should carefully consider the quality, the capacities and the integrity of the people it wants to put on the Film Censorship Board, or whatever it may be called in the future. This involves not only their perception as ulemas and as scholars, but also their sense of artistry.

-- Republika, Jakarta