tolerance

Do We Need to Accept the “Other”?

Two days ago, my husband and I were sleeping in a hotel in Tallinn, Estonia. At around 3 AM we woke up to the loud sounds of two men just back from the pub.  For an hour, they talked together very loudly in the room just next to ours. They then came out of the room and continued their conversation just outside our and their doors. They had absolutely no consideration for other people in the hotel. They couldn’t. They were drunk. They were unaware that their behavior had any impact on anyone else.

The concept of “the other” has occupied my mind for years. There is always an “other”. Each of us is an “other” to someone else or even to many others. How important is it for us to understand the “other”? What happens when, no matter how hard we try, we do not understand certain behaviors the “other” engages in? Are there behaviors we can accept no matter how foreign and others we simply cannot accept? What happens when the “other” engages in behaviors we absolutely do not accept? Can we accept other aspects of that “other”? What if those behaviors we cannot accept have an impact on us, directly or indirectly? What kind of a relationship can we have with an “other” who engages in such behaviors?

Drinking alcohol is one example of a behavior that some “others” cannot tolerate. Homosexuality is another. Wearing the hijab or the face veil is a third. Smoking a fourth. Believing in God, not believing in God, praying in public, taking time off work to pray, eating meat, wearing too many clothes, not wearing enough clothes, public displays of affection, polygamy; these are just some things off the top of my head that one “other” feels very passionately about and another “other” feels very strongly against.

I have never understood why people drink alcohol. (more…)

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The Awkwardness of Christmas

When I was a little Muslim girl growing up in Midwest USA, my Egyptian father did everything in his power to segregate us fromChristmas-Tree Christmas. Christmas, we understood, was a religious holiday; someone else’s religious holiday.

I managed to get away with some things. At school I engaged in the arts & crafts activities of Christmas. Everyone at home appreciated the clove-covered apples wrapped in shiny ribbon that made a room smell nice. My father would not allow me to take part in Christmas plays or even watch them for that matter. But I did find myself humming along to Oh Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy during music class. I couldn’t help it. They were catchy tunes. Those songs were overtly religious and were frowned upon by my father, as opposed to Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein Deer that were both allowed. (more…)

I’m an Alien

My first recollection of realizing that I was “different” was in the 4th grade. My father learned that I was taking part in a class play. During part of the play we were re-enacting a 1970s American beer commercial. It was tons of fun. It involved an imaginary bull bursting into a bar. My father rushed into my school in a rage, took me by my hand, removed me in front of my friends from where we were rehearsing, and led me to my teacher. He had a talk with the teacher and later that evening had a talk with me at home. We are Muslims. We do not drink alcohol. We do not pretend we are drinking alcohol. Period.

In high school, my father insisted that I stop wearing pants and that, instead, I wear skirts with long socks. I was also only allowed to pull my long hair back into a pony tail. This was how my father imposed modesty on a 14-year-old girl growing up in American society. It was a little strange for me in the beginning. I was something of a tomboy as a girl. But I was generally fine with it. I was different. That was the way things were. (more…)

Book Review: Little Bee

I’ve never written a book review before, nor do I know how one should properly be written. But if there’s ever been a book that deserves my time to be reviewed, it’s Little Bee.

I bought Little Bee at San Diego Airport while I was waiting for my plane on my way home to Cairo. I do this frequently, but I rarely end up actually reading the book and if I do, I rarely make it past the first few pages. Air travel exhausts me and serious reading takes a lot of energy out of me.

I read Little Bee throughout the three flights I took to Cairo when I was not sleeping. And I read the remaining few chapters when I got home. I could hardly put it down.

Little Bee is a story about humanity. It is a fictitious story told by two women who are worlds apart. A dramatic event brings the two women together in the midst of a Nigerian oil war. We then watch as they are separated and their stories unfold only to bring them back together more than two years later.

We meet Little Bee as a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee in the United Kingdom. Through her very personal story we get a very human feel for the life of refugees; both before they arrive in their chosen country of refuge and after.

Sarah O’Rourke is the editor of a fashion magazine in London. Sarah yearns for the days when she felt she could save the world.

Little Bee speaks to us in a language she has taught herself so we can understand. She tells us stories about her village in Nigeria in a way that makes it easier to relate. At once, we learn how different life in her village is from ours in our globalized cities and towns, yet how similar the human spirit is no matter where it resides. This concept is magnified by delving into Sarah’s spirit as she navigates through one life-changing event after another.

Little Bee is a story that shows how love, acceptance of one another, and understanding can not only change lives but save them.

The book is written by Chris Cleave, a columnist for The Guardian. Cleave brilliantly embodies the spirits and personalities of many women in this book. He writes as if he was a woman or has delved into their souls. The women in Little Bee come from many countries and backgrounds. He uses their words, their languages, their motions, and their thought-processes in a way one can only do after years of close observation and understanding.

Little Bee was published in 2008 by Simon & Simon Paperbacks, New York, NY. It was originally published in Great Britain by Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton.