Sometimes you have to shout

SEPTEMBER 16 ― It takes a special kind of courage to (literally) tell people to shut up and listen to you, especially if you’re a woman in a roomful of men.

Girls are always taught to be seen and not heard. Women have to deal with men and other women interrupting them at meetings. An informal study on a tech setting shows that men interrupt more often than women, men are almost three times as likely to interrupt women than other men, women interrupt each other frequently but hardly interrupt men, and senior women are among the biggest interrupters.

So when a video of Siti Kasim appeared showing the lawyer flipping the bird to her rude hecklers at a forum about a PAS Shariah Bill, I delighted in her sheer audacity.

It wasn’t just about the middle finger; the remarkable thing about the forum was also about how Siti bluntly told noisy members of the audience to “shut up” while she was talking, and about how she insisted on being heard as a Malay-Muslim by raising her voice.

If the people who profess to be religious had respected her right to ask questions and to express an opinion instead of interrupting her with jeers, then she wouldn’t have needed to show the middle finger.

The questions that she posed to the (all-male) speakers were valid: Why does she have to be controlled by those in power? Why is she being forced to follow a particular brand of Islam which she clearly doesn’t subscribe to? Why can’t she just answer to the god she believes in?

It’s bad enough that hudud proponents dismiss concerns by non-Muslims and insist that it will only affect Muslims. The various interfaith child custody cases and unilateral child conversions in Malaysia show that Muslims and non-Muslims do not live completely segregated lives in Malaysia.

Religion should not be used to discourage debate, especially over something that has far-reaching consequences like a piece of legislation. Already, Malaysia has far too many laws, both secular and religious, that encroach on private spheres of life, from what we say, to who we sleep with and how we dress.

By trying to silence Siti, her hecklers show that they’re incapable of coming up with good arguments to persuade her to their point of view. Religious fundamentalists often rely on brute force or personal attacks to get their way, instead of defending their position with reason and logic.

Siti showing the middle finger resonates because it embodies our frustrations and fears with the direction the country is headed.

Sometimes, when we feel utterly helpless in trying to change the system, we just want to say, “F*** you.”

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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