We have to speak about what happened in Cologne on New Years Eve, so as not to let the right-winged extremists get another ball to play with. Plus, why silence victims of sexual violence? That is far too often the case anyways.
Here’s my view:
Sexual violence needs to be condemned whenever it happens and by whoever carries out the attack. It was supposedly men of Arab/North African decent that carried out the attacks. Unfortunately after the largest refugee crisis after the second world war. These men come from societies that are far more patriarchal than European countries. The legislation and the culture and the religious practises favours men; sexual violence can be done without any repercussions; women can be killed without anyone arrested. Not all groups nor individuals in the Middle East and North Africa follows this order. There are plenty of exceptions and there has been a rapid development in some countries and regions when it comes to human and women’s rights, many of them I have been happy to be able to portray on this site.
But there is still a patriarchal norm that lies behind this high number of sexual harassments in many Middle Eastern and North African countries. And if the men who carried out the Cologne attacks descended from these countries, we have to address the issues of men having such deep patriarchal values that they don’t respect women – no matter where they are.
What I think should happen is: we need to discuss how to make these men accept and respect women’s rights. We need to address official, cultural and religious leaders of these communities so that they bring up these issues with their community members. The perpetrators should be traced and punished. If the German legislation brings that they would be deported after the penalty, in case the men don’t get have residency in Germany, than that’s a part of the punishment. What’s most important is: we need to not shy away from the subject because these men were from a – in Europe – already targeted minority. Because what they did is a horrendous crime and if we don’t address the underlying issues of men from patriarchal societies we will let the racists run the game – again.
Now I know most of my Middle Eastern male friends will not post anything about this on their social media sites. Especially if living in the West, they constantly feel they’re objects of suspicion in the eyes of whites, assuming they’re violent and patriarchal, and they don’t want to enhance this picture. Many of these men also frequently share posts about racism and how Arabs and Muslims are mistreated in the West, which is as much of a fact, but I would like to challenge them to bring up another group that is often mistreated within their own communities – women.
I was going to write about something else, I have done research for a Middle Eastern topic, as some readers know I love the Middle East and am dedicated to write about sides of this region that usually are unnoticed in the Western media.
But then there was the terror attack in Turkey. This photo supposedly shows activists from the Socialist Youth Association Federation, snapping a group selfie before the bomb blast in Suruc. Turkey, the country that has sailed up from poverty and created a large middle class and that hosts a vivid civil society – now pulled back by the murder machine of we-know-who.
Before that, it was the Eid blasts all over. On a holiday that is sacred to many.
Before that, there was Tunisia, a country where I was supposed to go visit friends in a few days time, in Tunis and Sousse, only having to cancel it when Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs changed their travel recommendation.
Before that there was the Charleston massacre.
So I lost my inspiration tonight. In this very moment, this is what I feel:
I think we will remember this time as a dark turning point in history, when dark powers started to outweigh the good ones, and terrorism conquered co-existence. May God help us, if he exists.
In the wake of the frightening results of the Swedish election – 13% voted for the populist party Sverigedemokraterna, a double increase since the last election – I have many things to say, but what I want to do today is to share with you a small list. I like lists.
This one contains a description of a few different persons in Sweden. What do these people have in common? Make a guess while you’re reading.
Person 1: Iranian woman. Has a weird sense of humor, always makes you laugh, can cook you amazing dishes that takes hours to prepare.
Person 2: Swedish-Greek woman. A person who listens to you more than she talks about herself. Brings small gifts whenever you see her, anything from a bottle of wine to a pair of earrings from one of her travels all around the world.
Person 3: Syrian woman. Always makes the gatherings light and bubbly, always makes you feel good about yourself.
Person 4: Swedish-Finnish woman. Hosts you in her house when you need somewhere to stay, despite having three small unruly kids, without asking for anything in return.
Person 5: Swedish man. A wonderful person who’ll do anything for you and helps you out whenever you need him, but also tells you if he thinks you’re completely down the wrong lane.
So what is it that these people have in common? They’re all close friends to me. Without them my life would be quite empty. And the other common factor: they all have legal residence status in Sweden, just like I do. A residence permit or citizenship is not something that can suddenly seize to exist, no matter what your hair colour or religion happens to be. And you who voted for Sverigedemokraterna, guess what? Your racist policies won’t break up friendships, or lovers, or parents from their children. People from different colours and ethnicities have always mixed with each other and will continue to do so. We’re all here to stay.
Once in a fleemarket, a woman showed me photos from her son’s wedding, proudly telling me that her new daughter-in-law was smart, beautiful and a dentist. The bride looked great, as brides usually do, her black curls spilling down over her chrystal white wedding dress.
“She’s Iranian”, the woman said, apologetically. “But she’s born here in Sweden, and she’s not a fanatic Muslim.” The woman’s friend chimed in: “Oh no, not fanatic at all!”
I always find such comments sad, because for me the bride could have had any religion, she could even have been a fanatic, as long as she respected me for who I am (and shared a fair amount of respect for others in general). I have a friend here in Sweden who supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which I don’t, and there are many things we might never agree on – but we don’t try to change each other. She has never tried to convince me about her belief, and I would never ask her to go with me in a bikini to the beach, or go clubbing. Yes, I have met religious people that have made efforts in making me convert to or gain interest in their religion; but most people I have met during my lifetime have not tried to press their religion on me, and respect work both ways.
Especially being a Muslim or Arab in Europe or US can be such a stigma, discussed in the book “How does it feel to be a problem? Being Young and Arab in America” (Moustafa Bayoumi 2008), and Europe might need a similar study the way intolerance is setting the agenda here. I also believe that by reaffirming that someone being a Muslim is “not a fanatic” reinforces the stereotypes. What if someone is proud of being a conservative Muslim? Why is it a problem?
If I was the bride in the photos I once saw, I wouldn’t want my mother-in-law to describe me as a not-fanatic-Muslim. And if anyone asked my mother-in-law if I was, I wish she would answer: “Well I don’t know. But she’s still smart, beautiful and a dentist.”
I was 20 when I took the ferry from southern Spain to the northern coast of Morocco with a friend of mine. We wanted to see something more than Europe, this was the first time I was outside the Western world, and I was amazed with some things that I experienced. You could get treated to a cup of tea by someone you didn’t know. People with very little money invited you to eat with them. Or gave you a ride if you didn’t find your way and was lost, as I usually was.
When I started travelling I was a student, and when inviting friends for dinner in my small dormatory kitchen I used to calculate how much the food costed and make everyone contribute with a few kronor, and they did the same with me. At the same time my travels and field work in the Middle East brought me to very poor houses, of the kind you will never find in Sweden, and I would be treated like one in the family, invited to stay for dinner and sometimes also to stay overnight, with no expectations on pitching in for anything. The clash made me reconsider my own society.
Sure, the collective culture has it’s disadvantages. My independency has several times covered for others during my stays in the Middle East – in the flats I have rented I have hosted girls that had no freedom or girls that were afraid to go home, couples that had nowhere to meet – as a European the common rules that a woman can’t stay on her own doesn’t apply, and the neighbours don’t ask who I bring to the house (and well if they gossip, I don’t care).
But who do I call when I need help to dye my hair? Not my Swedish girlfriends, cause I would feel I’d be taking their time, or that I would have to give them something in return. I’d call my Arab girlfriends, or the Iranian or Turkish ones. They would come over with their brushes in a blink even if it’s late at night. I’m glad I took that ferry years ago, that I decided I wanted to learn something new. Otherwise I would still be that person asking everyone at the table to bring out their purses after the meal. I’d maybe even ask you to bring your own sleeping bag or blankets if you came to spend the night in my house.