Pinar Ilkkaracan : All of her sexualities, all of her Islams

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By Julia Suryakusuma (Jakarta Post)

Once upon a time there were two Muslims, one from Indonesia, the other from Turkey. Yes, they share a religion, but there’s scarcely any connection between the two in terms of how their faith affects their attitude to life. 

The one from Indonesia is Tifatul Sembiring, minister of what should be called the (Mis)communication and (Mis)information  Department in the Second (Dis)United Indonesian Cabinet.  

Yes, Tifatul is notorious for his odious statements and tweets, the most recent ones in reaction to the Q! Film Festival ( He targeted gays with a series of homophobic tweets blaming “perverted sex acts” for the spread of HIV/AIDS, quoted a passage from the Koran about God “smiting with rocks from a burning land”, and broke down the acronym AIDS as “Akibat Itunya Dipakai Sembarangan” (what you get for sticking your penis into just about everything).

Titaful’s tweets would be insulting, offensive and deeply inappropriate coming from anyone, but being a Cabinet minister only makes this embarrassingly flagrant display of bigotry and ignorance worse.  

Now, compare our pathetic minister with that other Muslim I mentioned, Pinar Ilkkaracan. She is a researcher, activist, trainer, psychotherapist — one of Turkey’s leading feminists — and her mission in life is to do the exact opposite of people like Tifatul wherever possible.  

Pinar was the executive director of Women for Women’s Human Rights (WWHR)-New Ways for twelve years (1994-2006), an organization she founded in 1993. WWHR engages in advocacy and lobbying for women’s human rights at the national, regional and international levels, conducts training programs, and coordinates an international program to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights in Muslim societies. For almost two decades Pinar has worked tirelessly to dispel prejudices and promote understanding about the centrality of human sexuality and the difference it can make in people’s lives.

In her country, the campaign led by Pinar’s organization brought about the reform of the Turkish Penal Code in 2004, which included 30 amendments that constituted a major step to the protection of women’s human rights. Internationally Pinar is also very active in UN forums. She recalls being involved in a milestone event when as a result of immense pressure from thousands of women and women’s groups, the UN finally recognized that women and girls have human rights — only in 1993!  

Pinar was recently in Jakarta in her capacity as one of the international coordinators of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights (CSBR) in Muslim Societies  (see my column “Divided by Culture, United by Religion and… Sex”, in TJP, Sept. 29 2010). This was not the first time she’s conducted an event in

She says she loves it here because she was inspired by what she saw then as the tolerance for sexual diversities. That’s why in 2004 Pinar organized the first South and Southeast Asian Conference on Sexuality and Human Rights in Muslim Societies here in Jakarta (, in collaboration with the Indonesian Women’s Health Foundation (  

WWHR gathered 25 NGO representatives and researchers from Muslim societies in Jakarta, to discuss key issues on sexual and bodily rights, sexual politics and human rights. If Tifatul invokes the Koran to justify hatred, Pinar’s press statement at the 2004 conference invoked it in the name of an all-embracing love. It emphasized that “social justice and the dignity of women and men are enshrined in the Koran” and that sexual oppression was not Islamic but, like so many things, a result of political, social and economic inequalities.  

Despite the taboo on sex in many Muslim societies, many scholars have argued that the Koran itself discusses these things openly, and in great detail. Pinar has certainly picked up on this and is one of an increasing number of Muslim scholars who reinterpret texts to allow for a wider spectrum of sexual relationships, including homosexuality. In Islam, she says, sex is pretty cool — in fact, it’s obligatory within marriage.  

Why did Pinar chose Indonesia again, given increasing violent protests and demonstrations against a number of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) events this year by Muslim hard-liners like FPI (Islam Defenders Front)? She said that’s precisely why she felt it was important to hold the event in Indonesia: to counter the bigotry of the thugs who call themselves Muslims. Not just Tifatul, but also the likes of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) who also gave the thumbs down on the Q! Film Fest.  

So which one of the two Muslim leaders do you think takes the inner message of their religion seriously? 

Tifatul the turkey or Pinar from Turkey? The answer wouldn’t surprise anyone except of course, Titaful and that man in the palace who thought he was Ministerial material!  Wrong again, Pak Beye!

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