The Cultural Gap


Waking up this morning was somewhat of a shock to my system. I instantaniously realized that I had less than 24 hours before departing on the trip of a life time. Several emotions came to the forefront of my mind, excitement at the fact that I will be across the world immersed in a foreign culture , and nervousness because of the fact that I know I will be challenged both intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. After finishing Fatema Mernissi’s insightful narrative, Scheherazade Goes West, I realized that aptly describing its narrative to others was a task that I couldn’t fully accomplish. How do you sum up centuries of tradition, culture, and ideas? What I did accomplish in attempting to explain the premise of the book, is back myself into a sort of corner. As I described what Mernissi wrote, I felt as if I was left with the question “…and then what?”. How do we, as members of Western society, convey her dilemma to those who caused it?

Throughout Scheherazade Goes West, Fatema Mernissi was both thrilled and anxious to embark on her intellectual journey, crossing cultural borders in order to delve into the minds of the Western world. She almost immediately realized that no matter how she feels like she was prepared to begin her journey, the cultural gap startled her. One challenge that   she faced was the fact that human nature consists of a certain pride that many believe they have it all figured out. Page 25 of Scheherazade is riddled with Mernissi’s reflections that alight upon her personal realization that “we Muslims know very little about Westerners as human beings,” and she “had skinned him of his humanism.” The main offense to which we are all guilty is the void that remains where love and respect has the ability flourish, but is opressed. She claims that “the most obvious form of barbarianism [is]: the lack of respect for the foreigner” (25).

The farther into the book I got, the more I began to associate myself with Mernissi. Just as she struggled with feeling out of place in Western settings, my nervous feelings related to the same thought. Will I stand out? Is everyone going to judge me?

I try to eradicate these feelings because again, I am on the verge of discovery. The cultural gap that stands between our cultures is more than surmountable on a personal level. The West has perceived Islamic females as suppressed and vulnerable. Vulnerable. Mernissi not only disproves the latter assumption, but obliterates it. Throughout the traditional stories she recounts in her narrative, strength and power is at a woman’s disposal while it is the male who falls prey to his own vulnerability. The intellect and knowledge that a woman in Islam possesses is what conquers men. This cross-genderal difference that Mernissi mentions is bridged by the understanding that respect and love is accomplished by shedding the assumption that one fully knows about the other because, “to love is to learn about crossing the line to meet the challenge of the difference” (175). Just as man and women are different, they compliment each other much like in Muslim culture where males dominate the public space and women the private. Women are valued equally to men in Islam and have even been given immense power in the stories of Scheherazade.

The issues remains, if this is true, than why does this horrendous gap remain between our cultures and what do we do about it? It comes down again to love and respect. Just as it is possible between genders, I believe that it is possible between cultures. One fact exists in both the East and West, “Falling in love is about crossing boundaries and taking risks” (174). Fatema Mernissi, though timid and confused about the misunderstanding between the cultures realizes that even as these cultures are immensely different, they cause us to appreciate our own. Mernissi, in crossing the boundaries to discover and understand another culture, has shown me that my upcoming experience will be my opportunity to travel into a foreign culture and bridge the gap.



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