On Open-Mindedness (or Lack Thereof)
How often is that word thrown down in conversation, often with pride and smugness? In theory, it is a positive trait that would contribute to healthier relationships, both on a personal level, and more importantly, in the grander scheme of things. But I live in Kuwait and the definition of open-mindedness – for the most part – has been modified to only describe tolerance of behavior that is seen as abhorrent to mainstream Islam.
The example that best illustrates my argument is the consumption of alcohol. The consumption of alcoholic beverages is generally prohibited in Islam and is illegal in Kuwait. All Kuwaitis (with the exception of a handful of Christian families) are publicly and legally identified as Muslims, nonetheless a large number of Kuwaitis choose to drink. These individuals are often heard describing themselves as open-minded. Does that mean they are “willing to consider new ideas” or that they’re unprejudiced? Hardly ever.
The aforementioned open-minded circles will start judging their closest friends for simply choosing not to drink, especially for religious reasons. Refraining from drinking, yet mingling with others who drink is not as open-minded. You would be toeing the line here: you do not belong to a certain group and its best to make up your mind. When you do not drink, people worry that your choice is not really a personal matter, but a silent judgement on theirs. They start wondering if you have a hidden agenda. “Why don’t you drink?” I’m often asked, in accusatory tones. What is it to you? My choices are my own, and I’m not hurting you. Very rarely do these open-minded individuals extend that courtesy to others whose beliefs are more conservative than theirs. Very rarely do open-minded individuals in Kuwait respect a choice that they do not condone and very rarely do they not attempt to change you. In fact, they’re often too quick to judge someone who doesn’t approve of their lifestyle and brand them as “So-and-So: Not So Open-Minded”.
In the past I’ve been asked plenty of questions about my lifestyle. People want to know why I don’t take my hijab off, why I don’t drink, how I feel about homosexuality, why I fast… the list goes on! And I am not talking about someone inquiring out of mere curiosity. I am talking about the times that these questions were directed at me with pronounced disdain – I felt the tension! It was like sitting in an interrogation trying to defend my beliefs. I do not have to, nor will I continue to defend my behavior. I respect your choice to live as a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, atheist, anarchist, communist, socialist, lost soul, confused individual. I might not agree, but I don’t challenge and hold your choice against you. You can drink, you can go sky diving, you can live in a forest for a week, eating raw food and slapping mosquitos. None of them are for me. So why are you, Mr. or Ms. Open-Minded, so concerned and so terribly offended? You may be vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, on cabbage-soup only, flextarian or even prescatarian. I could approach you with questions about your lifestyle (nobody’s arguing against curiosity!) and I might admit that we don’t agree. But at the end of the day, I respect your choice. Open-mindedness is not guilt-tripping you into eating eggs, forcing you to try a freshly killed baby goat or insinuating that the sole reason you’re eating that salad in front of me is to make my burger less appetizing. (I thought moving on to food might be slightly less controversial; I’d get you to calm down and read on.)
I have been really disappointed with “open-minded” individuals in Kuwait (regardless of their nationality). I have noticed that open-mindedness is a concept that they want to wear. They want others to look at them and see them through open-minded glasses, they want the open-minded blanket to cover all their actions. When will they change? When will they start seeing others with an open mind and open heart? When will they accept that we cannot all be the same, that our lifestyles are not one? When will they stop hating on anyone who is different? When will they take responsibility for their actions?
Whether you’ve got a mouth full of rocca or belly full of beer, you are no better or worse than the rest of us. Come to terms with that, embrace it. Look around you, notice that people are different. Understand they want to be different. Respect that. Love them for who they are.
This whole blog post was exhausting. Don’t make me do it again. Ok?