Controversy over the concert is a blow to the predominantly Muslim country’s reputation as a tolerant, pluralist society that respects freedom of expression.
Some fans accused police – who refused to issue a permit over concerns about security – of buckling to the will of a small group of thugs.
“We had to cancel the concert in Indonesia,” the 26-year-old pop diva tweeted to her followers Sunday night after promoters acknowledged concerns about her own safety and that of her “Little Monster” fans if the show went ahead.
“I’m so very sorry to the fans & just as devastated as you if not more,” she wrote. “You are everything to me.”
Indonesia, a secular nation of 240 million, is often held up by the U.S. and others an example of how democracy and Islam and can coexist. In many ways they are right. Since emerging from dictatorship just over a decade ago, sweeping reforms have resulted in direct elections, while vastly improving human rights and freeing up the media.
But a small extremist fringe has become more vocal – and violent – in recent years, attacking Christians and members of other religious minorities, transvestites, atheists and anyone else deemed immoral.
The most notorious, the Islamic Defenders Front, said Lady Gaga’s sexy clothes and provocative dance moves would corrupt the youth. They vowed to turn out at the airport by the thousands if Lady Gaga arrived. Others said they bought tickets so they could wreak havoc from inside the 52,000-seat stadium in the capital, Jakarta.
Police responded by denying the necessary permits. Then, after public outcry, they said they’d reconsider – but only if Lady Gaga agreed to tone down her act.
Instead, she pulled the plug on what was supposed to be the biggest stop on her Asian tour.
Michael Rusli, head of Big Daddy, promised “Little Monster” fans full refunds.
But that provided little consolation to people like 25-year-old Johnny Purba.
“This only shows to the world how weak security forces are in this country, how police are afraid of a bunch of hard-liners,” he said.
“Gaga’s two-hour show will not hurt Indonesian Muslims. For God’s sake, she is not a terrorist!”
Hard-liners, however, were ecstatic.
“This is a victory for Indonesian Muslims,” said Salim Alatas, one of the leaders of the Islamic Defenders Front. “Thanks to God for protecting us from a kind of devil.”