09.10.2004Charlotte Wiedemann - Ghazala IrfanAcross Continents
Charlotte Wiedemann, 25 August 2004
Your last letter made me thoughtful and put me at a loss. I can share your indignation over the exploitative relations prevailing worldwide, but on the other hand, I myself, like it or not, belong to the very West that you describe as an untrustworthy apostle of humanitarianism.
Therefore, I would like to add an observation: resistance against genetically manipulated products is growing in many places, from globalization critics in the West as well from producers from the so-called Third World.
Only these movements are given little attention because the current schism in public awareness along religious-cultural lines dominates everything else – in your part of the world as well as mine. The ideology of crusade or holy war blinds us to the perils lurking in corn's genetic makeup.
Yesterday evening I returned from a four-week stay in Cairo. And since we are on the subject of divisions and inequality, I would like to share with you a few impressions from Egypt.
As I write these words, I recall the owner of a well-known Cairo coffeehouse. He had just purchased his digital camera at an e-bay auction, just like my German friends; that is how similar our consumer habits have become!
But five minutes after talking about prices and pixels, he commented that no peace would ever be reached with Israel. Inevitably, we started talking about Germany and National Socialism.
He refused to believe the historical number of murdered Jews I cited. We only agreed that the technological opportunities offered for communication today far surpass the human capacity for dialogue.
In Cairo, a growing number of women are veiling their faces. Of course, they are a minority, but concerned Egyptian observers are talking about the "Gulf" trend.
The influence of the Gulf states, most notably Saudi Arabia, manifests itself differently among the rich and poor: the rich buy large and ugly white villas in the suburbs of Cairo; the poor bring back a religious lifestyle from their work in Gulf states, which is chiefly expressed in the appearance of their women.
Is it wrong to say that the Islamist influence feeds primarily from social differences within Islamic society – as a feverish reminder of the great importance Islam gives to equality with the ideal of Sawasya?
In August, Cairo's luxury hotels are teeming with Saudi tourists. After an evening in the "Ramses Hilton," I am convinced that the decadence so eagerly attributed to the West also flows in abundance in the Orient.
Perhaps I am a bit naïve as a German, for in my country the rich do not like to show off their wealth; they prefer to hide it. But I can understand why Cairo poets write verses ridiculing their rich brothers (and sisters) from the Gulf!
With cordial greetings from Berlin,