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You Think You Understand Why I'm Afraid of Islam

Updated on August 18, 2016

I Think 9/11 Was an Inside Job

My Turkish travel visa, purchased at the border.
My Turkish travel visa, purchased at the border. | Source

I'm a woman. And thankfully, I am a woman who wasn't brought up in a creepy polygamous sect in rural Utah that treats women like possessions and makes them cover themselves from head to toe. I am also a woman who doesn't get why anyone would put up with that treatment.

I don't understand women who laud cultures that stone their sisters to death for being raped. I don't understand women who think it's okay for men to imprison their wives, mothers and female children in their own homes; cultures in which all women must be accompanied by a man to leave their home. I don't understand women who support laws that say women cannot drive. I don't understand women who think it is perfectly reasonable to be forced to be covered from head to toe in heavy, black fabric.

And how can men or women support the destruction of ancient monuments, because those monuments are considered idolatrous? Those monuments are not theirs to destroy; they belong to humanity. Why are you not outraged by their destruction? Or rather, why are you not outraged by the ridiculous reasons they use to justify their destruction?

I remember seeing pictures of the Taliban blowing up ancient monuments, and hating them for it. I remember, too, that few Americans knew of this desecration, and even fewer cared.

And then 9/11 happened.

My husband and I watched the tragedy unfold before us while our daughters crawled around in front of the TV. We even raced to the store for emergency supplies after the "plane" "hit the Pentagon." And then the towers started coming down.

"It's gonna fall," I said. I saw what looked like an explosion and I just knew it was going to collapse.

"This is the reason they will use to go into Iraq," he replied. People forget how bad George Jr. was itching to go to war with Iraq. "But it's not going to fall."

"It's gonna fall." And then it and two more buildings fell, but it never made me more afraid of Muslims.

And frankly, nothing has ever convinced me that it was Islamic terrorists.

I Don't Think All Muslims Are Terrorists

I don't think all Muslims are terrorists. I don't think the majority or even a large-ish portion of them are capable of carrying out terrorist acts.

But some of them do.

I remember the warm summer evening my boyfriend and I spent in our university dormitory-cum-hostel room in Prague listening to the Russian news. I had this fancy radio that could pick up signals from all over, so we managed to dial in on a Russian news program. We nibbled at the bread and cheese we bought in a corner store, and drank Czech wine from paper cups. We were exhausted from walking around all day. Suddenly, my boyfriend held up his hand and shushed me.

"What?" I giggled.

His hand hovered in front of my face. The newscaster was speaking too quickly for me to understand. I made a gesture to my boyfriend: What are they saying?

He listened a while longer before he answered, shaking his head back and forth in disbelief, his face pale.

"There was a bombing on a bus. This morning. In Moscow." He listened a little more. "Someone left a bomb on a bus, in a bag."

"Oh my God, how awful! What happened?"

He stared at me a minute before answering. "It was on Prospekt Mira. Near the Aleksandrovsky station."

"Aleksandrovsky?" It clicked. "But that's our station!"

"Yes."

The news sank deeper and deeper, my neck tightening and tingling from the news. And then the lightbulb flashed on. "We could have been on that bus, we take that bus all the time." My boyfriend nodded. "That is our route. What if we had been on that bus?" Numbness washed over me. "But ... we're here. I had to redo my visa."

"Yes."

"We weren't there."

"No."

Which, of course, was my guardian angels watching out for me, because my Russian travel visa had long since expired and I had to leave the country to renew it. We almost didn't go because it was Russian Independence Day; the Russian Ambassador to Turkey prepared my visa himself - tapping diligently away on an old Soviet typewriter - because he was the only one at the embassy that day.

It turned out to be an obvious culprit: Chechen rebels. Who could blame them for being angry; after all, the Russians flattened their capitol. But I was thankful that I hadn't been on that bus.

Turkey is Islam-Lite

The author at the Topkapi Palace, high above Istanbul.
The author at the Topkapi Palace, high above Istanbul. | Source

My first impression of Istanbul wasn't great; we didn't make a hotel reservation ahead of time so got scammed by a taxi driver who took us to a place that was too expensive. We were tired, so we swallowed our pride and stayed that first night in the overpriced, dumpy hotel room and our taxi driver probably got a nice cut of our rent.

The room was pretty bad and it was certainly obscenely overpriced, but ... the view of the sun rising over the Bosphorus was truly magnificent. It blunted our frustration with the taxi driver, but we unfortunately couldn't afford another night.

Istanbul is a magical city. The people are - outside of the central outdoor market, where they are crazy pushy - very friendly. We took in as much as we could in the short time we were there; it is one of the best places I have ever visited. Haghia Sophia, the ancient indoor market, Topkapi Palace, eating fish sandwiches off the boats anchored in the Bosphorus, my boyfriend visiting a Turkish barber; everything was perfect, including the weather.

One evening, my boyfriend ran off to do something - maybe get another quick shave - and left me alone in the park between Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Both were lit up in the darkness, the ancient cathedral glowing under the modern lights. The wind floated softly off the Bosphorus, tickling the flowers in the park and carrying the lovely, sweet smell towards the city. I sat, embraced by time and space, when the Call to Prayer began, filling the city with its calming tones. It is the most beautiful moment of my life.

But for all its perfection, there was an oppressive air. I made sure to dress conservatively, although it was quite hot during the day. Regardless, my bare arms and blonde hair and blue eyes stood out; I chose not to cover my head because I get too hot, but noticed that nearly all Turkish women covered their heads (although I did cover it in Haghia Sophia).

We took a ferry across the Bosphorus, where women were dressed and acted even more conservatively. It was then that I began to feel uncomfortable and longed to get back on the boat immediately, to return to the western - western in both geography and attitude - side of Istanbul.

It was the last day, though, that reminded me I was in an Islamic country. Our flight wasn't until the late evening, but we didn't want to pay for another night. My boyfriend had the idea to rent a cheap room in the center of town just to store our suitcase, and somehow managed to get one. Coming from non-Islamic countries, we didn't think anything of leaving me alone near the cafe in the square while he took the suitcase up to the room. We spoke, smiled and kissed and he ran off; every man in the cafe suddenly fell deathly silent and stared at me. It was only about 10 men, but it was not a pleasant stare, and they all had the same stare, and it made me want to climb into a hole.

So, To Recap

Someone told me that I don't understand Islam, so I should read the Koran.

I made it like 30 pages in, and had to put it down. Just 30 pages in, there are all sorts of reasons you're supposed to hate or kill nonbelievers. I didn't even get to all the treating women badly parts because I just couldn't read any more.

I've been to the least conservative Islamic country; despite my short but life-altering experience between Muslim cathedrals, despite the beautiful, ancient Turkish culture, I don't want to live, as a woman, under those strict conditions. Covering my head won't change who I am.

I also like art, and especially art that depicts the human form. You aren't allowed to like that under Sharia Law.

And don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of the burkini.

No, I am not afraid of Islam because of terrorists, even though I could have been a victim of one. I am afraid of Islam because it threatens many of our western values and the vast strides women have made in this past century. Both Iranian and Afghani women made many of those same strides, only to be pushed back down by the Islamic zealots.

The zealots always seem to win in that religion, don't they.

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