“We will freedom for freedom’s sake, in and through particular circumstances. And in thus willing freedom, we discover that it depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon our own … I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim”. [Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905-1980]
“Anyone who is wronged must be helped.” [Clause 43 of the Medinah Charter]
Our society is again in chaos and pandemonium following an event known as Sexualiti Merdeka. Literally meaning Sexual Freedom / Independence, it is basically a festival celebrating the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
The theme “Queer Without Fear” is aimed to highlight the discrimination and persecution faced Malaysians simply because of their sexual orientations and gender identities.
Although it is an annual event, first held in August 2008, it has never created such furore before. This time around, with the coming of Sir Elton John, it seems that all hell has broken loose. Sexualiti Merdeka has been attacked from almost every angle, be it from intolerant religious leaders or prejudiced politicians.
All kinds of intimidation and slanderous accusation have been levelled towards the organizers and supporters of Seksualiti Merdeka. They were accused of promoting homosexuality and a hedonistic lifestyle.
Open discussion needed
Malaysians at large and Muslims in particular have to realise that we’re living in a highly diverse community. We have to learn to be inclusive. What is more important is to have an open and critical discussion on the issues of gender and sexuality.
Such a discussion must firstly be informed. It must engage with the most up to date researches on the issue of gender and human sexuality from the natural sciences, social sciences, critical theory and feminist studies.
The discussion must also be inclusive. It must incorporate perspectives from scholars and activists who are most engaged and active in the issue of gender equality and human rights.
It is very unlikely that the Muslims who are protesting Seksualiti Merdeka were completely oblivious to the presence of the LGBTQ community in Malaysia. What appears to be the problem is the fact that the community is now asserting their rights.
In other words, Seksualiti Merdeka is not evoking the reactions we are seeing because of its organisers’ sexual orientation, but because it is an open show of force by the LGBTQ community to empower and educate themselves of their rights as Malaysians.
This represents a significant shift from the commonly held attitude among Malaysians that the LGBTQ community should be left to do what they want so long as they do not seek full recognition as active and entitled citizens.
Seksualiti Merdeka should not be viewed as a transgression against Islam or Muslims in Malaysia but a simple demand for fundamental human rights.
Uphold the Spirit of Tolerance in Islam
While we may disagree on issues relating to morality, we have to respect a person as an individual. A person who embraces Islam has to be regarded as a Muslim. If that particular person has non-heteronormative inclinations, that does not give anyone the right to ostracise and oppress him or her. As Prof Tariq Ramadan says, behaviours considered reprehensible under the general rules of morality cannot justify their ex-communication or alienation from society.
We are living in a heterogeneous society full of diversity. In order for a society to mature, it must be able to remodel itself to be inclusive in nature. There should be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, irrespective of race and religion. Every single citizen has the right to live and express his or her conviction without fear.
In the spirit of democracy and fundamental liberty, we must respect the freedom of expression of all Malaysians.
The Medinah Charter too shows the importance of working across different opinions and ways of life to maintain a stable polity.
This spirit of tolerance and diversity in Islam must be upheld to ensure that Islam is not used for pure political mileage.
“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. [Voltaire, 1694-1778]
(This article was also published by Malaysia Kini.)