US and THEM
As we get closer to Tangier, Frank and I quietly follow our own thoughts, slowly letting go of this amazing country, so full of contrasts. I’ve been mulling over a couple of experiences we had some weeks ago, which I’ve not been able to put into words yet. Today I will try. I will split it into two parts.
We are in a friendly campsite, run by an educated Berber (with a command of a number of languages, amongst them German), somewhere in the Southern part of Morocco. We’ve had a lovely few days there and are parked up by the taps to refill Emma’s water tank before leaving. Frank is at the back of the van dealing with the water, while I’m in the driver’s seat, looking at the map to determine today’s route. A German couple is by my window, so I say Guten Morgen. I don’t remember what sentence fell next, but it somehow turned a switch in this woman, who started spouting a hateful diatribe about immigrants in Germany. I can’t get a word in edge-ways, she is so keen to foist her views on me. At full volume and using derogatory terms – remember, this is a campsite where the owner speaks German! – she tells me about the problems they bring to Germany.
I’ve been thinking for a long time, whether I should give space to her words in this blog, or anywhere else for that matter. I’m still not sure, but I also feel that we have to face the fact that these mindsets exist, so here we go. Please note, what follows in italics is NOT my point of view, but I am quoting the woman I described above!
“…of course they all steal like magpies. And they are not interested in working. In our town, we suddenly had 80 immigrants. The local industry gave those Moroccans the opportunity to train for two years, but they walked out after two weeks and went into the black market instead. All they are interested in is money. So they said, “show me how to do a thing and I’ll do it for you and then give me proper money for it. Who needs training?” (note how a nationality turns into a swear word, synonymous for laziness, thievery and thugishness and is used regardless of the actual nationality of the people she speaks about!) A social worker went to a family to talk to the parents about the integration of their children into the school and all the parents wanted to talk about was when they are going to be given a television and a car. And the girls in our town are learning the hard way not to be nice to a stranger. They’ve been raised to smile at everyone, but they are now paying the price for it. They know now to take a weapon with them if they want to go out in the evening, what with all those Moroccans around. And those Kopftuchweiber (I am still struggling to find an adequate translation for such a derogatory term, something like Hijad Hags), I gave them a piece of my mind the other day, when they were walking, three abreast with their arms linked, babbling to each other, not paying any attention to anyone or anything and this poor old German woman with a Zimmer frame has to move out into the road to let them pass. When I had a go at them for being so insensitive, they have the audacity to call me a Nazi! And the other day, a whole horde of men, just walked into a Lidl, took what they wanted and walked out, with no-one able to stop them! In Bottrop (that’s a town in the Ruhr valley, previously thriving on steal industry) they’ve built all these new houses – for whom? Not for the poor Germans who’ve been on waiting lists for years, but no, it’s for the Newcomers! So they get state of the art housing while our socially needy people go empty handed! Where’s the justice in this? Merkel wants to be nice to the immigrants and we Germans have to suffer the consequences. But this is not going to continue much longer, enough is enough. This problem is going to explode.”
Please note, all of this (and more!) was raining down on me in the time that it took Frank to fill our water tank with a hose, and that’s only 65 litres! Meanwhile, her husband was standing by her side, vigorously nodding his head, interjecting a sentence here and there when she had to catch a breath before heading into the next chapter of her diatribe. I am listening, speechless.
Frank climbs into the cabin and I’m barely able to say ‘let’s get out of here’, I’m so overwhelmed by this onslaught and the emotions it has unleashed in me. We leave the Germans in mid-sentence, mid-rant.
It’s some days and many miles later that I’m beginning to be able to think about how I would have liked to respond to this couple. This often happens. It’s so frustrating. I have a very clear feeling in my body, but I’m unable to formulate it into words at the time. I need presence of mind and clear thinking, and instead I have this dread and a kind of thick grey wall, an almost dreamlike sensation of all facilities shutting down, like having to wade through treacle. In those moments, I acutely feel the lack of ability, or maybe lack of tools, to respond in the moment, rather than many weeks later in a blog, when it’s highly unlikely that it will ever reach those for whom it is intended.
Better late than never though, so here are some of the thoughts I’d have liked to have shared with this couple, in the hope that if I ever come across such a situation again, I’d be more responsive:
*If you distrust and hate foreigners so much, why do you come to Morocco for your holidays?
*Do you realise that this campsite’s owner is within earshot? I’m sure you know he speaks German because that would have been the language you used when signing into the campsite, unless you are Arab speakers, which seems highly unlikely.
* I find it strange that per se there should be a higher danger for young German women around muslim men, as my experience here in Morocco was the opposite – I have felt MORE, not less secure as a woman who is not from their culture, when walking around on my own. If there truly is an increased risk, it would be interesting to think about what happens to someone’s values when they leave their own culture. How come these people change so dramatically when they arrive in Europe?
* How much of this gets distorted in the media? Do you draw a line between your own experience and hearsay? What is the role of the media in possibly emphasising the nationality and/or religious affiliation of a person as and when it suits them to create a certain picture? How much should we believe what we read these days?
