Friday, July 22, 2005

On the impropriety of dressing up as Bin Laden for Halloween

Of course it’s funny, and ten points to little Bob whose keeping up with current affairs.

But apart from getting mobbed and lynched in certain charming spots of this beautiful country, there are other reasons why doing so would be improper, which have everything to do with the way we see ourselves and the world. It is surprising how pertinent a Halloween costume can be to current foreign affairs these days.

It's not the same as a Nixon mask. It wouldn't just be a reflection of how we react to popular culture, and all the joys and sorrows it brings. Dressing up in beard and turban would mean that we are giving in to a stereotype. And unlike Nixon, such a costume tends to be representative. Why? The only reason is that unlike Nixon, Bin Laden has never been interviewed on 60 minutes. He represents an unknown malevolent terror. And since we don’t know his background, he remains an icon. One who is used as a standard-- unfortunately-- to judge others who also wear beards and turbans.

What is it that makes us classify people by categories of race, religion and appearance?

The other day a few friends and I were downtown in Portland, shopping. At some point, the store assistant gave us his card and asked where we were from. Being international students we're used to this routine. My friends answered Morocco and Bahrain respectively, and I followed with India. With a smile, he quipped- "you speak English very well". I sweetly returned with, "I was just going to say, so do you!"

Stereotypes can be dangerous things when the world is more than just a time and place that ends Halloween night with kids going home with candy.

So I’m Indian. And yes, in India there are many temples. But there are also many Indians who believe that out-sourcing is a curse because college kids see it as an easy way to make a quick buck. No, Indians do not want to kill Pakistanis or vice versa- But there are Indian women who are likely to beat you senseless before they let you call them docile.

I must confess- I have an ipod. I have Indian music on it as well as Floyd and the Rolling Stones. I haven’t adopted rolling my r's- yet. And I will fight the accent till my last breath, so help me God. I don’t think the war in Iraq will ever be justified. I do believe however, that global warming will probably kill us before nuclear war.

I acknowledge the power of media. I believe in the power of free speech. I prefer sushi to pizza schmizza, and pizza schmizza to mac and cheese. None of these however, stand a chance against my mother's cooking.

In short- I am me. Human. Female. Indian.
But what am I staking my claim here for? My being stereotyped or not doesn’t affect the fate of another person or country. No one will declare war or deliver aid to India based on who I am.

Bin Laden is a different matter though. Of course he stands for what he believes in. Of course he and his followers believe in a devious and extreme form of violence in order to convey their ideas.

But not all those who wear beards and turbans do so. They may grumble at the taste of mac n' cheese, but the majority of them, people like you and me with families and in-grown toe-nails, just want to live, work, be a little happy and then die old.

We cannot see a fundamentalist, any fundamentalist, as a representative of his or her religion and people. Just as we cannot see Nixon as a representative of the American people.

Don’t shudder in fear when you hear middle-eastern languages spoken. Don’t ask my friends if they ride camels to school in Jordan. Don’t ask me if my parents have already picked out a groom for me. Don’t think every Muslim is a fundamentalist, every blonde dumb, and every Asian out to get your job. I’m sure the above stated situations and individuals exist. But they aren't everyone. It’s a pretty big world we live in. In order to deal with the threat of violence that seeks to overtake nations everywhere, what we need the most is an open mind and strong decisions based on fact, not fear of the unknown. Leaders come and go- it’s the people who live on. All of us. Neighbors. Solving the world’s problems today by standing at fences, and just… talking.


Baliga said...

awesome!!! publish this in a newspaper there dude then maybe 'they' would understand something outside themselves!