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Miss Indonesia defies Muslim critics - Middle East Online, UK

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  • Zafar Khan
    Miss Indonesia defies Muslim critics Artika believes Indonesia is ready to compete once again at Miss Universe pageant after long absence. By Michael Mathes -
    Message 1 of 1 , May 25, 2005
      Miss Indonesia defies Muslim critics

      Artika believes Indonesia is ready to compete once
      again at Miss Universe pageant after long absence.

      By Michael Mathes - PHUKET, Thailand


      Indonesia hasn't sent a contestant to the Miss
      Universe pageant in almost a decade, since its last
      competitor dared to show up at the swimwear event,
      incurring a ban from then dictator Suharto.

      But Artika Sari Devi, a 25-year-old law graduate and
      this year's Indonesian ambassador, says that despite
      vocal opposition from religious groups back home, she
      believes the world's largest Muslim nation is ready to
      compete once again.

      When she slipped into a swimsuit on a Phuket beach
      with other contestants last week, Artika knew was
      stepping into uncharted territory.

      The demure beauty-queen was happy to hug the sidelines
      of a risque seaside dance number featuring all 80
      other contestants being filmed for the pageant's final
      broadcast, all too aware that critics had her in their

      Clad in a one-piece swimsuit, far more modest than the
      skimpy bikinis worn by the other contestants, Artika
      was upbeat about her participation - including
      Thursday's jaunt on the beach.

      A masters student and a practicing Muslim, she
      believes things have changed since the 1996 ban.

      "I'm so lucky. This is the right time for a young lady
      from Indonesia to join in this great competition," she
      said in an interview on Thailand's largest tourist

      When she parades in front of the judges and an
      estimated 800 million television viewers on May 31,
      she knows she will be running the gauntlet of Muslim
      critics and fierce traditionalists, who say the event
      goes against both Indonesian culture and Islam.

      "The big problem is still the swimsuit competition,"
      she pointed out as she wrapped a towel around her
      waist. "But today in Indonesia, we can see many people
      wearing swimsuits at the beach."

      When asked if she felt the political winds had shifted
      to allow her to compete, she was guarded.

      "Yes, but I don't want to talk about the opinion of my
      government, because it's sensitive," she said. "I just
      appreciate that I'm a citizen who is part of a young

      Not everyone back home is behind her. On Friday some
      70 protesters from the radical group Front for the
      Defenders of Islam staged a noisy but peaceful protest
      outside the Jakarta office of the Miss Indonesia

      Soleh Munawir Nasution, the group's leader, said
      Indonesia's involvement in the pageant would "invoke
      God's wrath and bring new disasters" to the country.

      "The foundation has degraded the dignity of Indonesian
      women," he said.

      Pictures of Artika in her swimsuit were on the front
      page of Indonesian newspapers Friday, drawing
      criticism from conservative Muslims.

      "We reject her participation because such an event is
      not compatible with our culture, not to mention
      religious values," said Syamamah Suratno, head of the
      women's wing of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second
      largest Islamic group.

      "We should not be judged by our physical appearance.
      If we want to take part in a competition it should be
      about brains, intelligence and skills," said the
      French-educated activist.

      While critics have focused on Artika, she is not the
      only contestant from a Muslim nation, with Egypt,
      Turkey, Nigeria and Malaysia also among those
      competing and to have entered the swimwear contest in
      past years.

      But Islam and beauty pageants have a history of
      conflict. In 2002, the Miss World competition was
      moved from Nigeria to Britain after riots sparked by
      an article on the competition left more than 200
      people dead.

      Tom Kruesopon, chief organizer of Miss Universe in
      Thailand, acknowledged the sensitivities of Artika's
      presence but said the pageant was thrilled to have her

      "Understanding the religious aspects of Indonesia and
      knowing how difficult the decision of sending her may
      have been, I'm certain it was the right thing to do,"
      he said.

      "I was a bit sceptical of her participation, knowing
      there could be a tremendous outcry back home... but
      her taking part puts the pageant in the right light."

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