*It is odd to think that Muslims per se would be more likely to steal, because just as with personal safety, our experience here in Morocco has been that we have felt much safer with our vehicle. There seems to be a strong cultural taboo about stealing, so again, if it is really true that there has been a high incidence of stealing, then my question again would be what happens to the values of a person who gets removed from their own culture?
*Ditto with violent acts. Personally, I perceive the culture here in Morocco to be softly spoken, gentle and extremely welcoming don’t you? It doesn’t fit with what you are telling me about the situation in Germany. What are your personal experiences of the culture here, and how do you relate this to what you personally have experienced in Germany?
*When you unloaded your grievances onto the three women, whose only crime was walking arm in arm, were you aware that you put on them all your other misgivings?
* What do you contribute towards mutual understanding?
(There is, of course much more, but that’s enough for now…)
On another occasion, I have an opportunity to talk in depth (and in a language I am more fluent in than Arabic or French), with a Muslim man about the meeting of Islam with the West, and the question of whether they are somehow incompatible and if so, why.
Let’s call him Abdul. Our conversation starts on the subject of education. Abdul tells me how Islam puts a high emphasis on knowledge. As I’ve recently been mulling over the position of women in Muslim society, I ask him how it can be then that young women in more radical Islamist countries are denied the same access to higher education as their male contemporaries. I must have hit some kind of sore spot with this question, because in response, Abdul goes into what seems like almost a lecture, not responding to my question at all. He says: “If you look at an image of a Muslim man holding a weapon, what do you think? You think he’s a terrorist. But have you considered where that gun came from? This gun was not made in his country, this gun comes from a ‘democratic’ country that is enriching itself by selling weapons to a Muslim country, and is happy to fuel conflict for its own gains. Who is the terrorist then?”
Ok., I think that is a good question, although not at all what I was asking about. But I’m holding back, trying to see where he’s going to draw the connection, if there is one.
Here are some thoughts that Abdul mentioned in his talk. I agree with him on a number of points, however, on the whole it sounded dogmatic and brain-washed. I also know far too little about any of this to have an informed opinion myself.
Abdul’s points of view:
*Islam demands respect for women and it forbids alcohol and prostitution.
*Islam offers a system that cares about the common people. Democracy plays into the hands of the rich minority.
*Democracy and Islam are two mutually incompatible systems. Islam is the only truly functioning system. Systems that don’t work eventually break down and this is what’s happening now with democracy – you can already see it crumbling.
*Islamic law clashes with other systems. Islamic countries would always choose their system over democracy. However if they do, the west interferes and imposes democracy. Why? Because they have a vested interest. And if they can’t control the country this way, they invade it, or they try and destroy it by dividing its people and supporting radical groups to increase conflict.
*Islam is misrepresented, maligned and oppressed in the west. Just like the Jews were in the third Reich. But this time, Germany will help to bring clarity. The German people will help Islam (interesting thought – where did that come from, what is this based on? Especially the bit about Germany. If anyone recognises a particular school of thought here, a particular doctrine, could you please point me towards where to look? Because this was not the only occasion when we heard this)
Just as with the German couple’s rant, I feel that fog descending inside me; I feel unable to respond decisively, lacking time and clarity to express myself despite feeling something clearly in my body. I understand some of Abdul’s misgivings. What currently goes on in the name of democracy for sure leaves a lot to be desired….But –
With hindsight I can say what troubled me. Somehow Abdul very quickly got into an ‘Us and Them’ scenario. I felt uneasy to the point of nausea as I followed what sounded like it might have been indoctrinated speech. Unable to speak, I watched myself as I listened to Abdul, and though there are many points I agreed with him on, I felt increasingly sick.
I would have liked to tell him that I felt uncomfortable with our conversation – which up to then had been personal, connected and informative – turning into a political discourse. Where does this come from? Can we remain connected, you and I, when we speak about things? I’m interested in what you have to say, however, I’d prefer a personal exchange rather than a lecture or political debate.
I have to say, I may have brought the latter onto myself by asking a generalised question about women in education. But from what we have experienced, I do feel that it is Morocco’s future to wake up the sleeping potential of the power of woman in society. Morocco is much further on than some of its neighbours, with regards equality for women, and yet, we heard teachers talk about a big drop-out of girls once they reach a marriageable age. One teacher said that in a class of 16 year olds in his school 25% are girls, and that is a huge advance to what it used to be like. He felt this to be a success. For many girls leaving school, especially in the rural areas, it seems their next task is to get married!
In the houses we have visited in the last three months, the acceptance of women as equal to men in a family was like a barometer for a family’s happiness. The families where teenage daughters openly spoke about planning to study law and felt the proud support of their fathers, where everyone – women and men, boys and girls – sat down to share the dish of couscous together, those were the ones where love permeated the very fabric of the house.
I have no answers to many of the issues raised in this chapter, but I feel strongly that it is important to refrain from rants and steer away from regurgitated and possibly distorted information, and instead to seek out human connection and compassion. We need to listen and try to understand what’s going on if we are to find positive solutions.
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