On sectarianism and discrimination

I’ve been working with a local theatre group here in Jeddah that tackles social and other types of oppression.

The current project we are working on focuses on the sectarian discrimination and profiling. This is a specifically sensitive topic since while there are no laws that allow or encourage such discriminatory behaviour, also there are no laws that condemn and punish it.

And whilst the majority of people living in the West coast of Saudi are from the Sunni background, we are scarcely exposed to the mental and emotional state of mind of the oppressed ones, or so we thought.

After conducting interviews with individuals from different sectorial backgrounds and listening to their stories, I realised how in one way or another I could relate to most of them conceptually. After all, oppression is oppression and discrimination is discrimination, regardless of what it is fuelled by.

These actions that are more subtle and hurtful in nature than explicit laws that discriminate, have a great impact on our behaviour patterns and the way we can tackle such discrimination.

Most stories were filled with feelings of having to defend yourself in front of the majority. Don’t we as Muslims face that when bombarded by our “Western” counterparts with questions about our identity, or having to defend the extremists that belong to our religious backgrounds? Although mostly the questions come out of pure curiosity and clean intentions, we sense the pressure it creates inside us and can sometimes be very indirectly oppressing.

Another thought that crossed my mind while listening to the stories is how stereotypes and myths about people different to us become part of our faith, deeply encrypted into our mentality and way of thought, as if we can’t help but feel that there must be some truth to it, however absurd they are.

And if we think we are smart enough not to let these thoughts influence our behaviours, we should think again. Small words that we throw around and are part of our cultural discourse carry such sectarian thinking and in some cases incite hate, and without our realisation, we are part of a generation that was raised to be cautious around those different to us, to wait until they eat from their own food before we can eat it ourselves, to harass those we are comfortable enough around with questions about why their rituals are different to ours and confront their beliefs.

The ways people find to discriminate against each other are tormenting to say the least. You lose your humanity every time you look down on someone, whatever the reason is, you must keep the value of human the highest, and all other qualities follow.

People get very creative in showing others how superior they think they are. In reality, this superiority complex is what makes you less. Less superior, less worthy, less human.

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