Saturday, September 06, 2008
This post has been a long time coming but had not materialized till just now. Maybe I just wanted to make it super clear, to make sense of those irrational things that keep happening, but have failed and that's why it took me so long. It started out as one story I wanted to tell, and then I wanted to write another, and then another and I realized that they were all related and have something to do with one another. The thread that ties them all is 'Acceptance', or perhaps rather, the lack of it.
It's about the different worlds we live in contained within the same one. They are different worlds because they have different rules and sadly focus on our differences. It's easier now to blurt out my conclusion before conveying the facts that lead me to it, but even with a conclusion some questions remain unanswered and I've yet to experience more so as to determine their answer. The conclusion is simply this, I find myself belonging to a different world and I find no arms extended from other worlds to accept my own. I'm not talking about the usual alienation I feel in the presence of those around me. Those around me belong to the same world I'm in no matter how remote they seem. We can communicate and feel that remoteness, and that itself is progress and there's always a chance that there will be some kind of common ground.
What I'm talking about are those people who live in different places with an entirely different education and background culture. There are no bridges between us and we're not living in a Utopia where communication is possible. It's not that anyone's better either, it's just that we're different. The way of life we have now has turned our worlds into a jungle of many species. We cannot say that Giraffes are better than Elephants, but they just don’t seem to mix. The sad part about all of this is that this is against all civilization stands for.
Okay, I'm rambling, but why shouldn't I when everything has gone crazy anyway? … The dogma and culture around us has alienated us from one another. We've concentrated on tribalism, on the differences that separate us rather than the similarities that join us. We've worked so hard in making our similarities negligible next to our differences.
The key is acceptance of which I've found none. There is no acceptance between us anymore, even between one street and the next. Who can accept the other these days? Good people; but not all people are good. Not all people can see past their tribalism and their fixed notions.
We live in a world where the first one to say something automatically becomes right, and the next few in line have difficulties proving themselves right. As children we're taught not to question though our questioning would have been our strongest asset. We're taught one thing and then taught that all others are wrong. The child's mind has become a competing ground in a race to corrupt it. Adults are passing on their corruption to children and sealing off the intake.
I was downtown a few weeks ago to buy something. The store had faulty equipment and after examining it I decided not to buy it. An old man in a Galabeya was sitting there. He seemed to have observed my untrimmed big hair and my casual wear. Apparently the owner of the shop and he said, "Why don't you buy that you Khonfos." Khonfos means Beatle, which is what they called funky kids back in the seventies on account of the Beatles and their hair. I thought he was joking but I didn't smile. People around were smiling… almost waiting for my reaction. I was calm. I asked him why he said so… he told me because of my big hair. I realized he just wanted his goods sold and might have interpreted my careless appearance into some kind of weakness that he could bully into buying his goods. I told him that at least I was wearing trousers, and to look at himself. He sort of got irritated; he said that he was dressed like a man. I told him his Galabeya looked like a woman's night gown. Men that I know wear trousers, so he shouldn't really be talking about how I look.
I think the man was too shocked and annoyed that I'd answered him back and he lost his temper. He started shouting and screaming at me saying that I wasn't a man and that I was gay and so on. I told him that if he didn't want to be insulted, next time he spoke he should watch his mouth and talk with some respect. He was about to assault me, and the workers tried to push me out of the shop gently as the man was coming at me, then we shouted and pushed each other. The people in the shop weren't smiling anymore… no one was smiling, no one but me.
Looking back on this I realized I hadn't gone the best way. It's easy to get someone angry and it's real easy for someone like me to calmly return an insult, but I didn't want anger to be the reaction I invoked. After I'd gone out of the shop I realized I should have aimed for shame. I should have told the old man in a Galabeya that a true man would not insult his guest. I know that this would have sort of shamed him, because that's how people are, extremely rude but would not ever acknowledge it.
Anyway, I realized that it wasn't his fault that he could not accept anyone else. His idea of a man was entirely skewed. He didn't realize that to be human, one must accept those around him.
