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Jakarta Post

By the way ... Another ban? Let'€™s drink to that

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Sun, June 28, 2015   /  02:12 pm

I'€™d like to propose a toast '€” to prohibition.

If the government goes ahead and bans alcohol we'€™ll be facing an exciting and interesting future; no shortage of news.

The only visitors who'€™ll come to marvel and spend will be abstainers. Tourist authorities should prepare their marketing ploys now. Suggestions: '€œGo where it'€™s dry '€” Indonesia, the arid archipelago'€ or '€œWant to try teetotal? Visit Indonesia '€” no temptations!'€

Multinationals will have to recruit their expat staff from temperance societies, perhaps not the largest talent pool. But hey '€” who wants big projects and foreign investment? Better no development if the bankers are boozers.

Naturally, the negative thinkers will remind us that prohibition was tried in the US between 1920 and 1933 and was such a failure the law had to be repealed.

But that was America. Indonesia is different; the locals will embrace the new rules and there'€™ll be no thirst for change.

My Muslim friends who drink say they remain 95 percent religious because beer is only 5 percent alcohol. That'€™s supposed to be a joke.

What won'€™t be funny will be the hundreds who'€™ll die in agony or go blind through drinking bad moonshine. It happens now when they can still buy the pure stuff in the supermarkets '€” how serious will it get when they can'€™t?

The upside is that there'€™ll be more jobs for health workers, police, lawyers, wardens, ambulance drivers and gravediggers. Signwriters will earn a fortune making banners warning of the evils of drinking cocktails of battery acid, drain cleaner and fly spray.

Social historians note that prohibition in the US helped develop the criminal gangs that smuggled and sold liquor, creating a new and violent underworld. Who hasn'€™t heard of the Saint Valentine'€™s Day Massacre in Chicago? But that was in America; Indonesia is different.

Politicians, the rich and influential were always able to get their hands on beer, wine and spirits, whatever the law said. Even then president Woodrow Wilson had his own private supply. Corruption thrived. One famous bootlegger once told The Washington Post that 80 percent of senators and congressmen continued to drink. But that was America; Indonesia is different.

We already have a ban on pornography to protect the impressionable young. But if you want to know how to bypass censorship by downloading a legal free app with just one click of the mouse, ask any adolescent.

During the fasting month of Ramadhan, liquor has always been banned in the hotels of my town which gets a good income from tourism. That hasn'€™t stopped drinking '€” it has just meant that visitors get their drinks served in teacups, not glasses.

In its international dealings, Indonesia advocates the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other states, even when, like Myanmar, the government ruthlessly persecutes Muslims. But no such taboo exists when it comes to interfering in the lives of citizens '€” what they do in their offices, bedrooms and now kitchens and dining rooms.

If the wowsers win, public order officials will burst into homes and rip open fridges in their search for the aberrant bottle, then prosecute the naughty adult who thinks a drink complements a meal and believes in free choice.

Religious zealots will have something else to do other than persecuting pluralists and opposing church-building. Street scavengers will get extra returns by telling police they found an empty beer can in the trash at number 35.

The US filled its prisons to overflowing, lost vast revenue and spent more energy chasing brewers instead of bandits before realizing that human behavior can'€™t be so easily controlled.

But that was in America; Indonesia is different.

Drinking to excess causes real harm. The curse of drunk drivers, brawls outside pubs and alcohol poisoning are major issues in some Western countries. The problem is not the grog, but the '€œexcess'€.

Binge drinking, going out to get plastered and behaving violently and obscenely is unacceptable anywhere. Fines, public health warnings and other campaigns make a difference, but peer pressure is more powerful.

Changes come when individuals take responsibility for their own behavior, not when governments make decisions for them. But this is Indonesia '€” and it'€™s different.

'€” Duncan Graham