‘Tribalism rules’ mentality impeding global human rights, says Marina Mahathir

Jerry Choong
Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir speaks during the Human Rights Day Forum in Kuala Lumpur December 10, 2019. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Tribalism is resurging worldwide and proving to be a high wall for human rights advocates to overcome, prominent activist Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir said today.

She said that the concept of human rights seems to have become “a moving target”.

“Nowadays, what we frequently hear is ‘do not violate my human rights, but I do not care about yours’.

“Some people seem to treat human rights as a form of selfishness, exclusively available to whoever claims it but not necessarily to anyone else,” Marina said in her keynote speech on International Human Rights Day at the Sheraton Hotel.

She cited the global Muslim community’s outrage at the crises faced by fellow adherents in Palestine, Myanmar, China, India, and the US where they are minorities, but pointed out that the same people were oblivious that they were committing the same violations against other communities with different creeds at home.

“There are also people who have no sympathy with the systemic discrimination towards minorities, especially, I have to be frank, if they are Muslim minorities in other countries, yet will complain continuously, and rightly, about the same discriminatory systems against them in their own countries.

“There seems to be no mirror held up to one’s prejudices that reflects back truthfully to oneself. This is the awful purblindness of humankind.

“Today in our so-called community of nations, tribalism still rules,” Marina said.

She said more people were adopting more micro-methods to define and identify themselves and others, adding that such an approach is now the norm.

“It is not enough to belong to just the Muslim tribe, you have to be Sunni, conservative in your thinking and to cap it all, preferably cisgender male.

“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,” Marina said.

She said such thinking was not confined to Muslims.

She said it is prevalent in a cisgendered, male and white world, and that women everywhere are struggling to be recognised as a full human.

“All over the world, right-wing governments are reversing gains for women’s rights, dismissing the term ‘violence in the family’ as a product of ‘radical’ feminism or discrediting women’s organisations as ‘foreign agents’ threatening national identity.

“As the New York Times noted, the rollback of women’s protections doesn’t impact just women but goes hand-in-hand with an overarching decline in human rights.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council put it most succinctly by saying the corrosion of women’s human rights is a litmus test for the human rights standards of the whole society,” she said.

Marina said it is ultimately up to those who wield the levers of power and especially those who have the means to do so, to take a stand and show that effort is being made to end these violations of human rights.

“Young people have the most to lose if all they can expect of their future is one filled with hate and inequality.

“It would be a measure of how much consideration – and I would even say love — we have for them, or not, if we refuse to take the steps for a more progressive, more compassionate and more sustainable future for everyone,” she said.

Marina drew parallels to the change that has the world’s climate, “whether we like it or not” and said it was applicable to human rights.

“We can only deny, stifle or reject change for so long, as it will come anyway but our responsibility is to shape a change that is positive for everyone,” she said.

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