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Published: Thursday August 27, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday August 27, 2015 MYT 7:27:14 AM

The inequality of freedoms

I’VE been noticing a disturbing phenomenon recently among my brethren. It is a type of mob behaviour where groups of people will attack a person online, usually female, accusing her of immorality based totally on something superficial, usually her dress.

It happened with the gymnast who was criticised for her regulation gymnastics leotard instead of being cheered for her gold medal. And it happened again when a seven-year-old girl was taken to task for wearing a two-piece bathing suit while on holiday with her parents.

To attack a little girl with an as-yet-unformed body who was holidaying with her parents seemed to me to be beyond reason. There is something else going on here besides the apparent self-righteousness.

If one wants to seem devout and to admonish someone for supposed unIslamic behaviour, there are recommended ways to do it. Online slut-shaming isn’t one of them.

I’m no psychologist but it is interesting to me that as our society gets more “religious” (at least by some people’s definitions), there is increasing mob behaviour against anyone deemed to not fit into those definitions.

Sadly our authorities’ idea of religiously correct behaviour involves more restrictions every day. Their key word is “don’t”, rather than “do”. Thus, people are told every day of the things they must not do if they are keen to end up in heaven.

Apparently there is a list of 70 major sins that we can do to ensure that we go to the wrong place. Odd, considering I was brought up to understand that Islam is a very easy religion with very few major sins, defaming people being one of them.

When people are told daily that they cannot do so many things, and yet they see that some people can freely do them, then resentments mount. How is it that some people can wear what they want but I cannot? How is it that some people can do what they want but I cannot?

What we thus have is an inequality of freedoms, and I believe this is closely tied to the inequality of wealth in this country.

If you have money, you are likely to go to better schools, have more job opportunities, travel more and buy whatever you want. The world is pretty much open to you.

If you don’t, then you have none of these options.

The income inequalities in this country are well documented.

Not only is there a huge swathe of people with very low incomes in this country but the gap between them and the very wealthy is getting bigger. But not a lot is being done to narrow these gaps, apart from giving the poor handouts which are one-offs and unsustainable. Besides, as the saying goes, they don’t teach a man to fish.

Thus, the way to assuage the feelings of those at the bottom is by telling them that while they may not have much, their advantage is that they are more likely to go to heaven. Rich people are apparently more prone to sinning, so be happy that you are poor but heading in the right direction. Hence the poor spend what they have on the right rituals, the right clothes, making sure their children are well educated religiously if nothing else. They will be rewarded some day, they are promised.

But meanwhile the bills need to be paid. The kids are getting nowhere because the schools are not preparing them for a productive life.

Food and public transport are getting more and more expensive. GST hits them harder.

Still our politicians and ulama tell us salvation is at hand if only we keep on that straight and very narrow path.

It’s hard going but we believe in them. Even when it’s clear that there’s not much joy in our every day lives.

Meanwhile, how is it that some of our brethren have the freedoms that we don’t have? How is it that they can go on holidays abroad and buy fancy clothes, not all of which are syariah-compliant? How is it that they can smile and laugh with impunity? Aren’t they afraid of going to hell by enjoying heaven on earth?

Thus the mob behaviour happens. How to justify someone else’s freedoms except to cast them as being sinful? It doesn’t matter if they are innocent children, they have to be as suppressed as our children are. Only then can there be equality in oppression, the logic goes.

Politicians may not notice this, and may even encourage this as a cover-up for their failures. But if the inequalities in income are not addressed, the inequalities in freedoms will continue to breed ever-greater resentments and who knows where this will lead to.

Something to ponder on this August 31. Are all our people equally merdeka?

Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

Tags / Keywords: Marina Mahathir, columnist

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