September 02, 2010

Debasing the Buddha: Indonesia Bans Offensive Club

At the end of July, hundreds of Indonesian Buddhists protested against a local branch of the French-owned chain restaurant Buddha Bar. The Anti-Buddha Bar Forum (FABB) organized the protest. As blogged about previously here, those demonstrations turned ugly. Well, despite FABB criticism from other Buddhist organizations, FABB efforts paid off: this week a district court ruled that Buddha Bar offends followers of the faith, and ordered it to close and pay $111,000 in fines.

Anthony Deutsch from London’s Financial Times beyondbrics blog writes:

Located in a beautifully renovated colonial building in the upscale Menteng neighborhood, Buddha-Bar draws affluent Jakartans to plush sofas and cocktails. However, its centrepiece, a giant Buddha statue, and the Buddha-Bar name itself have drawn protests from student groups in Indonesia who say such use of religious symbols is offensive.

Buddha-Bar has never been targeted elsewhere by international Buddhist groups and it’s curious that the suit has been lodged in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation - where Buddhism is virtually non-existent. The lawyer for the bar said the suit should not even have been filed in a civil court, but rather in a trade court.

Read the rest here.

Despite the ruling, George V. Entertainment, the owner of Buddha Bar, is going to continue to operate the club. The court’s decision will not be enforced until all other legal options have been explored, which could very well take years in Indonesia’s corrupt court system.


A question: is it wrong that it seems generally more acceptable to debase images of the Buddha and Hindu gods and goddesses than deities of Western origin? Can you imagine coming across a Jesus Christ Bar?

Perhaps new owners at Manhattan’s Buddha Bar recognized this double standard and that’s why they changed its name to Ajna Bar Formerly Known as Buddha Bar?

Share your thoughts.

Image: Shanna Ravindra, from

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James Shaheen's picture

There is, in fact, a Jesus Bar:

Jesus bar:

The handle found directly above the seats of most motor vehicles. May or may not be retractable. It's primary use is to be gripped as the passenger prays, swears, or screams.

He grabbed the Jesus bar as she took the car on two wheels.

Courtesy Urban Dictionary.

Mary McCutchan's picture

Yes, I"m guessing that here in most states&cities, a "Jesus Bar" would garner hundreds of protesters. Depends partly on whose images are being displayed and how.
Personally, I'm remembering being told that the Buddha when alive would have been just as offended by a "Stupa" as a Bar." When you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him." Mary

Sam Mowe's picture


I hadn't considered that, but I think you might be onto something. A trickle down effect from the Islamic majority into the consciousness of Indonesian Buddhists? Sounds plausible.


David Ambrose's picture

I wonder if the reaction in Indonesia is connected with the Islamic prohibition of (graven) images in their mosques?