Gadjah Mada University (UGM) is taking the heat for its decision to ban Canadian liberal Muslim activist Irshad Manji from speaking at a discussion organized by the university’s Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS).
The UGM rector was reported to have decided on the ban the night before Manji was expected to give a talk, citing security reasons, a decision which was met with condemnation given UGM’s long history as a bastion for academic free speech.
Political analyst from Paramadina University, Yudi Latief, considered the ban a tragedy for academia.
“This is a tragedy. UGM should be on the front lines of knowledge dissemination and should put primacy in the power of logic instead of the logic of power,” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
Yudi said that universities should be places where individuals could exchange ideas freely, no matter how heated arguments would become.
“In academia, those who disagree with other people’s views can offer a thesis to counter that idea,” he said.
Yudi said that UGM’s ban on Manji did not bode well for the country’s fledgling democracy.
“Our democracy would come to an end if more institutions as prestigious as UGM bowed to threats of violence,” he said.
Chairman of the CRCS program, Zainal Abidin Bagir, criticized UGM’s management, saying that by cancelling the talk, UGM had accommodated demands from thugs who had opted for violence and threats rather than for dialogue.
“What happens if time and again we have to back down to violent threats? What should we do if such a mentality permeates esteemed academic forums?” he said in a statement.
The discussion of Manji’s book Allah, Liberty and Love was slated to be held at 9 a.m. in UGM’s postgraduate programs building.
Yogyakarta Governor Sultan Hamengkubuwono X told the Tribun Jogja daily that there was no need to worry about Manji’s appearance because it was merely an academic discussion.
“The ban was unnecessary. Maybe some mass organizations thought that they had the right [to ban Manji], but can’t they just talk to the rector?” he said as quoted by Tribun Jogja on Wednesday. The governor referred to the groups that staged protests against Manji’s visit to the province.
Last Friday evening, Manji’s book discussion at Salihara in Jakarta was disrupted by local authorities who questioned the event’s permit. A group of residents staging protests during the event also said that they rejected the author because she openly declared that she was a lesbian.
The same argument was used by firebrand Islamic groups, which pressurized the UGM rector to call off the discussion.
Harmoko Anggriawan of the Alliance of Jogja Movement for National Morality said that Manji’s ideas could be considered blasphemous as they insulted the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad.
“Her thoughts are also against Indonesian law and culture because she, among other things, is pushing to make homosexuality halal [sanctioned according to Islamic teaching],” Harmoko said.
On Wednesday morning, dozens of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) members staged a rally at the UGM traffic circle, protesting Manji’s so-called promotion of lesbianism.
UGM denied that it had banned Manji, but admitted that some groups had been pressuring for cancellation of the talk.
The university spokesperson Wijayanti said that the cancellation was decided after receiving input from a number of parties.
“UGM considers this as a way of maintaining the security of our guests, campus members and working partners. We need to be extremely cautious these days because the security condition has not been really conducive lately,” she said.
Later on Wednesday, members of Mujaheddin Council ransacked the office of the Institute for Islamic and Social Studies (LKiS), where Manji held a discussion on invitation from the institute. One person was injured in the incident.