Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ok, I’ve Been Busy


My company sent me on a business trip. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, things usually suck. Hey, the food is good and so is the company, but I’m in IT, not sales If I’m traveling, something’s either messed up, requires heavy lifting, or both. Enough about me.

I shared the plane ride with one of those orthodox Islamic female types. I spotted her early at the gate. Kind of hard to miss. Traditional garb, head to toe, like a woman wrapped in a drab tablecloth. She was reading out of a small prayer book. Very nicely done by the way, the pages looked like parchment covered in calligraphy. Nice leather binding, gold leaf edges, the whole thing screamed, “I’M IMPORTANT!” in a classically contradictory austere way. The one really remarkable thing about this woman was that she was younger than anyone of that faith that I have ever seen allowed out alone.

I settled in on the plane and noticed that she was one row back on the opposite side. The flight was one with complimentary cable TV. She had an unobstructed view of me, and my video monitor. As I was sitting, waiting for take off, I was thinking to myself, “Why would any woman take such a raw deal as fundamentalist Islam? What’s in it for them to live in such an asshole egomaniac-male oriented system? How brainwashed do you have to be to buy in to that cloistered, repressive life style?”

I decided to mess with this. I decided to revel in my freedom in plain sight of this slave to her religion. I ordered a Bourbon and settled for a Jack Daniels, rocks, and water on the side. I made a full production of it. I started with water to melt the overdose of ice. When the ice looked right, I dropped in half of the JD in and stirred until the amber lightened up a shade. You have to finish this first mix rather quickly, to keep the whiskey from getting too wet. If you do it right, you are left with a roughly equal proportion of ice and JD for the second round. I got it close enough. This mixture can be enjoyed more slowly; there isn’t enough water to do the whiskey any harm. I savored every bit of it and stopped just short of smacking my lips.

Time for a little TV. I surfed the channels, lingering any time I saw a love scene or women wearing high-fashion hot. I stopped for a while on a Red Carpet show. Eventually, I moved on to Comedy Central. They were showing a 20-year old predecessor to “Not Another Teen Movie!” It had all the players in the formula cast, the stuck-up privileged jocks, the nerds they pick on, and the near-suicidal proto-Goth druggie loners. Full house. A laugh riot. As I watched this deliberate train wreck unfold, I thought to myself, “how funny it is that diverse groups treat each other badly, create their own problems, and generally hate each other.”

I became dissatisfied with this satire of Western culture and moved on. This wasn't exactly the message I was trying to project. I probably should have mentioned by now that I was traveling on Halloween. All those love birds in the steamy sex scenes were now being slaughtered by various ghoulies. They were hacking and slashing with their weapon of choice, and generally making a blood orgy of all those non-virgin, unmarried horny teens.

I began to realize that this is the way that many of the less-traveled people of the world perceive our culture. All they know about us, they learned on TV, or from our movies. How can they judge how exaggerrated our satires are? What impression do people from other countries get from our endless plastic morality plays, horror flicks and action movies? What do they think about us, based on our apparent appetite for violence and superstitious gore? What do they see on our news channels except the very worst of our society? Nobody talks about the millions of us who work and go home and relax and do nothing with the family pet at our feet. Let’s include everyone in that last sentence. How many Middle-Eastern families just want to spend time together and live life? That’s not what makes news.

Sometime between the third rendition of Heineken’s commercial featuring Slut 2.0, the self-replicating fembot with built-in beer keg, and South Park, my Islamic traveling companion switched seats. She was directly behind me now, where she could no longer see my entertainment selections. It was then that I realized that American culture looks as mad to those that wish (for whatever reason) to live a sheltered life, as their lifestyle seems to some of us. Both opinions are correct.

15 Comments:

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Pixelation said...

Culture is a strange thing. On the one hand, it deserves the respect of not being rejected outright, but on the other, it shouldn't be above criticism from the outside. Otherwise, international human rights would be impossible.

The problem with the extremes is that there is no way to breach the divide. Whatever she says about the vileness of your lifestyle is predicated on her belief in Islam, so you'll discount it outright. Whatever you argue is NOT based in Islam, so she'll reject THAT outright.

But maybe I'm just down because I'm finally reading Sam Harris.

 
At 10:36 AM, Blogger Webs said...

Good call pixelation...

And the sad thing is, it seems both our cultures breed a system where there is no discussion or learning between our cultures. So this system of looking down upon the other culture just perpetuates itself. Plus it is kinda hard to talk to someone. What do you say? "Umm, you know you're being brainwashed right? By an male dominated and sexist fundamentalist religion."

See how far that conversation goes...

 
At 11:02 AM, Blogger Kalanchoe542 said...

When viewed in such a light, I can see why people hide under the veil. Life isn't pretty anymore. At least, it hasn't been since I grew up and realized that there is no common ground. Cultures are destined to clash, as surely as the Patriots and Colts will continue to slug it out on the mock battlefield.

Yes, I am sure Americans come across as thugs to much of the rest of the world. It is probably deservedly so. Even a hard core cynic such as I can be shocked and disgusted sometimes.

 
At 8:29 AM, Blogger Kelly Gorski said...

It's difficult, often, to see past our own prejudice. I know I, myself, see Abrahamic religions and those who follow them literally as missing an essential element of the self: autonomy. I used to think They're indoctrinated, and I can show them the light, but now I realize I was projecting (a bit), viewing their lives through my lenses rather than theirs. Why would a person want to subject him/herself or take part in perpetuating misogyny? Why would a person find this beneficial? I'd think as well. Is it because that's all they've ever known, or did they make a conscious, voluntary choice? Obviously, I think it's the former, but sometimes it is the latter--for them.

