Getting to the Bottom of Explosive Rumors Concerning Noordin Top

by Chris Lundry

Dwarfed by the stories of the earthquake tragedy in Padang, yesterday Indonesian media picked up a sensational statement issued at the Jakarta police headquarters. According to police spokesman Nanan Sukarna, police investigators have discovered evidence that the corpse of Jemaah Islamiyah’s Noordin Top showed signs of anal trauma consistent with sodomy, leading to speculation that he might have been bisexual.

The article (published by inilah.com) began curiously by differentiating investigatory police and police doctors, and stated that “information that the terrorist Noordin Top enjoyed relationships with men should not be spread to the public.” (All translations in this piece by the author). The story ended with a quote from Nanan: “This is the doctor’s secret. Indeed I do not know who was stating this. It has to be kept secret, it cannot be announced. There is a code of ethics, it is a problem of visum etrepesum (sic: repertum).”

Yet for whom was the article, which reported details of the investigation, intended if not the public? How many nods and winks were shared between reporter and spokesman, the understanding that this “news” would of course be disseminated? Disseminated it was, with slight variations. Surya online was more discreet, but quoted University of Indonesia forensic specialist Dr. Mun’im Idris as saying there were “peculiarities.” The flagship paper of eastern Indonesia, Pos Kupang, also quoted Dr. Mu’nim but more directly: “Yes, there is damage to Noordin’s anus.” Perhaps the best example of the nod-and-wink game is the reporting from Kompas, Indonesia’s most respected national newspaper. “Nanan: The Matter of Noordin’s Anus has to be Kept Secret” the headline blared. To its credit, Kompas got the Latin for autopsy report correct.

As to be expected, today the story was picked up and broadcast by blogs and other online sources, including those outside of  Indonesia. “Fact! Noordin was Frequently Sodomized!” screamed Malaysia’s Topix.com, which was the first response to the author’s Google search of “Noordin Dubur (anus).” Blog comments are multiplying rapidly, with sides being chosen. “Character assassination!” screamed one, as though being gay (or sexually deviant) was worse than being a murdering terrorist, and implying that Noordin had any character left to assassinate.

The latent conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia the author described in a previous blog post is surfacing. “Noordin Top Appears to be Homosexual (a Reflection of the [religious] Hypocrisy of Malingsia Society),” screams another Topix.com report. The author described the term “Malingsia,” combining the word for “thief” with Malaysia, in a previous post, but this news has brought to the fore another derogatory term for Indonesians to refer to Malaysians: “Magaysia.”

The story was also broadcast on television. Jakarta’s Metro TV reported the story with footage of Dr. Mun’im.  The report also stated that a spokesman for Noordin’s family in Malaysia, Badarudin Ismail, denied the report. In a Detik.com story, Badarudin argued that it simply was not possible; after all, Noordin had wives and children. The naivete in this statement boggles the mind.

Of course this kind of report does not necessarily mean that if it was indeed sex that caused the “irregularities” that it was necessarily sex between Noordin and another man. That being said, Dede Oetomo, among Indonesia’s best known and widely respected gay rights and political activists, has spoken to me about gay sex in the context of pesantren (Islamic boarding school) dormitories, arguing essentially that what else would one expect when pubescent boys are sequestered with other pubescent boys in tight quarters.

Homosexuality in Indonesia and Malaysia has a dual nature. On the one hand, transexuals and transvestites (“banci” or “waria”) are openly tolerated as they sing or play instruments and busk in public. On the other, however, discourse dominated by religious conservatives condemns homosexuality and has led to anti-gay violence. Gay activists, such as Dede, continue to struggle for their rights and recognition.

A report today by the English language Jakarta Globe speculated that the forensic results could have been caused by hidden explosives. Regardless, the tactics of the Jakarta police — to announce something publicly as a something that must be kept secret — shows how they are willing to use the information to further discredit Noordin and his terrorist ilk. True or not, this raises the question of whether he needed further discrediting following his heinous acts of terrorism.