One frequent and unimaginative critic of mine keeps calling me “Islamophobic.” Here is another proof!
I am at the beach in that state of dreaminess that watching children playing in the wavelets on a warm day induces. I am keeping an eye on my lovely and tough grand-daughter who is three. She is doing interesting things in the shallows of a Pacific Ocean that’s not too cold for once.
My eyes are drawn to a small girl in a short wetsuit who looks a bit like my grand-daughter from a distance. But the girl is both smaller and older, maybe around five. And she is a blonde with very white skin while my grandchild has apricot skin and brown hair. (It’s a long story, another one! Let’s just say that she has Indian blood, from India, that is.) The little fay stranger holds a tiny boogie-board in both hands and fiercely throws herself into the small waves brandishing the board in front of her. This goes on for a long time without the girl ever coming close to catching a wave. I can only admire that strange little girl’s determination. She seems even tougher, even more determined, than my grand-daughter and that, has never, never happened on that particular beach, not once!
There are plenty of parents at the water’s edge keeping an eye on their offspring. I notice from the corner of my eye a woman who is looking at the little girl from a fair distance. I guess she must be in charge of the girl. There is something strange about the putative mother though. She is covered from head to ankle and she wears a full hijab, the Islamic head covering, and there is even a straw-hat on top of of the hijab. I inch close to her because I am a conscientious social scientist. Soon, it becomes obvious to her that I am watching a little girl in a wetsuit as is she. I smile at the woman and make some anodyne comment. She answers calmly in an equally meaningless way. She has said enough for me to notice that she has a foreign accent that sounds more or less French. I ask her in French if she speaks French. She responds in the same language in a sing-song accent but with perfect fluency. She says she is Romanian. The Romanians I meet all speak good French, even once a traffic cop in Bucharest, a long time ago. (That’s in a story published in the periodical “Liberty.” ) I can’t see any of her hair but the veiled Romanian lady has bright blue eyes. Hence the little girl’s coloring. She adds that her husband knows French very well because he is from Morocco. (Most Moroccans get most of their schooling mostly in French.)
In the meantime, two boys, seven or eight or nine, in full wetsuits, approach the little girl and talk to her kindly in a language I don’t understand. I just know it’s not Romanian. They handle her sweetly for a little while. The youngest boy plants a kiss on the girl’s cheek. The two boys are rather dark skinned and they both have brown hair. They could be my grand-daughter’s siblings in fact. Do you see where this is going?
Then, the Romanian lady begins looking outward, toward goings-on in the bigger waves, one hundred yards off the beach. A man in a bathing suit is frolicking there quite competently. This draws my attention because I seldom see a man over twenty-five in water over his head, and almost never one who does not wear a wetsuit. Few contemporary American men seems to be competent ocean bathers. Or those who are all take up surfing and never show up on family beaches. And others may be competent but too lazy or too wussy actually to swim in our cold central California ocean. It’s remarkable because I see women swimming in simple bathing suits fairly frequently.
I notice that the man the Romanian lady is watching is not alone. He is in the company of a woman who also seems to know what she is doing in the waves. That second woman is also clad in a full Islamic outfit. A hijab that must be tightly held to her hair by numerous pins covers her head. She seems dark-skinned. From a distance, she appears attractive. You can tell she has a slim body. She does not swim much but it’s obvious that she can and it’s obvious she enjoys the fairly big waves. After a while, the man and his woman companion do what loving couples often do in the ocean when they think they are far enough. They feel each other up. I wouldn’t be surprised if the man had attempted to prove to the woman that the cold water had not diminished him. It all looked familiar to a habitual beach-goer like me except the woman’s outfit, of course.
After a while, the mermaid leaves the water and goes with a beach-bag toward the building where you can change. The man also comes out of the water after a little while. He exchanges a few words I don’t hear with the Romanian lady. Then, he walks toward me a with a friendly smile. He offers his hand and introduces himself as a Moroccan. Not to brag but I already guessed this, down to the town where he had lived in Morocco. (Rabat, on the Atlantic Ocean where there are big waves and the water is on the cool side.) He and his family have been in the US for nine years. They live in Santa Clara (in Silicone Valley). And no, he is not associated with the large Islamic center there. He is an accountant. I don’t want to pry. I tell him I used to be French. He is a little puzzled, a little interested but his peripheral vision grasps something that draws him to the spot where the children and the lady swimmer, now changed into long dry clothes, are sitting.
After a little while, he ambles back to me holding a metal mug full of very hot, mint flavored Moroccan-style tea. When I am finished, I am smart enough not to walk to his spot to return the mug. (I keep telling you I am a distinguished social scientist!) The two hijab-covered women and the three children are now bunched together on the warm sand. The man comes back to me with a half of a Moroccan cookie. And then, he returns to pick up his mug.
The Moroccan accountant has been more than friendly. He has been more cordial, has shown greater hospitality than would come forth with Americans casually met at the beach (and Americans are almost always very friendly at the beach except when they are drunk which makes them territorial). Yet no intimacy has developed at all between me, a man alone with a small child, and the Moroccan family. He has kept me at a distance while befriending me. Any contact with another man who is not a relative is haram for certain kinds of Muslims. It’s simply forbidden, even on a beach, even in California. I don’t know the Moroccan’s name though he knows mine. We will not contact each other again as is common here among francophones after a chance encounter.
