KUALA LUMPUR: Activist Marina Mahathir today raised concerns about the mentality of “tribalism” among and within the various communities.
“There is a resurgence of this tribalism, the idea that only my tribe matters and yours does not because it is inherently inferior, for reasons of race, religion and economic status,” she said.
She was speaking at a Human Rights Day forum called “StandUp4HumanRights” organised by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the Prime Minister’s Office, Wisma Putra and the United Nations.
Speaking about the exclusionary nature of identity, she said, “‘I define myself by what you are not’ has become the norm.”
Even worse, she said, there were smaller circles of exclusivity.
“It is not enough to belong to just the Muslim tribe, you have to be Sunni, conservative in your thinking.
“If you happen to be anything besides these very narrow criteria, then your religious status is forever subject to scrutiny, policed for the most trivial signs of deviation,” she added.
Stating this was her personal opinion, Marina said she was not suggesting that only Muslims were prone to this exclusivity, as the world was generally cisgendered, male and white.
She said women everywhere were still struggling to be recognised as fully human.
“In 2019, we can talk about almost all the sustainable development goals except for achieving equality and empowerment for women and girls,” she added.
She also spoke on ending child marriage, asking if it was something that Malaysians could not envision for “our own children, why is it okay for other people’s daughters?”
She asked why the nation was not grabbing sensitive issues, including child marriage, by the horns and dealing with them.
She said despite the diversity of the Muslim world, many Malaysians only accepted one narrowly defined community as true and faithful.
“The rest we hound and harass and deny them the freedom to believe even when they pose no threat to us. Surely the measure of one’s faith is its innate ability to resist any temptation from outside,” she said.
Marina also said the need to constantly find punitive ways to deal with so-called threats to the faith, including kidnapping and disappearances, suggested a weakness whose causes were not being examined truthfully.
Speaking about gender issues, she said: “If we care to be honest, we would admit that we have not escaped the colonial mindset that insisted on categorising some people as superior to others, masculine being always above the feminine.
“We are sticking to pre-Victorian and Victorian era norms, believing that these rules are not only wholly ours, they have divine origins,” she said, adding that seeing the full range of humanity meant more than just two strictly-defined genders.
She said the concept of a hierarchy of human beings still prevailed in Malaysia.
“Some humans are considered superior to others by no other virtue than their race, religion or gender. There are people who even consider sexual diversity irrelevant, and to classify a section of humanity, even if small, as irrelevant,” she added.