Two days after Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced that he had effectively shut down the infamous Alexis Hotel by having his administration refuse their business permit extension, the closure of the capital’s most notorious nightlife establishment continues to dominate local headlines, with the recently inaugurated leader indicating that it was just the first step in a moral crusade to eradicate vice from the capital.
Yesterday, the management of Alexis responded to the government’s decision by holding a press conference in which they argued that the hotel had never been legally proven to violate any laws and denied the accusations that the nightlife venue was also a hotbed of high-class prostitution, asking the public and media not to make judgements based on rumors, pleading for the welfare of the hotel’s 1,000 employees and even allowing the media to go up to the hotel’s much-discussed 7th floor spa, often described as “Heaven on Earth” in the local press, to show they had nothing to hide.
Another point made by Alexis’ management at the press conference was that the hotel contributes a significant amount of tax revenue to the city, nearly IDR 30 billion (USD 2.2 million) per year – a claim backed up by data from the Jakarta tax office.
When asked about the drop in revenue, Anies said that the source of the revenue was more important than the revenue itself.
“We want halal money, from halal work. If not, it is not a blessing from God,” Anies said at City Hall last night as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
One could argue that Anies did not mean halal in the strictly Islamic sense of the word, instead referring to clean money and work that is legally permissible, though his use of the word “berkah” (blessing from God) makes it clear that he was invoking religion on some level.
Anies has already said that his administration will be targeting more venues like Alexis, implying that he will be sending in undercover agents to look for violations. It is unlikely that he will face any significant political opposition if he attempts a larger crackdown on prostitution in the capital (despite empirical evidence that such crackdowns inevitably lead to negative consequences) as there are few politicians in Jakarta who would dare to say anything that could be considered blasphemous to Islam these days.
Is it alarmist to worry that Anies might expand the scope of his crackdown from prostitution to other businesses that would not be considered halal in a religious sense? Consider that one of Anies’ other campaign promises was to have the Jakarta government to divest its profitable shares from PT Delta Djakarta, a company that produces beer.
Anies’ vice governor, Sandiaga Uno has also said that he would push for more “sharia-based” nightlife in Jakarta, involving cultural shows and religious studies, which would make the capital more of a tourist destination.
Certainly the Islamic hardliners that Anies wooed to help him win the election would like to see all traditional nightlife venues shut down (except perhaps for those groups rumored to make protection money off of them), but we have a hard time imagining what a Jakarta without it’s freewheeling, raucous nightlife scene would look like. And we don’t want to know.