One root, two different paths
After a two hour Skype conversation with my relatives whom I have not seen or spoken to for fifteen years, I realized I had missed out on a whole different culture and new norms that the younger generations in my age group in parts of Kurdistan have embarked upon of late.
I grew up in the West and with an upbringing that involved two very different cultures and values, I soon learnt to embrace them both and live my life with a mixture of cultural influences. There was confusion at times of course, and I could not fully comprehend the differences between the Norwegian and Kurdish values, norms and ways of respect. One of these confusions for instance was the way in which you greet strangers and those older than yourself.
Early on at school we were taught that when you meet someone for the first time or older adults it is important to give a firm handshake and make good eye contact when introducing yourself. This in the Western world is considered valuable in making a good first impression. I was often criticized by my teachers that I lacked confidence to make eye contact even during class presentations.
What my teachers did not know was that confidence had little to do with it. What I was taught at home however, was much more explanatory to the issue. In the Kurdish culture, at least from my upbringing at home, it is important that you avoid looking people in the eye as this is considered disrespectful particularly when introducing yourself. This confusion continues to haunt me at times even today.
During our conversation on Skype with one of the girls who I used to play hopscotch with on our famous asphalt outside the front door, which many houses did not have at that time, I was fascinated by how adversely different we were in regards to the discussion on women’s role in society.
She was against women’s presence in any discussion or even in the same living room as guests or strangers. And profoundly, she was continuously referring to hand greetings with men as ‘haram’ and a shame. As hard as I was trying to restrain my frustration I could not help but think how little this 24 year old young woman was thinking of herself. And as it seems she could not help but tell me ‘’Diane you are too westernized you should pray and find God’’.
For me it is difficult to understand that God created men and women so unequal that women are the servants and men the masters. For her it is unheard of to try to equalize both genders on levels of intelligence and capability. One root yet two extremely different perspectives influences by society and social beliefs.
I was stunned by the influential impact of what they call ‘Islamic’ beliefs over the past decade. Most of my relatives did not know how to wear the scarf and now they are preaching outdated traditions underestimating the value of women in society.
My father was disappointed to learn that some of his female relatives did not greet him on his trip back last month for rea- sons they justify as haram.
I am nevertheless, disappointed to see that women are underrating their ability to make a change and participate in social issues like our empowering and heroic female figures of today and throughout the past. Including Kurdish activists Leila Qasim and Leila Zana, politician Nasrin Berwari, famous poet and contributor to the Kurdish literature Mastura Ardalan, singer Meryem Khan and tribally influential Hafsa Khan to name a few.
Perhaps our two differentiated spectrums are a far cry from reaching an agreement on women’s capability to contribute in the Kurdish society other than sitting in the backdoor of the living room. Optimistically however, I choose to hope that Kurdish women commit to thinking that despite religious beliefs the modern world needs their helping hand to shape a future that reflects a more equal society.