Lady Gaga found it necessary to cancel her June 3rd concert in Jakarta, because while some find her work and person to be an expression of freedom, others find her work and person to be an expression of evil. How do we make sense of this, in today’s world? Is there any creative outcome possible, for this quintessentially contemporary– and worldwide– tension: the tension between liberalism and individual freedom (often associated with secularism and the West), on the one hand, and conservatism and received moral codes (often associated with religious tradition and the East), on the other?
There is a real, rather than merely an apparent, conflict here. Considered as “isms,” these principles undo each other: zealous secularism is anti-religious; fundamentalism is anti-liberal; narrow liberalism is anti-communitarian; narrow Christianism is anti-Muslim; and so on. Considered in the abstract, mutual exclusivity is the rule here: a thing cannot be itself, AND something opposite of itself, at the same time.
In the world where actual people live, however, human flourishing depends on peoples and societies holding these conflicting ideas in creative tension. Sometimes a people or a society cannot hold creative tension, and events become, simply, tense– even violent. We know that– that’s not news. It was the threat of this kind of violence that caused the cancellation of Lady Gaga’s concert.
In today’s world, religiously inspired antagonism toward modernity needs the corrective impulse of liberalism. Such openness is not the perspective of Wahhabism, of the ayatollahs in Iran, of the Haredim, or of Christian literalist/fundamentalists in America. The deepest meaning of liberalism, however, has theological grounding. Simply, it is recognizing that one of the attributes of the Holy One is continually to renew the world. At its best, the impulse toward liberality is the recognition that all human schemes for capturing who God is, what God does, and what God’s will requires of us, are always provisional: provisional, because limited by human finitude. As Paul reminds us, we can see the Truth of God only partially, as through a glass darkly.
Curiosity about– and openness toward– modernity are faithful responses of religious people. What is also true– to the chagrin of radical secularists, I am sure– is that liberalism, too, needs the corrective impulse of religious tradition. More on that soon.
Here is the report on the cancellation of the concert:
“Little monsters lost to big monsters”, wrote an Indonesian television anchor on his Twitter account shortly after Lady Gaga cancelled her biggest concert in Asia, a sold-out event scheduled to take place in Jakarta on June 3.
The pop star’s fans, which she affectionately calls her “little monsters”, now have to accept that the woman they saw on Indonesian television, or discovered in DVD shops, cannot visit their country because of safety concerns.
Although a small group of Islamic hardliners rejoiced over the news of Gaga’s concert cancellation, many Indonesians started to wonder who really has gone gaga here.
In fact, this incident does not have much to do with the American singer. Instead, it illustrates a far deeper conflict that is dividing Indonesia.
The Lady Gaga saga started a few weeks ago, after some Indonesians opposed her visit, citing her exposed body parts and “devilish” lyrics.
The pop star soon became the centre of a debate between those who see her as a symbol of freedom, and those who see her as a symbol of evil. The fact that the Islamic Defenders Front IDF was successful in repelling her from Indonesia shows that threats of violence can pay off.
“The fact that police can’t guarantee security of the concert shows that our state is weak towards groups that promote intolerance,” said Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace.
“It’s up to the authority of the state to guarantee freedom of expression and security as outlined in our constitution.”