Friday, July 10, 2009

The "West" and us? A personal perspective on the reaction to the killing of Marwa ElSherbiny

I very well remember that in a class I took long years ago after I moved to the “West”, I insisted to write about hijab as my final research. I was passionately defending the concept against Western misconceptions in my presentation when the instructor stopped me to ask, “But what do you mean when you say “the West”?

For some reason I get it now, of all times, as I read about the reaction to the unjust killing of Marwa ElSherbiny. I got what he actually meant by the question. He wanted to know what is it that I am standing against because he certainly was not a part of that confrontation. Actually, I have seen no one taking part in that confrontation. I have been living in Canada for almost a decade now and hijab was never a barrier to me wherever I went. I have not been treated but with respect while my fears and anticipation, since I was new to hijab then, were only in my head. In fact, I had several nice ladies ask me about how beautiful and convenient it looks and I always tell them that I never suffer from bad hair days!

So, it is certainly not the people. I admit that Canadians are known for being a polite and civil nation and it is also true that variety here and seeing people of all colors and backgrounds is simply the default. But I have been through one single incident that the current situation shed great light on to make me understand why anyone would be intolerant to others.

It was around 10 in the morning when my son opened the door for a lady who told him in a hurry that we have to remove the car right away from the street to the driveway of our house since the street has to be cleaned otherwise it would be towed away. I had to run downstairs to talk to her. I was already wearing a t-shirt and loose pants and I grabbed my praying long loose garment and put it on. It is one big garment that shows only my face and hands and covers me almost to the knees. The lady was away already knocking on other doors so, still in my fluffy slippers, I tried to talk to the young men that were already sweeping the streets. The man was already smiling when I approached him saying that the transmission of the car is broken and that there is no way I can move it. He called for some other men to see what to do; or to share the laugh maybe which is something I was not aware of at the time. They said that I still had to move it. I tried to explain that this was simply impossible and that they could not tow away the car anyway since they had given me no prior notice. I was completely clueless trying to think quickly of a way out and offering that we clean under the car ourselves when we get the chance to move it. I did not pay much attention to their side looks and smiles to each other. Yet I noticed that those were not genuine smiles, nor were they the “plastic smiles” given to customers to get the job done. But I had no time to think about that. My Canadian neighbor, who was standing by, witnessed the whole thing after he moved his car and since he knew about cars already he managed to figure out a way by which I put the car on and then the men move it and it worked. But by then, the smiles were almost laughs and the whispers shared were almost audible murmurs. Although I had all the right, and could have been stubborn about the whole car episode, I really wanted to be as cooperative, reasonable, and understanding as possible without stooping to their level of ridicule. It is all about self-control. This is a responsibility that having a hijab on puts you in really. You know very well that once you wear that symbol you are simply representing all Muslims and you do not have much chance to yell or fight, no matter how much you want to sometimes, cause you do not want to bear the guilt if people then get the impressions that “then what we hear is true, they are aggressive!” So, I thanked them and my neighbor and went back inside with a firing rage that I could not put off for a long time. I was mad for my dignity! No one dares to laugh at me, or rather at how I look, without having to pay for it! I was absolutely fuming with anger. Why? What do they know about me that gives them the liberty to laugh that way? The anger infested my mood as I tried to think of all possible explanations for their rude behavior. My son asked me why I cared in the first place when I have always been proud of how I look and never took it for granted or was self-conscious about it. But the bitterness of being ridiculed and mocked is not an easy pill to swallow, let me tell you that!

I tried to calm down using every possible means I know, then I tried to think it out. Why would people act that way at what they don’t know? The answer was that simple… because they don’t know. People are generally aggressive and intolerant against what they fear or do not understand, and they simply did not see beyond my cover to appreciate the human being inside. That was it! They simply did not know and covered their unease with not knowing how to deal with “that thing” with those nervous laughs! All they knew was that there was a lady with something like the burqa’ they have seen people make fun of on TV. And this is where media comes in.

Biased media is indeed what fills that void of ignorance with false ideas and fuels intolerance amongst the simple ones that have no other means to know or understand. Go back to who owns the media in the “West” and the agenda they have and you will understand the big picture here. After 9/11, it was very common to see on TV crime show killers and robbers for example that were shown earlier as praying in a mosque. They either have an accent or dark skin, and it is almost old school now to have the sound of athan (call to prayer) in the background of what is suspicious or threatening. Those are the hidden voices, let alone the outright clear cries of fear mongers that blatantly single out Muslims as terrorists on public TV every day. I watch this with clear frustration knowing that they are nothing but lies and very well aware of what is going on in our region and the injustice that is scantly reported and easily forgotten.
So, it is not the West that we need to fight, tease, or please. The people here are simply human beings that are controlled by a misguiding media. We need a similarly powerful media if we want true Muslim voices to be heard. Actually, the Western figures like Jimmy Carter, Noam Chomsky and many others that go through the trouble of digging up the truth hidden under that heavy rubble of lies are the ones that do what they can to explain; although their voices end up subdued next to the loud bangs of liars. They will keep defending us though until we play that role ourselves.
It was my very neighbor that told me few days later that he was very upset by what those people did the other day. Instead of standing up to them and exchanging some blows and fists with them like many would think he should have, he hit them where it actually hurts. He called their boss and explained that this is outright intolerable and that we have every right to call the Canadian Human Rights Commission to report what happened and sue them to compensate for the damage! What does our neighbor know about Muslims to act that way? He knows us.

There is absolutely no doubt that the incident of Marwa should never go unnoticed and that every legal right should be given to her family to pursue that killer. And I will not even bother call for our governments to protect our rights, because change is what we make ourselves. That said, we need to go beyond raging yet momentarily emotions to see the big picture if we want long term solutions. We need to hit the core of the problem and cleverly solve it instead of helplessly trying to crack the shell while remaining victims of a media of prejudice and injustice.

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