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I have been assaulted and called names because of my headscarf

For 16 years I have kept discriminatory experiences to myself. That ends now.

By Aya Baram, doctor, July 11, 13:07 PM CET 2014

The last weeks’ debate on the [head]scarf and especially the entry by Karen West et al. this week have made me reach the the boiling point.

The claim that the minorities (Muslims) aren’t tolerant of clothing like short skirts, while we as women with scarves are accepted in a society that’s tolerant of our scarves, is complete hogwash.

Karen West claims in various debates that she supports all women’s right to wear what they want, and yet time after time, she manages to both throw suspicion on the motivation behind women’s choice to wear the scarf, and to trivialize the harassment and intolerance faces by many women with scarves in the Danish society.

I think the problem goes both ways. But I am also convinced that many women with scarves aren’t telling their stories about their experiences in the public space. But I’ve had enough.

I am tired of listening to intolerant judgemental people who think they know me better than I know myself. Who “know” I’ve been forced to wear my scarf. But guess what, dear fellow citizens? You, who think so, are wrong. I wear my scarf with pride and with love. It is my choice. It is incomprehensible to you. I couldn’t care less!

Karen West et al. claim that the minorities don’t have the same tolerance of the majority of society that the majority have for the minorities. Whare is the evidence for this ridiculous claim?

The case of Fatma Øktem, who received a verbal attack from one young Muslim buffoon over her short skirt? Cry me a river.

I have been punched on the street, after which I’ve been told to “take my f... scarf of”. The police wouldn’t even press charges, because my husband was my only witness. I have witnessed an entire bus yelling that they would vote for the Danish People’s Party and get the Muslims out of the country, because a girl with a scarf happened to hold the seat in front of her, when the bus turned, whereby she touched another girl’s hair.

I have had a guy suddenly let loose on my then-three-months-old nephew’s stroller with punches and kicks, after which another guy abused my sister with words like “terrorists” and other choice words, spat her in the face at a packed Nørreport [Train] Station, while everyone watched without helping.

The only remark we got was from a couple who told my crying sister “but they didn’t mean it personally”.

Aside from that, I have in my years as a medical student experienced a chief physician who out of the blue and in front the entire class started calling Muslims terrorists during my presentation on a patient.

After this, the students, even the patient, started partaking in a long verbal attack on Muslims.

I have also been called trashtalked by nurses at different hospital wings due to my scarf, and I have received a load of other “minor remarks” and hard punches through both medical school and high school (1) from both students and teachers.

And I KNOW there are many of us who’ve been through the same situations.

It’s easy to claim that we live in a tolerant society, when you aren’t put in our shoes, and when no one assumes the responsibility for putting this treatment on record.

But it’s possible this debate has been beneficial, since it gets ordinary people like myself to come out and talk about their experiences. To stand taller the next time I experience the same thing.

Because yes, I have been silent during each and every one of these episodes for 16 years now. But I have decided that it ends now. I have to protect myself, because I have learnt that no one else will protect me in our society. And definitely not the people who present themselves as tolerant, like Karen West.

I am not a victim. I am not writing this to pour my heart out. I am saying this, because I am tired of hearing other people speak on my behalf.

My silence has been my strength for all these years. Because I felt that it was unnecessary to discuss with prejudicial people, who just want to be right. All the discussions in the world won’t change their behaviour. But I have now learnt that I have to put people in their place, when the act like this, because they would otherwise continue their behaviour towards others they meet in the street.

They won’t change their mind about me nor other women who wear scarves. And I am pretty indifferent to that. But maybe it will shut them up, the next time I run into them in the street!

Kind regards, a completely ordinary woman beyond exhaustion, who much to the outrage of those “who know better” wears a scarf.

(1): Translated from Danish “gymnasium”, which refers to the last education programme prior to higher education.

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