Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: July 2008 (page 2 of 7)

Possibility, coincidence, inspiration.

The world is full of possibility.  And coincidence.  And inspiration.

I don’t know where to start.  I feel naked; no less than three times this week have I felt that thoughts have been pulled directly from my head.  It is that same phenomenon of exposure that inspires me to write…and to read.  The book I’m reading right now – which shall remain nameless until I finish it and can thus write about it properly – follows a similar theme, at least by page 100, anyhow.  It’s the best book I’ve read in a long time, which I suppose makes sense as it was recommended (and books personally recommended – rather than taken off the shelf, judged by their cover, no doubt – are always better).

But enough about books.  I’ve lived a life based on coincidence, luck, and the concept of “je ne regrette rien.”  A path is laid in front of me, and rather than think things through, I follow it.  I live, unfettered by the natural thoughts of profit and loss, balance – not always a good thing, but simply how I am.  An example: today my father was telling me about why he didn’t contest a recent traffic ticket.  He was pulled over for running a stop sign; I don’t know if he actually did it.  Last time I saw him, he was telling me that he planned to fight the ticket, but today explained that the cost wasn’t worth it…It would have cost him $200 in missed work, at least, plus the cost of gas (currently around $4/gallon in the US) to get to court, plus a fine and possible jail time for contempt of court (I took from this that he intended to yell at the cop who pulled him over), plus a least a hundred dollars in books that my mother would have had to buy for him if he’d had to spend three days in jail.  Of course he was joking, and I laughed, but realized that I have no concept of that kind of thinking.  I am almost always willing to throw down cash for whatever my little heart desires…always have been, even when I didn’t have it.  Plane ticket to California?  Why the hell not?  I don’t spend a lot of money in my day-to-day-life, mostly just coffee and lunch.  If I take a day off to go to the beach, I make it worthwhile; loss of pay, expenses…never cross my mind.

More than that, however, I am committed to living each day as if it were my last.  I realize that this is a huge privilege, and one that I haven’t always had.  So if I wake up and want a doughnut, I have one (as long as it’s not from Dunkin’ Donuts, that is).  If I want to take a trip, I do it.  We are on this planet for too little time to yearn.  Perhaps this is indicative of my generation, or perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t fathom not living life to its fullest or taking advantage of every opportunity.  I can’t imagine not taking every possibility into consideration.  For what is life without fantasy?  What is life without believing that anything is possible?

In many ways, my lifestyle is a disadvantage.  I will probably never own a home.  Property alludes me, as does commitment of most kinds.  As my father remarked today, even a year lease is too much of a commitment for me.  But I’m starting to believe that’s not such a bad thing.  Why bother going through life without a constant buzzing of possibility beneath one’s skin?  We only have this one life, and it ends much faster than it begins.  I vow, I try, never to forget that.

The Unbearable Lightness of Feeling Ordinary

When do we lose that childlike excitement at traveling?  That excitement, so easily inspired in me just 10 short years ago by a trip to Disney World (and I’d been abroad by that point), has ceased to exist.  The last time I felt it was Prague, but then could Prague inspire anything less in anyone?

It breaks my heart a little each time I land in a new city and feel simply ordinary.  It’s normal, of course – the more places you see, the more you are able to draw comparisons and find Casablanca in Budapest, or Munich in Montreal.  The farther away you go from home, the smaller your world becomes.

I’m hoping that same feeling can be rekindled by traveling somewhere so unlike anywhere else I’ve been, if such a place exists – China, perhaps, or Japan.  Bhutan?  I don’t know.  I haven’t been to Asia, nor really to Latin America, but the latter echoes European culture strongly enough that, while I’m dying to go, I doubt my worldview will be altered.  Asia, though – for a long time, it’s been so far down on my list, but now that I’ve conquered Europe (okay, strong word choice – not conquered, but seen a little of each section save for Scandinavia) and lived on the African continent for two years, traveling a bit in that region as well, it strikes me that I must go east.  The wanderlust is there; I can only hope that it will be met with butterflies.


