I consider myself to be really easy going and in New Zealand we live in a multicultural country which most of the time works really well. I have grown up with friends and family from a variety of races and backgrounds from all over the world. Usually if I walk down the road I nod and say hello to people coming the other way and in NZ pretty much everyone returns the greeting without further thought.
Earlier this week I was in The Netherlands and there was a Muslim Cleric visiting Amsterdam who was quoted in the news as saying that no Muslims should be friends with any people in The Netherlands who were not also of the Muslim pursasion. I couldn’t understand if people want to feel that way, why they leave their homelands and go to other countries where the majority of people do not share their faith. I believe that all people are equal, but I also feel that all people deserve equal respect.
In New Zealand we generally celebrate other cultures and respect their religious beliefs. I have enjoyed occassions such as Diwali and Chinese New Year and take the opportunity to enjoy their cultural displays, their food, buy CD’s of their music and generally think viva la difference. It seems though that in some countries relations are different to what I have expected and changes that are happening are not imho for the good.
When my late grandmother was still alive, I used to visit her in her home in Oosterpark where she, (Elisabeth Augustin) as a respected and famous authoress was the curator of and lived in the Witsen House (now also with graffiti in a foreign language), a museum which was once the home of Willem Witsen, a famous Dutch artist and member of the Tachitigers, a group of artists, poets and authors my grandmother worked hard to have recognised for their influence in the history of Amsterdam’s culture. The last time I saw her, she was 98 and lived off liquid food and she asked me to get her some from a local chemist store. Her instructions were a little vague so I tried to ask a few local people for instructions. I couldn’t find anyone that spoke Dutch or English that could give me any assistance. Anyway……..
On Wednesday I flew from Munich to San Francisco (where with incongruity everyone was celebrating a new highlight in the history of racial equality) with Lufthansa and there were a large number of Muslims on the plane. The women were mostly covered from head to foot and with one exception, ignored everyone including myself with a determination. The German people on the plane were friendly (probably thinking I was also German given that I was flying from Germany and with my mother having been born in Germany, don’t look dissimilar to them).
As I watched the movie Traitor (I have a habit of reading books or watching movies that seem to associate with my situation) I felt very uncomfortable. The guy seated in front of me was reading a heavy duty edition of the Koran and was passing smaller paperback copies to other passengers. They didn’t seem to know each other, although I could be over dramatizing the situation, and it seemed odd to me that these guys walked around the aircraft handing out these books to other passengers. A number of people were walking around the plane talking to each other, looking up and down the plane and, while it was possibly simply people acknowledging others of the same belief, it was the way they studiously avoided anyone who looked caucasion, throughout the whole 12+ hour flight.
I guess it probably comes down to what you are used to, but my experience is that whether you share beliefs or not, you treat everyone with respect unless they do something that causes you to feel otherwise. Like many people I am concerned about peace in the Middle East and what the future will bring. I believe that the same conflicts that occur because of oil will soon begin over drinkable water and given that we don’t always need petrol or other oil based fuels, we can’t survive without water.
It seems that there are people and (as has been the case for thousands of years) who feel that they have more rights than others and will do what they can to take land or resources from those they perceive as having less rights than themselves. I believe as an idealist in world peace and when I am in New Zealand I feel as though it is possible, but when I have experiences like the one I had on the plane earlier this week, I wonder if it will ever be possible. I have always been and hopefully will always be an idealist, but am feeling a little more concerned. It reinforces the reasons why I chose to live and raise a family in New Zealand.
Through distance we in New Zealand are largely isolated from the rest of the world and the conflicts that abound. I’m not sure of that will remain the case when the water refugees start to come here, but hopefully we will be able to maintain our friendliness and acceptance of people of all colors, creeds and beliefs. But to some degree for that peace to exist, the new immigrants also have to assimilate to some degree. Of course they should continue their beliefs, maintain their language and teach their children their cultures, but they should also learn our language and as we are, be tolerant of others who may not share their beliefs.
People who want to set up their own settlements, and show disdain to our environment and feel that they have more rights than others, should seriously consider staying in their own countries and continue their intolerence of people from other parts of the world. If they can live in mutual respect, then they will be made welcome.
OK, now I will get off my soap boax, but I have to say I am pleased to be home:)
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Thankyou for the further explanations. I did not mean to imply the least fault on you or your behaviour and if it sounded that way—I apologise. I was only trying to point out that “assumptions” might be misplaced–that is all. I am not a european muslim either. I am asian. I had an opportunity to visit the U.S. some time ago. Being asian, I was able to join in on “all-white” groups and “all- black” groups without those groups regarding me as an “outsider”—(an interesting phenomenon by itself).Anyway the conversations that happen in a mixed group to those that happen in non-mixed groups was interesting. The “white group” talked of everyday matters but the “black group” were very conscious of discrimination and their conversations revolved around complaining of it or consoling each other on it.–the white groups were unaware of this and assumed discrimination had been eradicated and when the subject of affirmative action policies came up–they assumed that such policies were no longer neccessary. It was almost as if the two groups were living in the same country but in alternate realities!! It was an experience I found useful when conducting International bussiness because I was more aware how easy it was for misunderstandings to happen. (I do want to point out that though I happened to be in a place where I was able to experience this–One cannot generalize and judge that all white and black groups are seperate in the U.S.)
