Jakarta. International coverage of Indonesia's presidential election campaign took a worrying turn on Wednesday after the German weekly Der Spiegel published a story on the disgraceful decision by candidate Prabowo Subianto to support a chilling Nazi-themed music video as part of his campaign.
The video is fronted by Indonesian Idol judge and rock star Ahmad Dhani dressed in a black jacket worn by the SS — Nazi Germany's paramilitary organization that carried out the genocide of some six million Jews as well as the wholesale murder of disabled people, homosexuals and intellectuals.
The campaign advertisement features Dhani and three Indonesian Idol contestants — Husein, Nowela and Virzha — covering Queen's "We Will Rock You," with the lyrics "who will awaken Indonesia from its misery if not us? Prabowo-Hatta!"
Dhani's jacket is nearly identical to that worn by Heinrich Himmler, a chief architect of the Holocaust and someone who once said: "Clashes with Asia and Jewry are necessary for evolution." The three Indonesian Idol contestants are also arranged in black military garb, with Nowela, the lone female, dressed in a black mermaid gown that does little to detract from the overall Nazi look and feel of the video.
Prabowo's Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) said that Dhani made the video on his own initiative — but still retweeted the video on June 19 in an apparent endorsement. Prabowo himself thanked Ahmad Dhani on his Facebook page for the video, saying "Thank you Nowela, Husein, Virzha and Ahmad Dhani for the song and video clip for me and my partner Hatta Rajasa. This video will increase my spirit to fight. Rise up Indonesia!"
"There is a general fantasy about uniforms," American public intellectual Susan Sontag wrote in the New York Review of Books in 1975 about the aesthetics of fascism. "The SS was the ideal incarnation of fascism's overt assertion of the righteousness of violence."
The righteousness of violence is a topic that has threatened to become a nuisance for Prabowo's presidential campaign, but never more than that. In the first presidential debate, rival Joko Widodo's running mate Jusuf Kalla made a few pointed jibes at Prabowo's human rights record, but the accusations have done little to trouble the momentum behind Prabowo's campaign.
Even when Wiranto, Prabowo's former commanding officer in the military, said on June 20 that Prabowo had been discharged from the Army because he gave the orders on his own initiative for men under his command to abduct pro-democracy student activists and protesters in 1998, there has been no indication that such a profound accusation would necessarily preclude a Prabowo presidency. This is despite some 13 Indonesians still remaining unaccounted for, presumed killed by Prabowo's feared Army Special Forces (Kopassus).
Der Spiegel writes that the Third Reich is admired by some in Indonesia for its "efficiency and strength" — and ends by warning that many believe the elevation of Prabowo to the presidency would mark a descent for Indonesia back into the "dark days of dictatorship."
The German newspaper references the reopening of a cafe in Bandung, West Java, as an example of Indonesia's regrettable affinity for Nazi iconography. The Soldatenkaffe in the West Java capital was shut last year after the wall-to-wall shrine to the Third Reich gained more and more opprobrium, ending in international headlines and, eventually, closure. Its owner reopened the cafe this month, diversifying the decor with the odd Stalinist trinket and knick-knacks from Imperial Japan to stave off criticism that it was intended as a hagiography to Hitler.
Below the line of the Der Spiegel article, readers have written that "political education in Indonesia has completely failed" and "as a person who grew up in Indonesia, this has shocked me." Queen's guitarist Brian May also took a dim view of the video, Tweeting on Wednesday, "Of course this is completely unauthorized by us."
The Jakarta Globe was able to reach Dhani's manager, but the musician himself was unavailable for comment. "The video has been released for a while," his manager said. "There hasn't been a problem with it."
Joshua Oppenheimer, the Oscar-nominated director of the documentary "The Act of Killing," disagreed that the video was unproblematic.
"This is not a clever foreign policy move for Prabowo," Oppenheimer told the Globe. "Unless he really wants to alienate all of Europe — and the rest of the human community."
A leader of Indonesia's small Jewish community said he felt that video must have been made in ignorance.
"Every time I saw the SS uniform, it really hurts me, as my family were the victims of Shoah [the Holocaust]," United Indonesian Jewish and Hebrew Community chairman Benjamin Meijer Verbrugge said in an email. "I guess Dhani is not aware about the Shoah story behind the SS uniform. Trust me, once he... visits Yad Vashem/Holocaust museums, he will never wear such monster uniforms anymore."
Dhani represents a dubious choice of associate for a presidential candidate who already stands accused of highly questionable associations.
Dhani has been a solid supporter of Prabowo, writing previously "I think all real men will vote for Prabowo. Anyone who doesn't — their masculinity should be questioned."
Dhani — a man in his forties who wears sunglasses indoors — has made a successful career out of releasing generic plodding rock records and has, perhaps most lucratively, landed a gig as a judge on Indonesian Idol. He was fortunate, however, not to find himself in front of a judge after his entirely vicarious relationship with even the most basic parental instincts led to a horrendous incident last year that cost seven lives.
In September last year, his 13-year-old son was driving at at least 176 kilometer per hour in the early hours of a Sunday morning on the Jagorawi toll road when he lost control of the car, flew over the road's lane divider and plowed into oncoming traffic. Seven people were killed, most of them from a minivan that took the brunt of the impact, while Dhani's son was lucky to be alive.
The father admitted to having given his son a Mitsubishi Lancer as a gift when he was a 12 year old, five years below the legal driving age.
Rather than reflect on his obvious culpability in allowing his young son to drive himself around on one of the most dangerous roads in Indonesia late at night, Dhani chose instead to blame everyone else for the horrific incident, including the state-run toll road operator and the government.
Dhani previously supported the National Awakening Party (PKB) in April's legislative election. The party later backed Joko and Kalla, but Dhani jumped ship, throwing his support behind Prabowo's presidential bid.
Daniel Ziv, the director of "Jalanan," a critically acclaimed documentary that tells the story of three people living below the poverty line in Jakarta, said that there were no winners to have emerged from the video incident.
Two weeks before the vote, @AHMADDHANIPRAST has clearly emerged as the biggest LOSER of this election.
— Daniel Ziv (@DanielZiv) June 25, 2014
Prabowo Subianto rides his horse into a campaign rally for the Great Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) before the legislative election on April 9. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)