It's not just him that's so remote… which brings me to the next set of incidents. There were people who wanted to do charity by filling bags with food for the poor to hand them out during Ramadan. The best prices were things that were unpackaged and so we decided to get together somewhere and do the packing ourselves. Some guys did not accept that guys and girls work together. It was something entirely dogmatic and counter productive, especially that logistics needed to be altered to accommodate for this change. I fought against it for a while, I tried to point out how ludicrous it was to alter all the logistics just for something that didn't make sense. It was entirely meaningless specially that all those people worked together in the same company, so it made no sense to consider this to be wrong.
My main problem was that men, as they always did in the past, were alienating women. "It's a man's world," they declared and that was just something I found unacceptable. I gave up fighting when the women agreed or rather demanded that this be the case. The women decided to alienate themselves from the men as well. There was just no point in fighting for something that both worlds agreed to. I'd have to move the fight over to education and culture and it's not something I'm capable of doing at the moment. The problem at the heart of it all was acceptance. The men didn't accept the presence of women in their world, not in an innocent way anyway, and the women didn't accept men in theirs. They were women hiding behind veils of senseless perceptions, and the men wanted them to stay there. They accepted only their alienation and nothing more.
Things didn't get better with the next incident. During handing out of the charity bags to long lost neighborhoods, one of the guides, a Muslim sheik was supposed to point those organizing the charity to the homes of poor folk. Some of those participating in the charity were Christian. In fact one of them was an initiator of the whole motion. When the young Muslim Sheikh got in the car with that Christian who was driving, he stormed out refusing to show the organizers where those homes of poor people were on account of that one Christian.
Is that not the heart of acceptance, to accept a human being in a common cause? Charity!! What could be more common to people than that? It's not that everyone didn't accept, other Sheikhs apologized profoundly condemning that action. One of them, an old very kind man, proceeded personally to point the rest as to where those poor people were. But what if he hadn't? Why should people suffer on account of one person's bigotry?
Going through these poor streets, that made those in Heena Maysara look like a luxury resort, I realized how alienated we've become from one another, how distant we've become and how different we've become. Is there any possible bridge?
As I got on the pick-up to help deliver those bags, the young kids looked at me like I was some kind of exotic animal, with my big hair and my jeans and T-shirt. I didn't mind, they weren't taught to accept anyone else. To them it was like bringing the zoo to them.
Now I'm someone who has dealt with numerous worlds throughout my life. I've dealt with people who are very poor, and some who are very rich. I've managed to gain a lot of friends whose status varied along a vast spectrum of wealth. Some were poor, and some were rich, but I think even with all that experience, I've never been thrown so hard into the sea of alienation. It's not that we were only different, it's that we have so many different standards and so many different rules. Goodness is different, evil is different, even madness is different.
Which brings me to my unresolved question, what do I do? I'm against change. I won't cut my hair or dress differently just to belong somewhere if I don't have to. I mean sometimes it's needed, but I don't have to, and so I won't. But what do I do? Do I try to bring myself closer to their world by at least not pushing it? Do I try to bring my world closer to others so that they can accept me or just learn to accept?
After the incidents I had almost decided that it was better to steer away from worlds that were not my own. I'm not a snob, but I don't need to pretend that I can belong to some people who are really poor or those who are filthy rich, it just won't work out. Do I just stick to safe places? Like those princes and princesses who shop only at Gucci who would pay 2000 dollars for hundred dollar shoe. Would that be me being a snob, saying I'm better than everyone else, or is it just self preservation, preservation of my way of life?
There are no bridges that are apparent, that's for sure, that's the fact… but do we build one? What has happened to have us all drift apart? Not just rich and poor, men and women, those of faith and those without? They've said that Arabs have good morals and ethics, but I've never seen that. We're taught to lie to ourselves, never question, never accept. That's more adulteration than not preserving our chastity.
I've yet to answer the question in my mind, but I do know that there's no tolerance around me. But it never really was easy to attain this, because the hardest thing in life remains to accept.