One root, two dif­fer­ent paths

The Kurdish Globe - - CULTURE - Diane Rah

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.

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