Archive for the 'People' Category

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Views on the Headscarf Issue

(source: sign-project.de, Meyke Tapken)On my way to Hamburg, the driver’s girlfriend was from Iran, her name was Layla. I was curious and asked her what she thought about her home country. Layla came to Germany when she was 11 years old, so she has an insight in both cultures. Last year, there was a lively debate about a German school teacher who refused to take off her head-scarf (Hijab) during lessons in a public school. The school argued that the scarf was a symbol of cultural discrimination and thus also a political symbol and therefore couldn’t be worn in the school. Laizism demands the separation of church and state, but there are also the questions whether the scarf is actually a symbol at all (Muslims in Germany argued that it isn’t) and there’s also the basic right of free exercise of religion. The Federal Constitutional Court left the decision to the jurisdiction of each federal state, also the court didn’t percieve the question of the scarf being a political sign or not as relevant.

Layla visited Iran four years ago. In her opinion, there are two different “lives” not only women, but especially them, live in Iran. The private life resembles a western, individualist lifestyle: They wear what they want, a scarf is not mandatory, except in religous families, they have boyfriends and listen to modern music – in short, it is not different from other countries. Individualism is no stranger to them. The public life is regulated though: Layla wears a scarf, but personally, she didn’t feel it as being forced upon (see explanation below), although it is required. There’s a difference between tourists and locals, too: She had a short skirt, but nobody cared about it and she wore make-up and nobody told her to take it off. Her sister in contrast was asked to remove the finger nail polish – to Layla’s surprise, she even had a polish remover with her and did as asked. The authocratic rule controls many aspects of life, but it is only the public life they can influence on. The public life is regulated and collectivism is expected and achieved through exterior parity.

The reason why Layla doesn’t feel the scarf as being imposed on her was (in my opinion) a rather personal view on the issue: Women who wear a Hijab are protected in a certain way. Women who wear it are talked to in a respectful way and men know that she expects not to be flirted with – and they adhere to this (symbol?). I was surprised by that explanation. Since I didn’t have the chance to exchange views in that matter yet, this was new to me. Conversely, her argument implies that women who don’t wear a Hijab are unprotected from (sexual) advances, can be talked to in a disrespectful way or such women perhaps want to be hit on. I don’t think that can be generalized, but her argument as well as the reverse doesn’t seem right. I don’t argue (and don’t mind) though that Layla looks at the head-scarf positively, that is of course her choice. The problem in my opinion begins when the choice is made by a small group of people and imposed on everybody. A rather western view, I am aware of that.

I mentioned that during the recent debate about the head-scarf I read an article from a women’s rights activist from Morocco. She was angry that in Germany and other countries, considerable parts of society argued for and against the head-scarf. The former group she accused from interfering in things they never experienced and don’t understand. From her perspective, the women – in her country – have to fight hard for the right to choose whether they want to wear a head-scarf or not (among other things). For her the head-scarf is indeed a symbol, a rather negative one and thus has to be rejected. In Europe, the situation is of course different. But the way our governments deal with this issue will be noticed in other countries, especially in Muslim countries. The Muslim minority in European countries is still a minority and will stay one in the next two or three decades, but the difference of the birth rates will change the social proportions. Germany has been founded on a strong basic law which ensures many rights and freedoms. History will judge how well we integrated minorities into our society.

Travelling to the North

I’ll be in Hamburg for a few days to do some research for my M.A. thesis at the Institute for Asien Studies. My thesis is about “Japan and the United Nations – Peacekeeping and international responsibility in the war against terrorism” – the title sounds grandiose, I hope my professor will think the same about the content, too. Since I’m already in the vicinity, I’m looking forward to meet an old friend I know from Japan.

Friendly Spam

How much spam do you get? In my case, it’s between 60-150 spam mails a day, which is about 81% of all emails I get. Lately, it’s not only spam that’s annoying. Early in the morning, we have regularily Jehovah’s Witnesses at our doorstep, besides people ringing our bell to drop advertisement several times a day (and everyone claims to be the mail(wo)man – living on the fourth floor, I don’t feel like checking every time), salesmen, phone company agents trying to sell new products and what not. I haven’t gotten spit yet, but that might be only a matter of time. Anyway. Now I got spam, that really, really crossed the fine line of decency. A friend of mine has a boyfriend, he’s some kind of therapist. Opening our letterbox, I found advertisement for some kind of Lovers Journey and partner therapy from a doctor for depth psychology and other workshops, charging between 150 and 1000 Euros. The before mentioned boyfriend was one of the conductors – I was tempted to fill his name into the application as partner therapy seems something he needs far more than I (we) do. Being divorced and a more or less single parent with psychological issues he really ought to work out, he’s not the kind of person I would go to for counseling. Meeting him the next time will be interesting. “Friendly spam” hit the fan.

Sophie Calle in Aachen

Today my wife and I visited an exhibition in Aachen about Sophie Calle’s work. It was the last day of the exhibition.

