This incident happened several weeks ago, at the beginning of the height of Christmas shopping season. I have been mulling it over for weeks, and in light of what happened in Paris this week, I feel compelled to "go there."
I was in a Target department store in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. It was crowded, a Saturday I believe, and I was looking for a children's book to purchase as a gift. The books are located near the back of the store near the CDs, DVDs, and electronic gadgets, as you might know; I was perusing some titles, trying not be distracted by the 20+ televisions all playing in unison, when I saw a woman in full burqa coming past the TVs toward me.
I'm still rather surprised at myself, but I honestly freaked out. Truly. My heart began to pound, and I felt hot and cold all at once. I didn't want to stare, but I could see her easily without trying to, what with all that billowing black and all—I'm assuming it was a she, since I honestly had no way of knowing—and then I saw a fellow with her, dressed in regular American garb of course. Because he's a he. Yeah.
I can honestly say that I wanted nothing more than to get the hell away from them both. I'm not proud of this response; I certainly never expected to feel such a strong sense of absolute revulsion in the presence of a burqa, but I did. I could not move quickly enough to another section of the store.
As I walked with purpose toward the front of the building, every terrorist situation in my personal history came swirling to the forefront of my brain. The recent case of a man dressed as a burqa-clad woman, following an American into a bathroom in the Middle East and cutting her head off as she begged for mercy. Another woman, a grandmother leaving her factory job in Oklahoma, beheaded with a kitchen knife by a self-proclaimed muslim in the parking lot. Train bombings, attacks on innocent soldiers, bombings of marathon runners, machete-wielding crazy people targeting and executing journalists, suicide martyrs in the same black garb I'd just seen who walked into crowds of innocents and then proceeded to explode themselves and everyone near them.
I was ashamed for a moment. That isn't fair, my open-minded self thought. Maybe that burqa-clad woman is perfectly kind and placid; perhaps she is one of those peaceful Muslims I hear about. But I'll never know, because I was so absolutely repelled by her appearance and her man's presence that I fled. I didn't leave the store, but I separated myself completely from them because I didn't want them near me.
The more I thought about it, the more confused and conflicted I became. Should I have tried to meet her gaze just to see what sort of reaction I would get? Did I hurt her feelings when I immediately changed aisles? But even as I played through this brief memory, I was angry at the same time. Why did she wear that thing? Why did she have to be completely unrecognizable? Was she forced to do so? Threatened with violence if she did not comply? What sort of man would ask this of a person he loves? How can any human ask this of any other, even one they hate? Would I have even been allowed to speak to her without his permission? Who wants a wife or partner who's been dehumanized by the removal of any individuality, of any personal physical characteristics? And why were they in Target? Could they possibly find a store that better represents the "evils" of Western culture than Target?
The whole thing was so preposterous, and so unexpected, and so revealing of something in me, that I couldn't shake it off for days. Weeks.
Then, a few days ago, I had a revelation. I was thinking about the real-life burqa sighting (my first, you might have gathered,) and I'd just had a really good discussion with friends about the Holy Spirit. I suddenly wondered if that had been the Holy Spirit in me, reacting to that woman's outfit and situation. I pondered the possibility that the Holy Spirit, God's own interpreter and PR guy, had reared up in me and made it clear that this is a baaaaad thing—that the dehumanization of any person is wrong. It made sense to me that God, Who gives us free will even though He knows it will cost many their salvation—that same God might be offended by a severe religion that takes away freedoms and lives. After all, woman was made from man–not by man. I suspect that a God who loves each of us individually and equally, who died for us to be saved when we ask Him into our lives, would object to removing basic human rights, as well as removing the right to not choose a certain set of beliefs. He died for us to live, not so we could squash and murder at will any who are under us or do not agree with us.
I'm still not sure why I felt so strongly about her outfit. After all, it's just a big, dark, extremely concealing outfit. I only know that I reject any belief system that asks women to surrender everything they have and are to a man, including personal identity and rights—and I reject any religion that kills so freely, even its own members who do not perfectly align. (Do some research: many of the attacks are on fellow muslims.) I don't care whether that was my personal bias in Target, or the Holy Spirit; I want nothing to do with that code. I want it to stay far away from me. But I don't think it's going to cooperate.
All in all, it was a very disturbing image of America's future, and my own place in said future...