(This entry appeared in The Westfield Leader in December 2006) 

Though Europe is rapidly going through a transformation, uniting dozens of countries through the EU, Europeans seem to be getting themselves into quite the tizzy over, what is in my opinion, the most unlikely, trivial and discoloring of issues.

What the United States of America has over any other country in the world is diversity. The American Dream, that anyone can pull themselves up from their bootstraps, no matter who you are or where you started, embraces this diversity. American students are taught from an early age to accept diversity. Imagine that rainbow poster of children from around the world holding hands, which you find in so many kindergarten classrooms across the country.

Though there are of course exceptions, I believe many students who go through the public American education system come out ahead because of their tolerance and acceptance of diversity. Whether it is a diversity of class, race, religion, or ethnicity, the typical American student can see the strengths and power a diverse body can bring to the table.

After all, there was never a forest with only one species. Diversity is a natural, healthy part of life.

What this prepares the American student for is the future, which is going to be a world made up of people who are first and foremost world citizens and later down the identity list, separate themselves into particular nationalities. I do believe we are moving into a place in time where people will identify themselves as “world citizens” due to an array of factors like the internet, global warming and environmental disasters, a united response against the threat of nuclear weapons, and globalization.

Now is not a good time to remain introverted. This brings me back to Europe and homogeneity.

“The Dutch Government just announced that it’s seeking to ban the Muslim veil in public places. The Vatican has declared that veiling shows disrespect for local cultures and sensibilities. German officials in North Rhine-Westphalia say they will discipline Muslim teachers who wear headscarves in defiance of a ban imposed in May. In Britain, Jack Straw recently threw fuel on the fire by suggesting that this bit of traditional Muslim garb “separates people” and hinders integration. “Communication requires that both sides see each other’s face,” said Britain’s former foreign minister,” International Newsweek, November 2007.

I don’t see a difference between banning the veil and banning abortions. Both are an infringement of a woman’s right to choose.

I live in a town that is made up of forty percent Muslims, sixty percent Buddhists with a sprinkling of Christian Missionaries. The Muslim’s wailing prayers are broadcasted through speakers around my village—I hear them if I’m in my front yard– five times a day. The best place to eat breakfast is a Muslim run shop where you can get fried dough and curry, I dress more conservatively when I go out of respect, that and I’ll get my food faster. I stand in line with women dressed in veils with elaborate embroidery at the 7-11. I walk through Patong, in Phuket, and see a conservative Muslim couple, the man in jeans and a black t-shirt, the woman in full, black veil, all I can see are her two eyes. (And then I see a Thai prostitute more or less naked. It’s an interesting contradiction.)

I believe many people in the West downplay the role of tradition in people’s lives. There are people in my town who have been rooted here for as many generations as they know. Their lives are based around tradition. If a woman chooses to wear a veil, may it be because her mother wore one and her grandmother and her great grandmother, that should be the end of discussion. Transforming the veil into a negative symbol against women’s rights is neither educated nor accurate.

If you cringe at veils because you think most of the time it is forced upon a woman from her husband, that a woman under a veil represents a silent, docile slave, lets take a look at teenage girl’s outfits in America. There, girls are dressing provocatively at younger and younger ages because the media tells them if they do they’ll get boyfriends, which the media goes on to illustrate, will grant them fulfillment. All around the world women don’t have a choice what they wear. I don’t have a choice what I wear here and at first I hated it. I couldn’t stand it. But as time went by in my conservative, ironed out clothes, in this hot, hot climate, it became freeing, not to have to present myself in any which way. Not to have to “wear” my identity.

The factors I listed involved in pushing us into “world citizens” are just going to grow into greater and greater shadows. It’s inevitable. It’s going to get exciting. Dress accordingly.