Saturday, 14 September 2013

For left-liberals and Muslims, cultural sensitivity is a one-way street

On the anniversary of 9/11, a Massachusetts high school principal treated pupils to a Muslim poem attacking American cultural insensitivity - but failed to get the kids to recite the pledge of allegiance. Parents complained, but the liberal education establishment piously responded that the principal had merely been offering "young people a glimpse of what binds us together as people". Oh, really? Here’s the whole of “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears” by Syrian poet Mohja Kahf (it’s long, but worth reading, I think):

My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
        of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares 
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom 
My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world's ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you'd make wider washbins, anyway

My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,
as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn't matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
"You can't do that," one of the women protests,
turning to me, "Tell her she can't do that."
"We wash our feet five times a day,"
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
"My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!"
My grandmother nudges me, "Go on, tell them." 
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display 
I smile at the midwestern women
as if my grandmother has just said something lovely about them
and shrug at my grandmother as if they
had just apologized through me
No one is fooled, but I 
hold the door open for everyone
and we all emerge on the sales floor
and lose ourselves in the great common ground
of housewares on markdown.
I don’t see a wholoe heap of cross-cultural binding going on here. On the surface it’s a tale of cultural misunderstanding, but the underlying message – none too subtly delivered - is clear: Americans are comically stupid, fear-filled, blinkered xenophobes, whereas her grandmother is the product of a rich, ancient civilisation of which these dumb rubes don’t have an inkling. True, there’s a hint of mutual intolerance – “My grandmother knows one culture—the right one/as do these matrons of the Middle West” - but I’m pretty sure those Mid-West Americans would be relaxed about Grammy Kahf washing her feet in a bathroom sink in a Damascene department store ("delicately" or otherwise) whereas the old lady seems to imagine the rest of the world should rearrange itself to accommodate her cultural traditions.

As for the poem, it’s fine for inclusion in a lesson (although preferably not an English lesson), but a bizarre choice to mark the anniversary of an event in which some of the products of the rich, ancient culture carried out an insanely evil act against members of what they evidently consider a crude, alien culture.

Imagine for one moment the headmaster of a school in Syria approvingly reading out a mirror-image poem by an American about the horrified reaction to her  Granny ostentatiously indulging in an act of public Christian worship in downtown Aleppo or Kabul or Tehran. In fact, don’t imagine anything – just reflect on the undeniable fact that Christians practicing their religion in Muslim countries nowadays are routinely shot, bombed, raped, tortured or beheaded by adherents of the religion of peace.

We on the Right are constantly being accused of cultural insensitivity. Maybe that’s true. Back in the ‘70s, when Bayswater was swamped by Arabs, I remember being horrified by the sight of men strutting down the pavement followed at a respectful distance by women covered in black from head to foot. It was hard to control an urge to tap the blighters on the shoulder and ask, “Oi, mate. We don’t treat women like that in these parts. Fit in or fuck off.” Expecting visitors from other cultures to follow the customs of the country that has so generously allowed them ingress is perfectly reasonable. If visitors don’t like what they find here, nobody’s forcing them to stay. What does seem wholly unreasonable, insensitive and offensive is to expect locals (who, for instance, enjoy a pint, love dogs and don’t believe women are inferior to men or that homosexuals should be executed) to adapt themselves to the cultural norms of incomers.

When it comes to cultural insensitivity (only towards their own culture, of course), liberal-leftists are in a league of their own – but Muslims aren’t far behind.


  1. Why is it that superior cultures always produce so many immigrants?

    Though, in fairness, compared to the mid-west...the moon has a rich cultural history.

    Odd that I can't imagine this exercise being carried out anywhere else but in the very area that was attacked...or among the kind of people that were targeted.

    They are a strange and dangerous breed up there,...self-loathing moral imperialists.

    As for the foot washer...the poem sucked. Just a stream of observations waiting for poetic expression.

    1. As you say, it isn't actually poetry - rather a lump of undistinguished prose which has, for no particular reason, been laid out weirdly on the page, with utterly meaningless spaces between some of the lines. I particularly like the way "wudu" has been given its own line, and the fact that the second line has been centred. Or maybe the website I found it on laid it out wrong. But, then, how are we supposed to tell - or, indeed, why would we care?

  2. In 2010 a member of the German Bundesbank, Thilo Sarrazin, published a controversial book with the title "Deutschland schafft sich ab" [Germany is doing away with itself] in which he attacks multiculturalism. Here are two pre-publication quotes:

    "Integration requires effort from those that are to be integrated. I will not show respect for anyone that is not making that effort. I do not have to acknowledge anyone who lives by welfare, denies the legitimacy of the very state that provides that welfare, refuses to care for the education of his children and constantly produces new little headscarf-girls. This holds true for 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population in Berlin." [Die Zeit , 2009].

    [Regarding Islam specifically] " No other religion in Europe makes so many demands. No immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime. No group emphasizes their differences so strongly in public, especially through women’s clothing. In no other religion is the transition to violence, dictatorship and terrorism so fluid.” [Bild 2009].

    Sarrazin is reviled by the political classes, but very popular amongst Germans at large [the disconnect between the politicians and the electorate is even greater than it is in the UK]. The first edition of his book sold 1.1 m. It has yet to be translated into English. He has since followed it up with another book called "Europa braucht den Euro nicht" [Europe does not need the Euro].

    Sarrazin is the Dr Roy Strong look-alike in David Moss' German election tape under the heading "Better Education!" featured in a previous post. The implication is, of course, that if you speak poor English then you are a stupid person.

    1. Fascinating, SDG - I was wondering who the elderly gent in the video was. The two quotes suggest he is an extremely intelligent man - but obviously not half as clever as the averge union member.