Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cultural Respect

Today I had a little adventure. I took what I thought was going to be a 20 minute walk. I walked from the place I'm staying in Jerusalem to my friend's office in East Jerusalem. The walk took me almost an hour. I miscalculated the distance and it was a long, hot walk.

Most of the walk was in Arab east Jerusalem. A lot of the women in this area are Muslim and they cover their heads. It is a rather conservative area with regards to dress.

I have long hair. It was a windy day today as I took my walk. As I started my walk I realized that my hair was going to blow all over the place.

The purpose of Muslim women covering their heads is to be modest and not to attract male attention. It is for the same reason that many Muslim women dress conservatively and cover most of their skin in public. My blowing hair would stand out against the other women on the street in a major way.

I'm always concerned about being respectful of the the culture that I am visiting. So today, as I started to get towards the Arab areas, I decided to pull my hair to one side and tuck it into my coat. 95% of this action was done to be respectful and to not openly flaunt the common convention in the region. The other 5% was to keep from attracting unwanted attention, or looking out of place.

I get irritated with people who go into a culture different from their own and demand that they be allowed to do what is comfortable for them, no matter what the native cultural conventions are.

I once saw a show about reporters working in dangerous areas. A young, twenty something, woman was going to take photographs in Gaza. They showed her entering Gaza on her first day, walking in the streets with her camera . I muttered under my breath that her shirt was inappropriate for Gaza. She had on a t-shirt that was not low cut, but was scoup necked - revealing a lot of her chest. I thought to myself that someone going in to an area to try to tell the story of the local people should make a little more effort to investigate and be respectful of the culture.

In the very next shot, I chuckled to myself because she appeared with a Keffiah (the head dress/scarf worn by many Arab men) tied around her neck, covering her chest. Someone had given her the same feedback that I had wished to give her!

Certainly we can't be perfectly aware of every culture in the world. That would be impossible. Any effort we make, however, to be respectful of others' ways of doing things will go a long way towards building a more peaceful world.

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