Residents of Indonesia’s Aceh Province, already burdened with the devastating effects of last year’s catastrophic tsunami, are now being forced to deal with an emboldened Taliban-style vice squad, according to the San Francisco Chronicle:
The morality enforcers, a squad of men clad in green trousers and white shirts and women in white head scarves, stride on to this provincial capital’s tsunami-scarred beach to weed out sin.
After descending from a pickup truck, the enforcers — patterned after the religious police of Saudi Arabia — check identity cards of a couple who had been munching corn on the cob while staring at the sea. The man and woman, obviously sweethearts, are given a stern warning and told to go their separate ways.
Next, they rebuke a young woman for wearing “un-Islamic” blue jeans, even though she is wearing a head scarf as required by Aceh province’s 2-year-old Shariah law, based on Islamic principles as set out in the Quran.
“I hate this place; there are so many rules,” the young woman, who identified herself only as Wiva, said in fluent English. “I mean, who do these guys think they are?”
The Wilayatul Hisbah, which loosely translates as “the control team,” scour the ruins for other would-be sinners, and appear disappointed when they don’t find any. After their arrival, most young couples had fled the beach on motor scooters.
Aceh’s religious police were created a year before the earthquake and tsunami struck a year ago, killing an estimated 170,000 Acehnese and devastating one of Indonesia’s richest provinces.
They had kept a low profile, largely ignored by a populace that most observers say has never been too keen on the hard-line Islamic legal system imposed by Jakarta in 2002. Critics say it was a cynical ploy to win over Muslim clerics during the government’s nearly three-decade war with separatist guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement, or GAM. A peace agreement was signed in August.
Since the tsunami hit Aceh, Islamic fundamentalists, emboldened by a common belief that the disaster was heaven-sent to punish nonpracticing Muslims, have redoubled their efforts to punish so-called sinners. Some have even blamed the giant waves on women for ignoring Islam.