Archives: Jonthon Coulson

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Twice as Hard for Half the Credit

A year ago, the Walikota [mayor] of Banda Aceh made headlines by declaring Valentine’s Day haram [forbidden]. “Many Muslim youth in Banda Aceh are sending Valentine’s day greetings via social media. And it is the responsibility of the city government to ensure this does not happen again…Muslim youth should certainly not be celebrating non-Islamic culture,” said Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal.[1]

You might recognize that name from a footnote in my last Newsletter. Illiza is the exception to male dominance in the political class of syariah law-observant Banda Aceh. After serving for seven years as vice mayor under Mawardy Nurdin, who died of kidney failure, Illiza was appointed mayor in 2014. She and Jakarta governor Ahok thus share two commonalities: neither fit the Muslim male mold that typifies Indonesian leadership, and neither was democratically elected. This could all change when residents in their respective cities go to the polls this Wednesday – the day after Valentine’s Day.

In the run-up to Democratic elections, it is not uncommon for politicians to deliberately create media events in an attempt to shape public impressions. Indonesians call this “pencitraan” – though I’ve always liked the slightly less politically charged phrase “cari muka” [looking for face], which describes going to seemingly absurd lengths to draw attention to oneself.

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The (Dis)Harmonies of Islam

Like any other spiritual or human endeavor, Islam is a plurality resounding in harmonies and, at times, disharmonies. I began learning about this faith and its people as a college freshman in 2001. As a journalism student at the University of Missouri, I was asked to reflect critically on media packages that paired footage of the terror attacks with …

Change for the Sake of Change

“Every reshuffle brings about better results.” Thus spoke Indonesia’s Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, who may very well find himself being shuffled out of his position in three years’ time. For now, though, he has come up trumps, having just overseen the replacement of twelve (of thirty-six) ministers and the secretary of Indonesia’s Working …

Reinvent the Wheel

One of the highest-ranked schools in America today, Horace Mann in the Bronx, is named after one of the early advocates for “common schooling” — the notion that we should pool our money to fund institutions of education that all children attend. These days, the school carrying his namesake charges an annual tuition of $43,300, which is just over …

Beginning Where I Began

In the 2008 edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook, the village of Majene falls near the fold of the map, but is not mentioned anywhere else in that edition. I made this observation in July of that same year, having just learned I would be spending my next nine months there. As I didn’t speak any Indonesian, I took solace in this tiny dot in a tourist …