DECEMBER 19 ― The brazen threat to sexually assault G25’s Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin by Animal Action Group president Sharul Nizam Ab Rahim recently has predictably aroused public attention and concern as well as incurred the wrath of those who rightly felt that the line has been crossed.
This seemingly unrestrained outburst was apparently provoked by the G25’s contention that moral policing of the act of khalwat, or close proximity between opposite sexes, by religious bodies is a violation of a person’s private space.
If indeed khalwat is an act worthy of public scorn and reprimand, as this man and others of the same ilk appear to suggest, then surely a threat to sexually assault a woman ― and, God forbids, in the name of Islam ― must be deemed despicable, if not diabolical.
Even if this angry remark was made in jest, as Sharul later insisted, such symbolic violence is nonetheless indicative of a mindset that embraces misogyny and condones bullying.
But then such forms of intimidation are not a new phenomenon in our society. In recent past, we had lawyer activist Ambiga Sreenevasan, for example, subjected to some “butt exercises” conducted by 10 retired soldiers of the Malay Armed Forces Veterans Association in front of her house. They protested against Ambiga for having spearheaded the Bersih rally on April 28, 2012 ― by flaunting their purported bum force.
For one thing, this is indeed browbeating of the sexist variety in a society where some people would perceive men occupying a level higher than women. Women, in turn, are here seen by such men as fair game; men who are ready to metaphorically pounce on women when the latter express views, especially ones that are contrary to those of the former.
This explains why, for instance, there is no end to parliamentary anecdotes of certain MPs making sexual innuendos in a perverted attempt to defeat their female counterparts in a debate. Hence, we heard of talk of “leakages” (i.e. menstruation) to such an extent that it could distract some parliamentarians from more pressing issues of the day.
This flexing of muscles by some men may be considered macho by some, but it also bares them for who they really are: incapable of engaging in intellectual discourse and civilised dialogue with a wider and meaningful objective of seeking truth, justice and compassion.
A less generous view is that these men lack grey matter. Their actions suggest a desire to shut women up over things that should be the subject of discussion, consultation and mutual understanding.
Name-calling and labelling such as “gondol” (bare), “destroyer of religion”, and “stupid” are demeaning to women as well as men. But, like the rape threat and “butt exercises”, name-calling has the effect of short-circuiting discussion, dialogue and discourse of the civilised kind. As a form of censorship, they prevent meaningful intellectual exchange and understanding.
Such brute behaviour also reflects the political culture of the larger society where the powers-that-be are increasingly inclined to shun civilised engagement with civil society and ordinary people via discussion and dialogue.
More often than not, the authorities are prone to resorting to censorship upon certain newspaper items, books, cartoons, films and music that they consider taboo or a threat to “national security”, “law and order” or “parliamentary democracy” without even having the decency to explain what this all really means.
In this regard, certain laws, such as the Sedition Act and Official Secrets Act, become handy for the authorities.
In many ways, the banning of certain expressions and printed materials in the public domain such as schools, campuses and mosques unfortunately spawns anti-intellectual culture in our society that supposedly craves for an industrialised and developed status. And it looks like we have veered far away from this goal.
To be sure, the inability or refusal to respect, let alone celebrate, difference and diversity of opinions especially on the part of the people in position of power often culminate in censorship or, worse, detention or imprisonment of people who hold contrarian views.
To put it another way, views that are different and critical of the state by both men and women often receive harsh responses from the authorities.
Hence, it is hardly surprising that Noor Farida is expected to be investigated for sedition. In the context of such a political culture, legal measures of this nature may only embolden certain men to issue more threats of various kinds that women would have to encounter.
Women in such a restrictive society who are perceived to be critical, independent-minded and dare to venture into unchartered waters face double jeopardy: they risk the male gaze, frown and condemnation, and at the same time, cope with the possibility of encountering the legal tentacles of the state.
A society that is partial towards the use of brawn over brain and the might of mobsters would find it daunting in its desire to cultivate young women and men who are progressive, rational and compassionate.
Clearly, the strength of a nation doesn’t derive from brute, naked force.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.