My wife, studying history of arts and the “professional” of the two of us when it comes to art, liked the exhibition very much. Myself, I have to confess, I am less enthusiastic. The work I had problems with is exquisite pain, which took some time to absorb in its completeness.

The idea to tell and re-tell the same story from different angles is intriguing, but the first part – “before the pain” – in connection to the second part was actually very dissapointing. The reason for my dissapointment may be due to my personal view on life and values, less to the story told. I’m still thinking about the reason though. Sophie travelled to Japan, leaving behind a man, who broke up with her directly after her trip and didn’t even care to tell her the truth in person in New Delhi. Truth being told, I’m not sure how “exquisite pain” can be that intense as how she displayed it to be. I was looking for every picture, reading piece after piece up to a certain point. Somewhere in between, she wrote to her lover something he would “never read” – because she slept with a stranger (I think she was already in Japan at that time). At that point, I thought, “how much does she really love her boyfriend back in Paris? Does she love him at all? What does he mean to her?”. Progressing to the part of the story where her boyfriend left her, I thought, “Well, they both didn’t really seem to care enough about one another” – because if they did, she would’t cheat on him and he would’t leave her for somebody else. That’s why the display of pain afterwards wasn’t that convincing to me. Certainly, this is a perspective on the situation with different values – and I’m not going so far to deny other people emotions, pain or love. I wondered Sophie Calle’s boyfriend might have reacted if he learned from her one night stand during her travel. If he were an artist like her, he might create a similar work, don’t you think? I left the exhibition with the feeling that – if not one side of the story – at least parts of it remain untold?

I remembered her email address from her correspondence with Josh Greene, the guy she lent her bed to to overcome the end of his relationship. I hope she doesn’t mind me writing to her directly.

My favourite piece in the exhibition was the text next to the mirror (“Benedict – a woman vanishing”) in which people visiting a museum were categorized and compared to one of four animals: ant, butterfly, grasshopper and fish. The ant walks meticulously from piece to piece, to not miss out any work. The butterfly flies from one part in the exhibition to another, without a plan. The grasshopper sees one work he likes and jumps ahead, ignoring everything inbetween. The fish slowly floats by, but never stops.

I think I am an ant.

The Daniel Project

Sometimes you surf the net and you don’t know where the next click takes you. I read a posting in the newsgroup soc.culture.japan.moderated about a review at japanReview.net. The article’s title in question was The Dave and Tony Show. Read the review what the two books are about – I can really recommend the second one to anyone who’s married to a foreigner, but especially to Japanese readers. The review mentiones a guy named Olaf Karthaus. As this name sounds German, and since I’m a very curious person, I looked it up in Google. The top page listed in the results was a copyright form in German for a “Project Daniel”. I moved two parent directories up and found The Daniel Project.

On first look, it was a memorial site for a child as I have read a few in the last several years. Then one sentence caught my eye: “Born with a severe congenital heart defect.” That sounded familiar. When I was born, I was diagnosed with a ventricular septum defect, I was a blue baby with a little opening in the wall between my two lower heart chambers. My condition though was far less life-threatening than Daniels. In contrast to him, I didn’t need any surgery. I wasn’t allowed to participate in every sport event at school, but when I turned 14, my body seemed to have healed all by itself, the systolic murmur detected by cardiac auscultation in regular checkups was gone. I read the whole website, including the book about Daniel’s life, his surgeries and his death. I can’t remember when I have been so touched to tears by somebody’s writing on the net. I haven’t thought about it earlier, but now I’m a little bit worried whether our own baby will be healthy or not since there’s an indication of a genetic link. Let’s hope for the best, my wife’s genes aren’t as crappy as mine are.

Benedict XVI.

Benedictus XV.Benedictus XV. (1914-1922)

“Habemus papam” is probably the most important sentence said this year. After a long day doing research in the library, falling almost unconscious onto the sofa and turning on the news, this was really a surprise. Alright, I wasn’t right with Tettamanzi and I thought the conclave might take longer because the participants have no pressure to hurry up, their lodging is comfortable like never before and the Sistine Chapel has a roof (one conclave was speeded up by exposing the conclave to the roughness of nature). The new pope’s name is Benedictus XVI. The last pope with this name was Giacomo della Chiesa (1914-1922), he failed repeatedly to conciliate the parties involved in World War I. Benedictus is the first word in the song of Zacharias at the birth of John the Baptist. Traditionally, the choice for the new name carries a message. I wonder why cardinal Josef Ratzinger chose that name.

One sidenote: “That a German has been elected as pope is a moment of pride, it is an honor,” said Angela Merkel, the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (source: Spiegel Online). Pride has never been a favorable or salutary emotion. Pride as the strong emotion it is can be hurt, be it by other people’s insults, or in extreme cases, by simple difference of opinion. Where I’d have to agree, Benedict XVI.’s heritage as German apparently wasn’t a disqualification for his eligibility.