Thursday, August 2, 2007

Chickenhawks and common sense

As I said in a previous post, I spent much of yesterday shooting the breeze with a group of Israelis. In general, I find the Israelis in India to be really nice, friendly, and that they wield a dark sense of humor that is often aimed directly at themselves. British humor and Israeli humor have a lot in common.

So I'm at a table - with about half a dozen israelis, and an American girl - the girlfriend of one of the Israelis. She was president of her university pro-israeli orginization, went on multiple free trips to Israel, was closely involved with AIPAC, and then did a semester abroad in Israel. She is a jewish american, and proud of it. During conversations at the table, she would often let us know how she dispised the terrorists, the arabs, and wished Israel would be more forceful.

Clearly, I'm biased, but she'd definitely drank the pro-israel kool-aid. Just as new American citizens often hang flags outside of their homes and stores, she was more pro israel than the israelis.

War is hell. Even if your job consists of peeling potatos in the army kitchens, as a member of the armed forces for 2-3 years, you learn to hate war. I can honestly say that I've not met many, if any, pro-war israelis during my travels. It could be because only hippies come to India, but I suspect that being in the army lets you see how horrible war is.

On the other hand, if you haven't served in the army, and instead, have gotten free tickets to Israel, been showered in propaganda and shown how evil the arabs are, I suppose it can be quite easy to become pro-war - since, you haven't seen the horror.


Ok, that sets the context.

So we're all discussing the group's plan to head off to Srinigar in Kashmir tomorrow. Ms Chickenhawk has a silver star of david hanging from a chain, which is prominently displayed on her chest, outside her clothing. I advise her that in the interest of personal safety, and making her own life easier, she may want to either take it off, or at least tuck it under her clothes.

And thus begins a fairly lengthy discussion.

Essentially, she feels like she is under no obligation to change how she dresses when she travels. She stated that she was a feminist, and therefore also felt that she was under no obligation to cover her arms, legs or chest when traveling either.

I tried to be polite, I really did.

I'm a huge fan of women's rights. I can't wait for the day that we have a woman president in the US, and I strongly believe in complete equality (i.e. the Equal Rights Amendment that was never passed by all the states).

However, I also believe that there is a time and a place for things. In your own country, amongst your own people - you should feel free to dress however you wish to. But when you travel, you are a guest. Even if you pay for your room, and support the local economy, you are still a guest. I strongly feel that we as tourists have an obligation to be sensitive to the local cultural norms. That means, unfortunately for women, that they need to cover up their cleavage, their upper arms/shoulders, and their legs.

You don't -have- to do this, of course - but not doing so, will make it very easy for the locals to assume that you're just another western whore (an image that is repeatedly reinforced by import western movies). On the other hand, if you make an effort to adapt to local dress, cover up, and lie and tell them that your boyfriend is actually your husband, then it's much easier for them to see you as a proper respectable woman.

And thus - back to the star of David. She was under no obligation to take it off, or hide it. But - when you are traveling to a heavily muslim area, where bombs go off with some regularity, where religious and ethnic tensions are high - it does not make good sense to advertise the fact that you are a member of a religion who many of the locals do not look kindly upon.

I don't know what she'll end up doing. I hope she opts for safety vs. religious pride.

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