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Cultural Letter to My Western Friend

November 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!

5 comments

  1. Excellent letter, I love it (I’ve been following your blog for awhile, forgive me for not responding sooner).

    I’ve never thought about writing such a letter, but having lived in Morocco as well, I can respond to a few points, anyway.

    To your first point, about how we are raised to be individuals – I think there’s good and bad in this, and I think the Moroccan model is sometimes better; here, some of us are afraid to have children because of money or lack of close family nearby…whereas in Morocco, you always have faith that someone will help you with whatever you need. Although children here often grow up “too fast,” many find themselves sad and lonely when they reach their 20s and are totally separated from family.

    As for sexual education, I think you’re mistaken…at least in the US, we’re not taught to appreciate the body! This is one of the most sexually repressed cultures in the world (though if you were speaking of Europe, I’m sure you were right). Although we did have sexual education where I’m from, nearly 40 US states don’t require it in schools. I’ve actually heard from Moroccans who had better sex. ed. in school than some friends here!

    When it comes to women’s rights, the Qur’an might teach one thing, but your society has a long way to go…It breaks my heart to see women harassed in the streets, and to not feel that they can be whatever they like. I know things are changing there, and I know Morocco is comparatively liberal, but I’ve met so many girls who want to be lawyers or run a business, and are discouraged by their families. Of course, that happens here too.

    I definitely need time to think of more! But know that you are inspiring thought!


  2. Dear Julian,

    Thanks for everything and for your response it made understand many things espacially that the west is not one block and that Europe is different from the US in some issues.

    We started an initiative called blog 4 dialogue. http://www.blog4dialogue.org if you wish to write something for the initiative you can register in the following address http://www.blog4dialogue.org/wp-login.php?action=register otherwise I would love to publish your answer to my letter on the blog so that other arab youth can benefit from it as well?

    :”)


  3. You’re saying that it’s society that has become patriarcal while it’s not true. The quran may seem egalitarian or giving a special status to women in appreciation, but that’s just a cover, and if you think about it it’s just an excuse to accept the women-as-objects mindset. The truth of islam is that it’s a deeply rooted patriarcal vision of the world, in the fashion of the precedent religions but in a more integrated and peaceful way. Don’t be misleaded by appearances and what “progressives” say, you should read solid studies on these matters or analyze the religious references yourself.


    • thank you Yahia for your comment. I totally agree with you that it is muslims not islam the issue. the religion came on a certain patriarcal reality so its instructions had to correspond to it. nothing is innocent not even religion as history prove to us every time🙂


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