OPINION: Western countries unaware of outside cultures

Arnav Damodhar | Associate Editor

Wearing a burqa isn’t a crime. It’s a symbol of honor.

Nice became one of the many French towns this year that began to ban burkinis, swimsuits that covers the torso, limbs, and head. After the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015 and the Bastille Day truck attack on June 13, 2016, the French government has started to fine women for wearing Muslim attire in beaches to prevent the promotion of radical Islamic beliefs. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who supports the ban, said the garment represents an enslavement of women.

The burkini, however, does not exclude women from activities — it paves the way for their inclusion. It makes it possible for them to enjoy leisure activities, while staying true to their faith. But as a result of the ban, armed policemen have forced women to take off their shirts and to leave the beach if they refuse.

The ban on burkinis is not just a matter of feminism, but a matter of cultural awareness.

One of our Presidential candidates is considering banning the entire Islamic population from the country, despite knowing anything about it. After 9/11, Sikhs, a group of people indigenous to India, were targeted and many considered them to be terrorists, just because they wore a turban, and they were not even Muslim.

But the attempts to regulate the Muslim faith do not accomplish security, but rather create an avenue for more hatred.

Being a global society, it is our duty to be more educated about cultures across the world.

Despite being a person of color and living in India for approximately half my life, I am knowledgeable about the Western culture and tradition because I have tried to educate myself.  I know that the Amish are a group of people that live a simplistic lifestyle and believe in upholding the traditions of the past. I know that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s day, and what started as  a holiday for a religious feast is now a celebration of a Irish culture. I am not the only one to immerse myself in the American mainstream; it is 11.7 million immigrants. They experience the Western culture and eat Western foods. They try everything from eating pasta to hamburgers.

But America and other Western nations have only viewed themselves to be superior than the rest of the world, to the extent where the Western hemisphere feels that it unnecessary to learn about the other half, but it is norm that others will make an effort to learn about us.

Many citizens of the Western world don’t know that there are mainly two types of Muslims, the Sunnis and the Shiites. Many citizens of the Western world are unaware that there are multiple different dialects spoken in China and “Chinese” is not a language, but a nationality. Many citizens of the Western world are ignorant to the fact that the most widely spoken language in India is Hindi, and not Hindu, which is a religion.  Many citizens of the Western world will not be able to list even five of the 3,000 languages spoken in Africa.

I understand why there is an asymmetrical effort to be aware of the world around us. Life in a developed nation could not be better. Almost everyone has access to world class education and health care services. Most of the population has post-secondary education, which enables them to elect adept representatives to serve the nation. Poverty is not nearly as bad as in Somalia or Ethiopia, and social welfare programs help those in need. And as a result of all these amenities, there is a bubble, and we feel like we are the world. Out of the 195 countries in the world, only 34 are developed, and most of these countries are in the Western hemisphere.

It’s about time that we step out of the bubble and enter the world around us.