Culver City Observer -

Smart And Spicy-Evolving America - Are We Becoming Mean?

 

September 1, 2016



I was on a bus when I met Hannah and her friend Adari. I sat next to Adari so I could talk to her; she was wearing a full burqa, or so I thought. Her eyes were gorgeous, and the eye makeup was beautiful.

Hannah wore an abaya, a robe-like dress, not the full burqa. Well, I looked it up to get the terminology right.

What Adari wore was a niqab, a head covering that covers the whole face, except for the eyes.

I asked, "Do you speak Arabic?" hoping to practice my Arabic.

She didn't speak much English; her friend Hannah, across the aisle, told me.

I asked Adari where she's from. "Kuwait".

Hannah's from Dubai. Her English is excellent. She told me they're here because Adari's daughter was sick; they'd just come from the hospital. Hannah had her two-year-old son with her; Adari had a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, and a little one.

I complimented Hannah on her English.

"We learn it in school."

"Everyone?"

"Yes, until a later grade, everyone in Dubai learns English."

"What about in Kuwait?" She looked sad. "No."

Suddenly Hannah said:

"You know, we need help with people. They --"

Me: "Oh, because of Trump? Here?"

"Every place, on the street, in the shops, they criticize us and complain loudly about what we are wearing."

It made me feel sad. I'd have liked to keep talking with them to learn more, but suddenly it was my stop. I had to say goodbye.

A few minutes later I was in Trader Joe's. It was so bright and green-filled, so cheerful. No abayas, niqabs or burqas in sight.

I asked an employee if he'd ever seen anyone there shopping in a burqa. "No, and I've worked here a long time. I've only seen two.

"Makes you think," he added.

I was haunted by the encounter. I felt the urgency of Hannah's entreaty to help. I thought about TV news fanning our fears.

I thought about how lucky most Americans are. What a privilege it is to not be hated on sight. (I say most, the issue of police brutality directed at African-Americans being a separate issue. Or is it?)

I thought about what started in Cannes, France, banning women wearing burqa swimming costumes (quaint British term for bathing suits). It spread to other French towns, then this week a French judge declared it breached human rights, overturning local laws.

In France, it's a larger issue than in the U.S. French people have lived side-by-side with a large Arab population for decades. Their concern is keeping France, well, essentially French.

I have mixed feelings. Years ago, when France banned veils or head coverings in French schools, I believed it was the right decision. Today, the dimensions of the issue are bigger; the separateness, the us-versus-them, the rougher airport treatment we've all seen given to people wearing Arab dress; these chafe.

Laïcité in French, means secularism. It's even in the French Constitution, which formally states that France is a secular republic.

Contrast this with what we're taught in school about the U.S. We're a melting pot, we're open, we're enriched by people immigrating here; the Statue of Liberty is our beloved symbol, etc.

It's disconcerting. If we let people wear yarmulkes on their heads and crosses around their necks, is this different?

Somehow this full body cover-up crosses the territory of social effects, mores, norms. It's the idea of it.

Is it because we can't see their face? Is that the root of this suspicion? Or is it because of the terrorism our country has faced, and that this way of dressing has permalinks to the religion, and the extremist philosophy, espoused by many terrorists?

Would we stand idle if Jewish people were being typified and held accountable for head coverings? Consider how extreme fundamental Jewish people dress and wear their hair, both men and women. Would people be loudly complaining and being rude to these people, in the same way as the women on the bus reported?

In the world of all right, of course caricatures via religious dictate about money or grooming are surely lower on the scale of wrongs than terrorist acts.

The recent string of horrible terrorist acts, in our own country and worldwide, have likely exacerbated the reaction Hannah described. Yet I'm troubled by the idea of what did they do to deserve this? Do Hannah and Adari deserve rude treatment?

This is the America where in the NY Times, a story appeared about the meanness of the Americans who would like to exclude the Kenyan runner Caster Semenya from achieving U.S. citizenship, so he can't bring a perceived competitive advantage over others competing for the U.S. Olympic track team. Are those obstructing his U.S. citizenship mean because they're afraid of an advantage they fear comes from his ethnicity, so they want to keep out a brilliant competitor who dreams of winning gold for America? Is this nativism at work in its ugly sense? (does nativism have a non-ugly sense?)

Or is it like any us-versus-them club – if you're not one of us, you're one of them; and if you don't belong, you never will.

Is patriotism merely a beneficent forerunner to nativism turning into fascism?

