The Most Obvious Form of Barbarism

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Two years from now, I will be able to say, “I spent a month in Spain and Morocco.” I will also have an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education in hand. Each day, my professors open my mind to new perspectives and shed light on histories that I never knew existed. It is through these professors that I’ve formed my own teaching philosophy: a goal of sorts. In my classroom, students will learn about cultures outside of their own. Through this, my hope is to aid in forming a generation of people who will respect one another by means of understanding.

Five days from now, I’ll be on a plane heading to a part of the world I never thought I’d get to explore. To prepare for this trip abroad, I read Fatema Mernissi’s Scheherazade Goes West. It was as early as chapter two of the book that I was able to draw a connection between my trip abroad and my future as an educator. Mernissi, a Muslim woman, states, “…[W]e Muslims know very little about Westerners as human beings, as bundles of contradictory hopes and yearning, unfulfilled dreams. If we could see Westerners as vulnerable, we would feel closer to them” (Mernissi 25). She admitted in the following sentences that Westerners have been somewhat dehumanized by Muslims and that prevents them from becoming close to each other. It isn’t because Muslims are arrogant, but simply because they think they already fully understand Westerners, seeing as their lives are so heavily influenced by the West (24). It’s just like the West has a collective view of Muslims. How petty of us all, to judge what we don’t really understand.

Later in the book, Mernissi goes to Paris. She dines at a French restaurant with her editor, Christiane, and finds it to be as pretentious as she’d been warned. She recalls, “As I entered the restaurant, I felt as if I were stepping into a very exclusive French household whose rituals I was likely to violate, just because I came from another culture” (181). Mernissi did not feel welcomed by the aristocrats seated around her at all. In fact, she was belittled by them and assumed inferior based on her outward appearances. To those French aristocrats, there was absolutely no fathomable way that this Moroccan woman could ever fit into their high society. When Christiane walked in, however, the people greeted her with looks of admiration. Why? Because Mernissi wore bangles and colors as opposed to her more refined French colleague? Again, the idea of judging what we don’t understand comes full circle. This is the type of thing I want to prevent in my future classroom.

These quotes tie together the essential ideas of Mernissi because her whole book is about discovering why two opposing cultures have contrasting views on women. To do this, she had to immerse herself in a culture that she thought she already understood. She discovered early on that “the most obvious form of barbarism [is] the lack of respect for the foreigner” (25). Respect is the first step to understanding; how I wish the rest of the world could realize this.

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2 Responses to “The Most Obvious Form of Barbarism”

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