I, like you and countless others, have a tremendous amount of empathy for people, and I hate that type of arrogance veiled as humility or how people seem to think self-inflicted suffering is an essential part of living as much as the next person, but I sometimes catch myself allowing personal prejudice to judge people unjustly. People are too complex to be put in a box, no matter how much they look like they belong in one.

 
At 11:14 AM, Blogger handmaiden said...

well, my obvious question is...since you were traveling on Halloween how do you know she was not just some Paris Hilton type in Islamic drag? An elaborate Halloween costume?

Seriously, the main reason I am a secular humanist is that I feel the need to get beyond the costumes of particular religions & down to the place where we all connect with one another. I feel it is urgent that human beings really start to see themselves as mankind, singular.
What is exciting is that it appears other people have the same sense of urgency.

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger breakerslion said...

pixilation: I feel much the same way about it. There is very little common ground.

webs: Yes! Thanks for the chuckle. The "Us versus THEM!" method is one of the key ingredients in a financially effective religious scam.

kalanchoe542: The whole extreme thing is what is beginning to intrigue me. If one is comfortable in one's lifestyle, why is it so necessary to be so defensive about it? I mean, it seems like the ultimate insecurity to condemn those around you for not being just like you. I think the culture of Islam is dreadful, but I wasn't condemning that woman for having a different opinion. I was merely being an irritant.

kelly gorski: Thank you for this: "People are too complex to be put in a box, no matter how much they look like they belong in one." 'Aint it the truth! Most people are kind, empathetic human beings, unless they have been pushed over an edge by something or someone.

handmaiden: To answer your question, she had enough in common with those Turkish women to be undeniably the real deal. You are right, we are in need of remembering how much we are alike and not focusing so much on our differences. If that woman had read other books beside the Quaran, and I'm not saying she hasn't, we probably could have had a nice conversation about it.

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger BEAST said...

Indeed. What a fine Brazilian woman.

What you have depicted is just another version of religious exclusivity: The Islamic women, whom you depict as a slave to her religion, doesn't even realize it.

Born and bred into a religion which defines women as nothing more than sex slaves and child bearing machines, I think the best thing to happen for women in Islam is that their husbands don't abuse them any more than their religions have already done.

Now back to the Brazilian women......

Till Next Time
Beast

 
At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I was merely being an irritant."

Never, ever, refer to yourself as irritating. I have learned that in this world, there are those who will condemn you for being irritating without your even having to try. ;-)

ILD

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger llewtrah said...

I'm a Brit. I've been to the US (New Orleans, years ago) and your TV does misrepresent you. I didn't meet anyone dysfunctional!

However, I work with many Muslims (and Hindus and Sikhs) and sometimes we talk about culture. Women can feel safer behind the robes. Their body is hidden from prying eyes. It's a bubble of privacy.

It isn't always indoctrination or enslavement. That's over-simplification or Western prejudice. There are many moderate Muslims who don't usually wear robes. For some it is a way of demonstrating their religion (unlike Christian nuns, who also cover up, they can wed and have families). Others feel it is a link with a country of origin rather than with a religion.

My sister feels naked without make-up. One of my Muslim colleagues feels naked without her head and neck covered by her scarf.

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitur said...

What disturbs me when I see a Muslim woman dressed this way is that she is part of a religion that does not recognise separation of state and church - show me predominantly Muslim nation that isn't a Theocracy.

 
At 12:00 AM, Blogger Kristine said...

I know quite a few Muslims, some more traditional than others (and some who drink alcohol). Within the last 10 years, Muslim women have increasingly been wearing the veil. I don't give a shit what people wear (and I like all sorts of head coverings) but I have to wonder about the mentality that says that the woman's body is "wrong" and must be hidden away because men might go berserk. It sends the wrong message about women being a "provocation" and all of that BS.

I tried on a burka once - the real thing. I couldn't fucking breathe. They're dangerous - women in Afghanistan get hit by cars because they can't see, and if they wear the burka too long, their eyesight atrophies! If you're preoccupied by your religious dress, that a big waste of energy.

 
At 8:31 AM, Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitur said...

I am somewhat mistaken - Turkey is apparently secular and is 99% Muslim.

However, wearing any religious garb in public is provocative unless you live in a country where there are very few persons of a different persuasion. Religion is the easiest thing to fight about - this is why France has banned the hajib in their schools.

The French government passed a bill in the National Assembly that bans religious symbols in public schools. The bill, backed by President Jacques Chirac, would forbid large crosses, skullcaps and Sikh turbans. But the measure is aimed mainly at head scarves worn by some Muslim girls.

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger homo escapeons said...

Our vapid culture is embarassing to us so I can't imagine what others must think.

The whole us and them thing is so tedious...although as a species we have turned it into an artform in less than 140,000 years when our universal ancestors waded through a temporary passageway out of Africa.

If we can ever get our collective minds to concentrate on HOW we really got here HA! AS IF...where was I..if we somehow are forced to actually toss aside all of these add-ons and accept our lineage then perhaps we can end this competition.

Since that will never happen the most that we can hope for is to get a $100 laptop into the hands of every child in the world so that they at the very least have a chance to sneak a peek at the truth.

Until all of these add-ons stop being passed on to forming minds we will continue to play My GOD is BIGGER than your god.

 
At 4:42 AM, Blogger handmaiden said...

Although, we all start out as a naked human being, we quickly learn to cover ourself in labels.(or add ons as H E calls them) "Human all too Human"
Maybe it's only perspective we lack? Or common sense? or balance? logic & reason? Empathy?

I believe in the ability of the collective human soul/mind, sans God. That's what I think looking beyond the veil means.

What I initially came here to say was, your busy excuse is wearing thin. Get on with it. :)

 
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