Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Seedy Bojang harasses two Muslim women.

Is it harassment when someone brushes against you but because it happens so fast or not so obviously, you think it's one of those accidentally-not-so-accidentally type of contact?

I had a recent brush (pun intended) with this in Copenhagen. I met Seedy Bojang, a Gambian journalist on the way back to the hostel. He gave me his namecard which showed that he was a member of ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Network) and explained that he was on his way to a meeting of writers in Denmark. Denmark pays for his costs of living because he cannot politically express himself freely as a writer in his home country, Gambia.

The next day my friend and I met up with him. I did my prayers at his house and although he asked us if we were Muslim, he did not seem surprised or happy to meet fellow Muslims. In retrospect, I think perhaps he might have even made a big show out of praying loudly after I was done, but maybe that's just the way Gambians pray. I thought we were in the company of a decent Muslim man, who surely wouldn't try to do anything funny with us.

While walking in the Frederiksberg gardens, he asked to take a photo with me. He stood on my right and placed his left hand a little below my waist. It was a grey zone, was he trying to touch my butt? My jacket was thick anyway and it was not obvious, what he was trying to do. On the way back, he asked for a photo with my friend and later she told me that he did touch her butt.

Without addressing this explicitly (because I didn't yet know what happened to her), Seedy explained that close contact between men and women is part of his culture. In his words, "there are some men in Gambia who sometimes kiss women on the lips and then go off to do their prayers without making ablution". Was he trying to use culture to justify his disgusting behaviour? Is there any culture that promotes this?

I talked to several of my ISS guy friends who come from African countries (Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Ghana) and all of them were extremely disgusted and angry about this. Even more so because Seedy comes from their part of the world and tried to use a cultural relativist argument to defend himself. I think every culture has rules about men and women, and I'm pretty sure that no culture where  men and women accept men going around touching women anywhere they like.

The worst part about this is that he said he is Muslim and was even doing his prayers. I'm angry, but more than that - I feel so ashamed for him. Of course he shouldn't do that to anyone, but to me it seems even worse that he did that to us, because we share the same teachings and some values.

Do people not do things out of pure compassion anymore - if I am rendered a kind favour, do I have to expect to give something - my dignity or my body - in return?

This is not the first time such an incident has happened to me. But this is the first time I'm talking about it in public, to shame the perpetrator. This is not possible all the time, because most of these people remain anonymous, but in this case, it's just Seedy's bad luck that he's well-known on the Internet. I'll speak out because when we keep quiet, we quietly allow men like him to keep doing this. 

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