I'm kind of ashamed to admit, but I became a little bit obsessed with hijabs and burquas during my time away. Ashamed only because my obsession might be seen as disrespectful, or that I see these women as a novelty, when really my curiousness stems from my lack of knowledge of the Muslim culture. Maybe ashamed is the wrong word, and perhaps I have over-thought this...but by wanting to connect with these women I am, in a sense, saying that they are different to me. Israelis are different to me, and I don't try really hard to understand their religion and culture - so why treat Muslims so differently?
In KL, I would see these beautiful women wearing hijabs of all colours, some with western clothes, others more traditionally dressed. I'd see schoolgirls wearing white veils on top of their backpacks and think it was the best uniform ever. I'd watch the women wearing burquas, and wonder what was underneath all of that mysterious darkness.
The whole time, all I could do was smile manically - desperate to engage in conversation. I wanted my smile to say that I respect your religion and your culture, but really where we were geographically these women didn't need my respect nor I guess my understanding. So maybe that’s why my white middle class ass felt a little ashamed. Why should any stranger care if I liked or accepted them, when they were doing just okay, thank you very much.
So anyways, I read something today, which prompted this meandering blog post. I read about a Muslim woman who was murdered in Germany. That made me feel bad about the world, and less bad about me trying to show Muslim women that I thought they were great.
Marwa el-Sherbini was in a Dresden playground, when a man shouted abuse at her, calling her an "Islamist", a "terrorist" and a "bitch" in a dispute about her 3-year old son, who was apparently playing on a swing that his niece wanted to use. Marwa was wearing an Islamic headscarf. Marwa brought charges against the man and he was fined 780 euros. The Public Prosecutor filed an appeal to achieve a higher penalty and Marwa went back to court. The appeal hearing started in the late morning of July 1, 2009, and after Marwa testified, the accused man lent over and stabbed her 18 times. Her three-year-old son, Mustafa, saw his mother slump slump to the courtroom floor, while her husband was also stabbed and then shot by police who mistook him for the attacker. Marwa died that day.
I stumbled across this tragic story online and hadn't seen it reported anywhere in the news. I'd like to put that down to me traveling and not keeping up to date in what has been happening in the world, though I have my doubts. Apparently this story didn't get much coverage in Germany or Europe and there have been some suggestions made online that if the victim had been of a different faith or culture, the incident would have received greater attention. I don't know if that is true, but my observations of Germany and Austria at least, is that a lot of animosity is shown to Muslim immigrants.
Muslim immigrants have changed the face of those countries, and it might be easier for me to accept these changes because I grew up in Australia where we are used to seeing such diversity of cultures. Maybe I'd have a different view had I grown up in Austria, as while I see this change as a positive (particularly in Austria which was a very insular country) I have talked to family, friends and strangers who say they are unhappy, uncomfortable and concerned about the face of modern day Europe.
I don't know the answer, and I'm not sure if I was able to put into words what I was trying to say, but in the end this is a terrible story and one wanted to share because Muslim women often face prejudice only because their religion is easily identifiable by what they wear. And that isn't cool.