Why do I have to respect your culture?

2009-09-24 00:00

DECENT people are brought up to respect other people’s cultures. We’re told that by respecting the traditions, beliefs and social behaviour of other people, it’ll promote tolerance and the world will be a better place.

Well, it is not working. Last time I checked, despite globalisation and the consequent increase in multicultural knowledge, the world was still a pretty awful place.

Maybe there just aren’t enough people who have decent upbringings. Or maybe people simply lack the imagination to truly allow themselves to understand and respect the “other”. Or, most likely, the majority of people are just bigots.

Then again, I’m a nice, tolerant, limp- wriste­d liberal and even I sometimes find it hard to respect different cultures’ traditions and superstitions. Hell, I don’t even respect my own culture. Which is why I’ve rejected so many aspects of it.

Shouldn’t we respect the person, instead of the culture? Because guys, let’s be honest: people hide a lot of very nasty things behind the untouchable idea of “culture”. It reminds me of how often society tacitly allows wife battery and child molestation because it’s considered “domestic”.

The problem with culture is that it’s often based on age-old customs that don’t necessarily fit in today’s world. And once these sacred pockets of cultural constructions become impervious to scrutiny and criticism, it creates a stagnant breeding ground for backward thinking.

Honestly? I think it’s weird that some women are expected to cover their hair, while others think you need anorexia, collagen lips and silicone boobs to be pretty. Also, I think it’s unfair to work like a slave for your in-laws and be treated badly while you’re newly married and haven’t produced a child.

And I think it’s horrific to cut out a girl’s clitoris and labia with a torn Coke can. I’m sorry. I don’t respect that. And neither should you.

The idea that reconciliation, acceptance and amalgamation can happen through the “hands off my culture” attitude is bizarre. If anything, culture creates an often unbridgeable gap between people.

People respect other people despite their cultures.

For instance, my Muslim friends do not respect the fact that I drink and I don’t for a minute expect them to. It seems poisoning yourself with weird-tasting beverages which often results in tuneless singing and unco-ordinated dance moves just isn’t very appealing if it’s not part of your culture.

But they still like me as a person.

So much so in fact that I was invited to celebrate Eid at a friend’s house last Sunday. I didn’t have a hangover, I wore something that didn’t show my boobs and I didn’t swear even once or talk too loudly. All four things are unusual for me, but I did it because I have the greatest respect for her and her family.

My husband, on the other hand, believes this is all twaddle and argues that a person’s culture is an intrinsic part of him or herself that cannot be denied or ignored. He also points out that it’s typical of my culture to criticise other cultures and think mine superior.

I would have klapped him if I believed in violen­ce.

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