There are several stories in my story. First, a polygamous family is thriving in our midst. It resides in this paragon of modern life, Silicone Valley. How they manage their family life from a legal standpoint, I don’t know. But there is probably no California law preventing a man from living under the same roof with both his wife and his mistress. (The main reason non-Muslims like me seldom try it is simply abject fear of their wives.) There is obvious affection between the children from the two wives. Of course, I don’t have the answer to the main and louche question: How do the wives get along? Yet, I noticed that they wore outfits of similar colors, grays and blues. It’s not far-fetched to guess that they might borrow clothes from each other, like sisters. Their common husband seems perfectly at ease. In the short span of our tiny conversations, he used the words, “my wife” with respect to both women in turn. No explanation necessary, he thought.
Second, America is open-minded and California is both open-minded and excessively cordial. Relax! The old underlying charges of racism and xenophobia against Americans have become absurd. They have lost all their currency in my lifetime.
Third, I am pretty sure that there are not native-born Muslims in Romania. Have not been for at least a century. (A Romanian reader of mine will correct me if I am wrong on this point. He corrects me on everything else, so, why not?) The blue-eyed woman Mom with the hair veil is a convert to Islam.
Fourth, something happened to me on that beach (again). I am realist. I know that more than 9/10 of terrorist acts worldwide in the past twenty years were committed by people who called themselves Muslims. And all terrorists acts against America and Americans. The connection with my beach acquaintances is fairly straightforward, I think. Islamic garb is not a fact of life, it’s a chosen part of a chosen life-style. The choice also constitutes a forthright rejection of my civilization and of some of its central values. Notwithstanding what silly feminists want you to believe, central among those central values is the Western belief that women are full human beings. Full adult human beings are sexual beings. Any repression of the harmless affirmation of their sexuality is an attack on my civilization. Sex repression is repression; it’s usually the first repression, in fact. As I often affirm, with practically no contradiction: Show me a woman who never acts a little sluttish in her appearence and I will show you a repressed woman or a depressed woman.
There is more: When they are allowed to, women everywhere advertise their wares. Often, they even do it where they risk their lives by doing so. That’s hard-wired behavior. I has to be. That’s the normal way and the natural way for women to attract a mate. Where this path is closed, women are the object of arranged marriages. Mostly, with arranged marriage frequently goes the status of women as chattel. To a large extent, it’s either cleavage or slavery.
A combination of crass ignorance and of benevolence causes many Americans to believe that Muslim women who wear full Islamic garb, including the hijab, are just following their religion. It’s not so. The Koran says nothing about women covering their hair. Neither do the oldest hadiths, the most valid sources by Muslim jurisprudence. The Koran simply recommends in general terms that women be “modest.” The people on the beach have decided to follow a certain brand of Islam. To believe otherwise is to affirm that the millions of Muslims women who dress like my sister are all, without exception, bad Muslims. That’s ridiculous. The rejection of my civilization implicit in female Islamic garb is deliberate, aggressive, in my face
And polygamy is rare today in the Islamo-Arab world. It’s especially rare in the middle-classes. There might even be only one Moroccan accountant in the whole world who is a polygamist and I know him! Although it’s explicitly allowed, polygamy is considered backward. It’s also a conscious rejection of the modern world I inhabit and in which millions of Muslims reside happily.
Next linkage: Do violent jihadists recruit from social milieus where women act just like Methodist Americans, or yet, from that part of Muslim society where young women wear crotch miniskirts (I have seen those)? Or do they focus their recruiting attention on the men from families where women are covered from the top of their heads to their ankle and where a man may have four “Moms”?
And here I go again, I have to tell you what I did not say. I did not say that all, or most, or many hijab wearers engender terrorists. Or that polygamists do. I would bet good money that the extended family on the beach are not terrorists and are no aiding and abetting terrorism in any tangible way. What I did say is that terrorists are unlikely to come from groups were women go bare-headed and from women who have one husband each. So, I have every reason to detest that particular brand of Muslims. That’s the brand whose very appearance proclaims that they dislike and feel contempt for my world. In fact, I am ready to dislike them on sight and I am suspicious of them. Men whose women wear the hijab I suspect of being capable of routinely committing horrendous crimes against women and little girls, with the approval of their brand of religion. And mass murder is only one of those crimes and not necessarily the worst crime.
So, did the chance meeting on a Santa Cruz beach change my mind about anything? No, it did not as the last paragraphs above indicate. The encounter, and the kindness of a mug of tea and half a cookie have done something to me though. Together, they have smoothed my angles. They have made my potential hostility less potent, at least for a while. It did not take much. And it always works out that way. I have known Muslims all my life. I can’t remember a single individual Muslim I disliked. A handful of Muslims are close to my heart as I write. Over the years, my liking of individual Muslims has murkied up my analysis quite a lot. Also, and I doubt the polygamist was thinking that way, I would bet he was not because a strong sense of hospitality is a big part of Arab culture but, if his hospitality had been an intended investment in peace, it would have been a good investment.
I wonder if our own national policies are ever based on the same model. I wonder if any part of our federal government understands the art of rounding off angles, of smoothing relations with small gestures. When I was in Morocco, five years ago, Dolly Parton and Ray Charles traveled in the taxis with me and they walked though the souks alongside me. I am hoping that the State Department or any branch of the federal government is handing out fifty cent music CDs through the Arab world the way the polygamist handed me a mug of tea on that Santa Cruz beach.
Note: Of course, I will publish integrally on this blog any comment or, at least any comment that is not an appeal to crime. I welcome especially comments from Muslims. I may add my own comment to any comment, of course.