A microphone. An audience.
… Amal is the author of several books… Something something Muslim, omething else that deals with being Muslim… Something more about Muslims.
“Hi,” I say into darkness. “So… I’m Muslim.”
A roar of laughter. The darkness is kind today.
We need more diversity, people. Stories, we really want your stories. Authenticity is key.
“Great, here’s a bunch of stuff that happened to me growing up. I think I can write something on how–”
Great! But you didn’t want to write, did you? You’re a bit… But we love your ideas! We need your voice. We need your authenticity.
I imagine Oprah selling these diversity offerings.
You get a diversity tick box! You get a diversity tick box! You all get diversity tick boxes!
Diversity initiatives annoy people. Suddenly ‘difference’ transmutes into nothingness—why can’t you just blend in and be like us?
Just assimilate already.
Don’t you love this country?
I want to yell back: what do you know of love? You don’t even like yourself.
The editor wants more diversity.
Three pitches later (Women in the Arab world who…? Women in the workforce…? Women who…)
–Sorry to cut you off, but how about Muslim dating?
It’s a luxury to see creativity as a gift rather than a responsibility.
But I have tried other ways to be.
To exist in the space of my identities.
To not be defined by their heaviness.
Or even, simply, to find the nuance in all of these experiences. To provide context rather than place boundaries.
“So, I wrote this book to advance the conversation about Arab women and to reveal more complexity. Not every Arab woman is Muslim, or veiled, or…”
But I have a real problem with the veil. I was really disturbed watching a man eat freely while his wife had to lift a veil.
With every rising decibel, I understand: clearly, she cares about this more than I do.
The crowd is getting restless. She stops and waits. My co-panellist shrugs, gives me a look that says, She’s all yours.
“What’s the question?” I say. Because she never asked one. A lot of the time they don’t—just comment with an upward inflection. It’s a demand for an explanation. Clean up in aisle Migrant.
But it’s not just that. It’s not even fear of the unknown. It’s fear of what could be. A fear of enforcement, of being fashioned into someone else’s idea of what you should be even when you have no idea who you are.
Why can’t people just be honest? They love to hate our oppression, because then they don’t have to deal with their own.
A woman at a festival approaches me after the event. Her lips tremble a little as she gathers her courage. I get a lot of people who want to tell me about their connection to Arabs and/or Muslims. But this lady has a question.
Sometimes she sees women in headscarves. She wants to smile at them. Doesn’t want them to get the wrong idea.
Is it OK to smile at them?
How I moved from puzzlement to sorrow because I didn’t understand fully why this was even a question.
“Do you smile at strangers?”
She thinks a moment then nods. Yes.
“Then smile at women in headscarves.”
You can’t have peace when you don’t have it within yourself.
I feel so sorry for Arab women.
I have tried other ways to be.
Amal Awad is a journalist, author and screenwriter.