Last November, in the context of the IDFA 2010, a film called "Arab Attraction" was screened. The story involves two characters: an Austrian woman (Barbara) and a Yemeni man (Khadher) who develop an affair.
However, Khadher cannot consider it as an established affair unless Barbara embraces Islam. Her love for Khadher and various other reasons finally lead her to the decision of converting to Islam and therefore radically change her life.
"Love is nothing but irrational" a friend of mine once said and I totally agree; and yes, Barbara admits at some point that she can not bear loneliness after her first husband’s death and that she is freaking out in the idea of growing old, facing physical decadence by herself.
So, maybe in Khadher’s face she finds the person who satisfies her primal need of getting and giving love to somebody while in Koran she finds a shelter for her soul, her inner fears and quests which are growing bigger while she grows older. Sounds like a happy end as well as a simplified explanation...
However, I do not believe that Barbara would have thoroughly revised her beliefs if she really was not ready to tolerate all these changes in her life. Needless to say it is rather a giant leap for a Western woman - such as Barbara - representing outspoken feminist and atheist views to accept being one of her husband’s wives and to barely be able to leave her house.
Barbara’s way to confront Khadher’s diverse culture is brave and respectful in the sense that tolerating one’s diversity is the secret for an interpersonal relationship to last; and we are not talking here about a woman putting up with her husband’s night snoring habit!
It is a bit more complicated when it comes to embracing somebody’s culture, which to a great extent is defined by what a specific religion dictates.
Now, the question is how much more difficult would it be for Barbara if she had not been pushed by her passions; an interpersonal relationship does not always involve a man and a woman in love. In that case, it demands a lot of will to find a good reason to get to know your neighbour, your colleague, your classmate, etc. who carries a diverse culture; that cultural gap might be bridgeless.
In order not to fall in that cultural gap we must have thorough knowledge of the elements that constitute the Other’s diversity. We must be aware of where he or she stems from; maybe then we will be able to understand his or her needs and motivation, moralities and customs, dress codes, even his or her eating habits.
It is not an easy process, as getting to know the Other is not only a matter of investing time but also fighting against well established urban inaccuracies by institutions such as media, which feed us with framed information on a regular basis; a good example is this of Greek electronic (mainly) media contributing to xenophobia when Albanians started illegally entering Greece from its north borders looking for a better life.
The disputed framed information presented Albanians as the number one suspects for robberies that occurred in corner shops and next door flats. Our middle class social environment - namely family and friends - adapted and got addicted to this xenophobia to such a great extent that when Albanians - and later on other nationalities - really started settling down in our country finding jobs, creating families, etc. we started thinking that they are a real threat for our interests!
On top of our sciolism, which stems from all this framed information we receive and from our unwillingness to critically judge it before we adapt it as the only truth, come national governmental policies to take advantage of this situation; simply by applying policies which keep their voters united and remind allochthons that they have to forget about their moralities and customs.
France already put into force the public ban of burqa and niqab, Belgium last spring moved towards the same direction while the Netherlands would not say no on imposing similar restrictions.
Recently, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated "that the multicultural model" and the "perception that we would live side by side failed." Will Dutch and German governments' policy be as enlightened as the ones followed by Belgium and France? And what our reaction will be?
Within this context, personally, I am not optimistic concerning the harmonious symbiosis of culturally diverse populations, especially within the borders of metropolitan cities, where current recession makes the living conditions even more difficult.
Superficial governmental policies and us opinionating on subjects of which we only have superficial knowledge is a dreadful combination leading to absence of tolerance regarding cultural diversity; and since tolerance is not written with golden letters on our DNA, we should better revise our beliefs regarding people stemming from diverse cultures not necessarily falling in love with our neighbour but maybe inviting him or her over our place for a dinner.