I would also like to comment that the handing out of material–if it was religious material–is unusual. I know that within our muslim communities the scholars often call out that we muslims should make more effort to reach out to others in friendship and explain Islam when interest is shown, so that misunderstandings can be lessened.
According to the Quran, it is upto God who will be guided and how they will be guided (The Quran does not exclude those who do not follow Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) from entering heaven).
You seem like a very nice person. I am glad I came across your blog.
Hi kat, thanks for your comment. I really appreciate the dialogue and explanations.
1. Agreed, I appreciate that most Muslims as are other people are peace loving and respectful of others.
2. No I didn’t think they were acting that way for religious reasons. I get the fellowship which I think was going on, but it seemed very exaggerated. I also mentioned that I lack experience. The few Muslims I know as work friends are always sincerely and actively interested in other people’s points of view. However I have never seen people hand out prayer books to strangers on a plane. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on the doorstep, but noone on a plane.
3. I don’t want to argue and maybe it is my fault, but certainly their behaviour seemed out of the ordinary to me.
I understand religious tensions in Europe which have played out for centuries, not just WWll. On Monday I visited a church which roughly translated means Our Dear Father in the Attic which was built during the time of the Reformation and was built in secret in 1661 when Catholicism was forbidden.
I also understand that hard times in many countries around the world require that men and women have to reluctantly leave their country and their homes in order to earn a living and that they feel a need to maintain a semblance of they way they live at home. On the other hand, not everyone is a persecutor and I don’t treat anyone any different than I do my own friends and family.
I should add another experience from the flight which I forgot to add to my blog when it seemed to be getting too long. I was sitting on one side of the centre aisle and a woman was on the other side of the aisle, there were 2 free seats between us. As soon as the plane took off, she raised the arms of 2 seats and commandeered the 3 seats. I was unimpressed and frustrated having planned to use one of the 2 free seats myself, for my nag and computer. The man in front of me (the one with the Koran copies pushed his seat back and then laid his hands over the front of the seat in front of me, totally cramping my space. I therefore used the table of the seat next to me for my computer so I could watch a movie on it, as I had already seen the movie on the screen. To do this, because of the woman sleeping on the 3 seats I had to hold the notebook up on an angle to watch the movie. When the meal came around she also sat up and read a book with what appeared to be Persian writing and ignored me. After I had finished the movie on my computer, I put it away and she lay down again. I decided the move was up to me and gave her an extra pillow to make her more comfortable and in doing so broke the barrier. She didn’t understand English but appreciated the gesture and later in the flight offered me some nuts that she had brought with me. By my gesture she at least saw that I was showing her respect and subsequently showed me respect in turn. The thing was though that I was initially annoyed by her actions but decided to be the better person. It appeared to me that her first actions showed disdain for me. I would expect someone to ask and perhaps say that they had a health issue or were very tired and request some consideration in letting her have all the spare space, i.e. 3 out of the 4 seats. Now of course I can’t assume that she was a Muslim and she may not have been, but she initially showed the Europeans amongst us the same disdain as the others did.
As you now know I don’t live in Europe and their behavior may be considered normal in that environment. In my environment other than the odd exception all people show each other respect irrespective of whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Bahai, Hindu or any other faith. In that way we have a peaceful existance and a happy community. We assume that people are friendly, honest and respectful until proven otherwise.
If people feel under attack, they will act in self defence, but it is a shame when this happens and they are not under attack, because the consequence is that everyone feels under attack and fights back.
I am a muslim. I felt your post was sincere. So I thought I might comment. I also do not wish to cause offense–so let me start by saying how sorry I am you had an uncomfortable experience. I would however like to point out that you have made 3 assumptions which could easily be false–1) You assumed that what a muslim cleric in Amsterdam says is going to be taken seriously by other muslims in..say–a plane 2)You assume that the muslims on the plane are acting this way because the idea of not associating with others is “religious” 3) And thirdly, you assume that any possibility of a different explanation for their behaviour can be discounted.
In Islam, a “cleric” is a prayer leader. Often he is a scholar as well but that is not a requirement. Unlike preists or scholars–a “cleric” or prayer leader is not neccesarily a full-time job. Also, the relationship with God/divine is a personal one–there is no one in between the individual and God-not even Prophet Muhammed(pbuh). Thus scholars and clerics are respected and their opinions are considered–but the choice remains with the individual muslim as to how they want to react to those opinions. There are many scholars who do offer wisdom and guidance. Also, Islam is a religion that has tolerated different faiths from its beginning. –I know this may not be what you heard–but it is true. However, there were times when tensions with other faiths also existed. —during times of war, when people of two different faiths clashed for examle–religious tension was also created. Today we see it being played out in Europe where the “clash of civilization” rhetoric is strong. There is also a lot of misunderstanding and fear about Islam which fuels and feeds assumptions that create more misunderstanding. Muslims often feel under attack and do not know how to react to it. We are not just under attack by those who misunderstand Islam but also from extremists who have hijacked our religion.
I hope you get an opportunity to meet muslims and feel comfortable. –But a PLANE might not be the best place to start a conversation….