Let's get back to the women. So what were they doing here? All I was told was they were taking a sick child to a hospital. I don't know if they had family here, or husbands with business interests, or whether they were what's derisively referred to in the UK as health tourists.

Does it matter?

Where do you come down in the case of a world-class athlete who wants to be American so he can escape his background and compete, and win, for the American Olympics team? Should he be allowed to become a citizen, which would give him a pathway to compete for the U.S.? Should he be not allowed to become a citizen, because it would appear his only reason is to get gold for America, while escaping where he's from?

No one knows if there's a true genetic advantage to people from Semenya's specific ethnic group over other athletes. It does appear there are advantages to the way the human body has developed in that particular ethnic group over the centuries. Do you agree then, with calling foul by athletes who would be competitors, despite no proof the advantage exists?

Or is this just one more ugly ramification of the hatred-of-others mentality stirred up by Donald Trump and followers?

Those women were dressed in a funny way for Americans to see. Should they also be kept behind a wall?

Cultural values and attitudes are what make a society. It's what represents the society to the rest of the world – it's how we look, and how we are perceived - not only by others, but also by ourselves.

America has always been defined by our openness, the Statue of Liberty reaching out. With few exceptions, every American was originally descended from immigrants.

Election seasons come and go. Cultural attitudes, how people feel, what Americans believe, can't last forever, right? Look at the roots of the race problem still affecting the U.S. Would you substitute exclusion and us-against-them for the traditional cultural value of American openness?

In a hospital waiting room a few years ago, I sat near a crazed-looking man dressed extremely. I would never have tried to talk with someone looking so wild. But I did speak with him, and came away enriched, and wiser. From Pakistan, he was caring for his mother who was sick. I asked about his clothes, and he explained the traditions of his Pakistani tribal clothing. His concerns were the same as mine had been when I cared for my own mother. If I had not been studying Arabic, talking with him wouldn't have seemed possible; I'd have shied away.

I never would have sat next to the woman in the niqab and started talking to her if I hadn't been studying Arabic.

In Trump's uneducated America, the one the majority of his followers live in or the one we could become if we follow the leader and dumb down, would anyone be studying a foreign language?

Will it come to pass that merely studying a foreign language will mark you, and people might mock you, as they did the women in the burqas? Will we all have to speak the language of hate, and none other?

Is that what is happening to America today?

______________________________________________

Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

You can write to her at: smartspicy1@gmail.com

What Adari wore was a niqab, a head covering that covers the whole face, except for the eyes.

I asked, "Do you speak Arabic?" hoping to practice my Arabic.

She didn't speak much English; her friend Hannah, across the aisle, told me.

I asked Adari where she's from. "Kuwait".

Hannah's from Dubai. Her English is excellent. She told me they're here because Adari's daughter was sick; they'd just come from the hospital. Hannah had her two-year-old son with her; Adari had a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, and a little one.

I complimented Hannah on her English.

"We learn it in school."

"Everyone?"

"Yes, until a later grade, everyone in Dubai learns English."

"What about in Kuwait?" She looked sad. "No."

Suddenly Hannah said:

"You know, we need help with people. They --"

Me: "Oh, because of Trump? Here?"

"Every place, on the street, in the shops, they criticize us and complain loudly about what we are wearing."

It made me feel sad. I'd have liked to keep talking with them to learn more, but suddenly it was my stop. I had to say goodbye.

A few minutes later I was in Trader Joe's. It was so bright and green-filled, so cheerful. No abayas, niqabs or burqas in sight.

I asked an employee if he'd ever seen anyone there shopping in a burqa. "No, and I've worked here a long time. I've only seen two.

"Makes you think," he added.

I was haunted by the encounter. I felt the urgency of Hannah's entreaty to help. I thought about TV news fanning our fears.

I thought about how lucky most Americans are. What a privilege it is to not be hated on sight. (I say most, the issue of police brutality directed at African-Americans being a separate issue. Or is it?)

I thought about what started in Cannes, France, banning women wearing burqa swimming costumes (quaint British term for bathing suits). It spread to other French towns, then this week a French judge declared it breached human rights, overturning local laws.

In France, it's a larger issue than in the U.S. French people have lived side-by-side with a large Arab population for decades. Their concern is keeping France, well, essentially French.

I have mixed feelings. Years ago, when France banned veils or head coverings in French schools, I believed it was the right decision. Today, the dimensions of the issue are bigger; the separateness, the us-versus-them, the rougher airport treatment we've all seen given to people wearing Arab dress; these chafe.