As I wrote this, I realized I was wrong.  The last time that sense of excitement burned in my belly was when I landed back in the US after being gone for an entire year.  It was the longest I’d spent outside my country.  I gathered my bag and exited, looking for the friend who’d come to pick me up.  Due to a parking situation, he was outside, though – I didn’t have a phone, he couldn’t reach me, he’d sent his mother to find me (and she was afraid she might not recognize me!) – finally, from somewhere deep down, I managed to remember his phone number.  I reached him, rushed out to meet him.  And as we drove through Queens, and it surprised me that nothing had changed.

Secularism ≠ Racism

I really wasn’t going to blog about this.  It’s been done to death – even PostGlobal covered it four times yesterday.  An Iranian, an Emirati, a South Korean, and a German all weighed in, all with different opinions.  I covered it yesterday for Global Voices as well, quoting several Arab-Americans, as well as a white American, and someone of unknown origins – again, all different opinions.  A cursory glance at the blogosphere finds the same thing.

What’s interesting is that the lines on this issue are not so linear.  Let me go back a moment – for those of you uninclined to read hundreds of blogs a day (you’re the normal ones, not me), the story goes a little something like this: Faiza Silmi, a Moroccan woman, moves to France in 2000 to be with her husband, a French citizen of Moroccan origins.  They have three children, all born in France.  Faiza applies for citizenship, and is turned down – some say because she wears niqaab (note: most news stories keep calling it “burqa,” which is in fact inaccurate – the burqa is a specific garment popularized in Afghanistan – being from Morocco, Faiza more likely wears a djellaba or even abaya with a facial veil called the niqaab), others say because of her beliefs (she allegedly thinks that only men should vote, she can’t define “democracy,” etc).  Pierre Tristam has a solid timeline of the case here.

So today, when an interview with Faiza herself appeared in the International Herald Tribune, you could say that I was more than interested in reading it.  Nevermind that within the first two paragraphs, Faiza’s “hazel eyes” are mentioned (this tactic could mean one of two things, and I doubt it’s to identify her as Amazigh).  And nevermind that it’s pointed out that “the ruling has received almost unequivocal support across the political spectrum, including among many Muslims” (as if pointing that out automatically validates the court’s decision).  Nevermind any of that – I want to hear what Faiza Silmi has to say!  And since the article was in the IHT and not the AP, I’ll quote her:

“They say I wear the niqab because my husband told me so.  I want to tell them: It is my choice. I take care of my children and I leave the house when I please. I have my own car. I do the shopping on my own. Yes, I am a practicing Muslim, I am orthodox. But is that not my right?”

Silmi also points out inaccuracies in other news articles – for example, that she did not refuse to remove her facial veil during her citizenship hearings.

Unfortunately, that’s where the goodness of the article ends.  The “journalist” then resorts to tactics like pointing out that “the government commissioner approvingly noted in her report that she was treated by a male gynecologist during her pregnancies.”

Where does this end?  I admit that when I first heard the story, I too had fleeting thoughts of pride in France standing up for secularism (you might recall that when Germany instituted its bizarre questionnaires for new immigrants a few years back, I strongly approved).  But love of secular government aside, this is not what I stand for.

Faiza Silmi wants to be a citizen of France.  She is also a Muslim, and an orthodox one at that.  Most of all, she is a part of society.  She went to France of her own free will.  And for whatever reason she decided to wear niqaab, she did that of her own free will as well (that’s the beauty of France – her husband can’t really force her to do anything, can he?)

France, and just about every country embroiled in a debate about immigration, claim the issue to be about values.  I don’t think so.  It’s not Mormons or Orthodox Jews or Catholics being vilified in Europe – it’s Muslims.  I’m all for secularism, and if France wants to institute stricter immigration policies, then so be it.  But as it stands now, its policies simply reinforce the already growing prejudice against Muslims, and Muslim women in particular.

The so-called western media (and for that matter, significant portions of non-western media) is constantly berating Muslim women for their religious choices, but rarely do they consider them as just that – choices. No one thought to question the values of Faiza Silmi’s husband, did they?  If she truly is being forced to wear niqaab, isn’t it his citizenship that should be questioned?  No – totalitarian or not, he’s a participant in French society, right?  Oppressive or not, we can see his face.

I’m sure if we were able to look past – not through – Faiza Silmi’s veil, we’d see a worthy candidate as well.

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