Cultural Letter to My Western FriendNovember 2, 2008
Dear Western Friend,
I would really want to initiate an effective dialogue with you and build common projects together far from our mutual stereotypes and fears from each other. If you would like to understand me, you should understand my culture from my point of view, that’s why I’ve decided to write this letter to explain how I’ve been educated and how my society sees certain important issues.
First of all, they teach you since kindergarten how the individual is important for the society and that you should relay on yourself and be independent. So according to your culture if the individual is strong the whole community will be strong. In my culture it’s the opposite, they teach us that “we should help our brother whether he is right or wrong”. We learn to act as a group because for us if the group is strong the interest of the individuals can be protected by the community. For you it’s impolite to eat from other people’s plates and it’s always proper to leave some food in the dish. For us it’s impolite to eat alone, and it’s more proper to eat all in the same big plate and finish the whole food, as we think that sharing food it’s a form of alliance. Your children are more independent and try to build a separated personality from their parents from an early age, whereas, we can’t take any decision without our parents’ permission and the more we resemble to our elders the more proud we are.
You’ve had special sexual education courses and have learned to appreciate the curves of the human body as a piece of art. The only sexual education I’ve got is my biology classes and for my culture the human body is beautiful and precious that’s why we shouldn’t exhibit it as a insignificant piece of meat. We are not as frustrated as some may describe us; Islam even gave sexual advices and celebrated the physical union of women and men. It is just that nowadays educational systems and Medias became more conservative than Islam itself and don’t know how to communicate about sexuality in tribal societies. You defend women’s rights and gender equality as a pillar of democracy. In my culture, we don’t even need to defend women because they have greater roles in the society than men according to Koran. Unfortunately, Koran was designed for an ideal society not the patriarchal ones we all live in today.
You can separate the state from the religion, and most of you can choose to be religious or not without being judged by the society. In schools you can choose having religion courses or not and taking your children to worship places or not. In my culture the state can’t exist without religion. Religion is the constitution and the rule according to which we can choose our leaders. It is more than a dogma; it’s an ethical code and a collective reference for the society. We cannot choose being religious or not because we can’t choose being cultural or not, and for us religion is cultural. Religious places and religious traditions are more than simple rituals; it’s a way of living, an art, a celebration, and a heritage.
The aim of this letter is not to prove who is right or wrong, my purpose is to know you and allow you to know me better, far away from stereotypes and misunderstandings. Because only I can tell you about those grey spots you can’t understand about me, and which we call: Culture. I will be expecting soon a similar letter from you to explain to me the grey spots I can’t understand about you!