There is something strange about sleeping all night 6 inches away from a stranger.
In my case, he was a very silent stranger. I had seen him sitting with his wife and daughter in the lounge, waiting to board, and he seemed the image of inscrutable patience. Not bored, nor restless, not eating, nor reading. Simply sitting. Everyone else there, including me, was busily doing or eating something, partly to fend off the literally unspeakable fear of heading off across that dark ocean.
When we boarded, I found this silent man in the window seat next to my aisle seat. Neither of us said a word, which seems to be the protocol for travelers. Each of us wants to pretend to be alone, wafting over the Atlantic on our own wings. It would probably take an emergency to bring us to speech.
Well, his face was probably a little more than six inches from mine, and there was a sort of shelf separating us. When I made my seat recline and lay down to try to sleep, he was even further away.
Along toward midnight, when I was deeply asleep, I started up. Someone or something had prodded me in the ribs.
It was my seatmate, trying to get out to go to the toilet.
“Sorry,” he said, the only word I heard from him during the entire eleven-hour flight.
I was very annoyed although I had to admit that if he needed to go, he needed to go. I couldn’t imagine the alternative.
Now thoroughly awake, I began to watch my silent partner after he climbed back over me and resumed his seat. He was working his fingers, smoothly, evenly, not out of anxiety, it seemed to me, but as a way of talking to himself. And while his face was plain and pumpkin like, his hands were young and beautiful.
I suddenly realized that there was someone there.
It is harder for me to intuit the characters of the women I see everywhere here in Zurich who are veiled. One such sat beside me at breakfast. She had unwrapped her face in order to eat, but when her male companion stood up, she hastily began to wrap her face up with her voluminous scarf. At that, the man, who was standing, leaned down, and in a gesture I found only too easy to interpret, cupped her mouth with his right hand, pressing the veil in place. It was one of those ambiguous gestures that might be interpreted—might even feel like—affection. But it was not.
Women should not wear veils. A religion that insists on that is as culpable as a man who insists on it.
I thought we had all come further.
As Azam Kamguian writes in her Islam and Women’s Rights, “all religions and Islam in particular are enemies of women.”
There seems to be a problem reconciling the Koran with what Muhammad actually wrote, but what difference does that make? It sounds like a lame excuse to me. For the Koran is what governs law and custom in Islamic states.
And this means as Kamguian writes, “hijab (veiling), young legal age at marriage, polygamy.” And on and on.
So—strangers: the man sleeping next to me in the plane, the woman eating next to me at breakfast, then allowing her mouth to be covered.
Dimensions of this terrifying world.