Over the years I believe I’ve talked about the problems of the Muslim world in a fairly balanced way. I thought that the whole Danish cartoon thing was unnecessarily provocative, but at the same time I grasp the big irony which happened when Pope Benedict XVI quoted a piece of ancient text which said that some parts of the Quran were violent (just like it is in the Bible) and violent hardline Muslims reacted, well violently. Like I said, ironic.
To add to the above, I’d like to share with you what happened on the train today. A handicapped woman in a wheelchair and her seeing-eye dog got onto the same train carriage as I did. As we got in, two Muslim women about 10 seats away stood up abruptly and moved to the other end of the carriage.
I only noticed them because their actions were so exaggerated. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, because several people also looked. They probably just thought that the women’s behaviour was a bit odd. But because I know that dogs are considered unclean to Muslims, I understood their behaviour right away.
What ticked me off immediately was the hypocrisy of the situation. Tolerance and understanding cannot only flow one way – it needs to be reciprocal. Would I have perceive the situation differently if it was two people who moved because they just might be allergic to dogs? Probably. But because they were so obviously Muslim, there was no other way for me to perceive it.
I’m not saying that they should have just stayed where they were either (even though they were 10 seats away from the dog). But what would have been preferable was that they didn’t make such a dramatic move. They could have discreetly slided down a couple of seats and none would be the wiser. I’d still know they moved because of the dog but I wouldn’t have reacted the way I did.
This incident goes a bit to explain why Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments persist. Because Muslims here are such a visible minority, they have to understand that small incidents like this shape how the greater community views them. They must also know that they have chosen to come live in a predominantly Judeo-Christian and liberal Western society. Instead of the rest of us bending ourselves around them, it is them who should be bending around the rest of us.