Indonesians begin Ramadan, hardliners target ‘sinful’ bars

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Muslims across Indonesia began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan Wednesday, with hardliners vowing to raid “sinful” bars and police steamrolling a mountain of alcohol and porn amid rising intolerance.

Islam's holiest month is used by hardliners in Indonesia as an opportunity to attack nightclubs, bars and shops that openly sell alcohol, the consumption of which is against Islamic law.

There were fears the situation could be worse this year after a recent upsurge in attacks on religious minorities and non-mainstream Muslims.

Critics say hardliners such as the notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have been emboldened by the government's failure to crack down on them and prevent such attacks.

In the days before Ramadan, there were already reports the FPI -- who led protests that forced pop star Lady Gaga to cancel a concert in Jakarta last year -- had started conducting such raids.

“We will take firm action against the circulation of alcohol, naked dancing and prostitution,” Habib Idrus Algadri, head of an FPI group in Depok district outside Jakarta, was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.

He was leading a group of FPI members who confiscated bottles of alcohol from a shop at the weekend.

Habib Salim Alatas, the head of the FPI's Jakarta branch, told AFP that 50 members would be sent out to monitor nightspots in the capital every evening.

“We will send out groups of two to three wearing civilian clothes to spy on sinful activities like the drinking of alcohol taking place around Jakarta during the Ramadan holy month,” he said.

“We will not hesitate to conduct our own raids if we see that the police and authorities are failing to do a good job.”

Authorities have also been making a show of cracking down on the illegal sale of alcohol, a popular move during Ramadan.

At the weekend police in Jakarta used a steamroller to crush thousands of bottles of homemade alcohol that was being sold in places without licences and pornographic and pirated DVDS.

For the small number in Indonesia who drink, getting a beer during Ramadan can be a challenge as some bars only want to serve customers they know for fear of being targeted by hardline spies.

Some stop serving alcohol, while others try to keep hardliners away by putting blinds on their windows, serving drinks in mugs instead of glasses and asking customers to sneak in through side doors.

Tens of millions across the Muslim world fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable during Ramadan.

Despite the rising influence of hardliners, the majority of the 240 million people in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, practice a moderate form of Islam. For most, Ramadan is a month of celebration that ends with the Eid holiday.