Here in Indonesia, the holy fasting month of Ramadan is going to start in just a few weeks. Everyone is rushing to get things done before the country is coming to a standstill. Millions will re-unite with their families; meals are being planned to break the fast after sunset. This should be the happiest time, for us in CIPS and for Indonesians in general.
This year, however, a tragedy has been casting a deadly shadow over the country. In early April and within just a few days about 100 Indonesians died from drinking bootleg liquor. Victims were mostly young and those with little income, as the legal and safer alternatives are pricey and hard to find. The national parliament even revived the discussion of a national prohibition bill.
All of this brought CIPS back into action. A bit more than a year ago, during the previous debate about a national alcohol prohibition, CIPS had already been at the forefront of a campaign against the prohibition. We argued that existing restrictions make legal alcohol unaffordable and inaccessible, forcing consumers to obtain their liquor in widespread black markets.
We received support by researchers of the Jakarta chapter of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim organization. They rejected the intended ban of legal alcohol with this remarkable statement: "If a government policy leads to vastly increased distribution of and easier access to bootleg liquor, (…) this would be the wrong step by the government. (…) As a Muslim, of course, alcohol is still haram (forbidden). But this is not about halal or haram, this is about saving our younger generation, this is about making an effective policy."
Sadly, the recent tragedy has proven our point.
This time, CIPS had just finished two surveys of bootleg liquor consumption in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, where most deaths occurred. In the last three weeks our positions appeared 53 times in domestic media and in international news reports. We gave many interviews and appeared in TV news and a live talkshow.
Since the tragedy underlined the dangers of bootleg alcohol, CIPS is now cautiously optimistic that the alcohol prohibition bill will not be passed into law, at least for now. Yet, we need to maintain our vigilance and continue to call for stronger law enforcement, more affordable access to legally produced alcohol, and proper information about the dangers of bootleg liquor.
Despite the worldly challenges, I wish you all a peaceful Ramadan that allows for reflection and empathy for those less fortunate than ourselves! Salam hangat,
Rainer Heufers Executive Director