Laïcité in French, means secularism. It's even in the French Constitution, which formally states that France is a secular republic.

Contrast this with what we're taught in school about the U.S. We're a melting pot, we're open, we're enriched by people immigrating here; the Statue of Liberty is our beloved symbol, etc.

It's disconcerting. If we let people wear yarmulkes on their heads and crosses around their necks, is this different?

Somehow this full body cover-up crosses the territory of social effects, mores, norms. It's the idea of it.

Is it because we can't see their face? Is that the root of this suspicion? Or is it because of the terrorism our country has faced, and that this way of dressing has permalinks to the religion, and the extremist philosophy, espoused by many terrorists?

Would we stand idle if Jewish people were being typified and held accountable for head coverings? Consider how extreme fundamental Jewish people dress and wear their hair, both men and women. Would people be loudly complaining and being rude to these people, in the same way as the women on the bus reported?

In the world of all right, of course caricatures via religious dictate about money or grooming are surely lower on the scale of wrongs than terrorist acts.

The recent string of horrible terrorist acts, in our own country and worldwide, have likely exacerbated the reaction Hannah described. Yet I'm troubled by the idea of what did they do to deserve this? Do Hannah and Adari deserve rude treatment?

This is the America where in the NY Times, a story appeared about the meanness of the Americans who would like to exclude the Kenyan runner Caster Semenya from achieving U.S. citizenship, so he can't bring a perceived competitive advantage over others competing for the U.S. Olympic track team. Are those obstructing his U.S. citizenship mean because they're afraid of an advantage they fear comes from his ethnicity, so they want to keep out a brilliant competitor who dreams of winning gold for America? Is this nativism at work in its ugly sense? (does nativism have a non-ugly sense?)

Or is it like any us-versus-them club – if you're not one of us, you're one of them; and if you don't belong, you never will.

Is patriotism merely a beneficent forerunner to nativism turning into fascism?

Let's get back to the women. So what were they doing here? All I was told was they were taking a sick child to a hospital. I don't know if they had family here, or husbands with business interests, or whether they were what's derisively referred to in the UK as health tourists.

Does it matter?

Where do you come down in the case of a world-class athlete who wants to be American so he can escape his background and compete, and win, for the American Olympics team? Should he be allowed to become a citizen, which would give him a pathway to compete for the U.S.? Should he be not allowed to become a citizen, because it would appear his only reason is to get gold for America, while escaping where he's from?

No one knows if there's a true genetic advantage to people from Semenya's specific ethnic group over other athletes. It does appear there are advantages to the way the human body has developed in that particular ethnic group over the centuries. Do you agree then, with calling foul by athletes who would be competitors, despite no proof the advantage exists?

Or is this just one more ugly ramification of the hatred-of-others mentality stirred up by Donald Trump and followers?

Those women were dressed in a funny way for Americans to see. Should they also be kept behind a wall?

Cultural values and attitudes are what make a society. It's what represents the society to the rest of the world – it's how we look, and how we are perceived - not only by others, but also by ourselves.

America has always been defined by our openness, the Statue of Liberty reaching out. With few exceptions, every American was originally descended from immigrants.

Election seasons come and go. Cultural attitudes, how people feel, what Americans believe, can't last forever, right? Look at the roots of the race problem still affecting the U.S. Would you substitute exclusion and us-against-them for the traditional cultural value of American openness?

In a hospital waiting room a few years ago, I sat near a crazed-looking man dressed extremely. I would never have tried to talk with someone looking so wild. But I did speak with him, and came away enriched, and wiser. From Pakistan, he was caring for his mother who was sick. I asked about his clothes, and he explained the traditions of his Pakistani tribal clothing. His concerns were the same as mine had been when I cared for my own mother. If I had not been studying Arabic, talking with him wouldn't have seemed possible; I'd have shied away.

I never would have sat next to the woman in the niqab and started talking to her if I hadn't been studying Arabic.

In Trump's uneducated America, the one the majority of his followers live in or the one we could become if we follow the leader and dumb down, would anyone be studying a foreign language?

Will it come to pass that merely studying a foreign language will mark you, and people might mock you, as they did the women in the burqas? Will we all have to speak the language of hate, and none other?

Is that what is happening to America today?

______________________________________________

Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.

You can write to her at: smartspicy1@gmail.com

 

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