Murky Thoughts From the Middle East

It is almost impossible for me to ignore how fortunate I am.  Just yesterday, I was judging startup pitches in Istanbul, and now I am in Tel Aviv, and then on to Amman and Dubsi. Another magical GeeksonaPlane exploration.

.In Istanbul, I met  three young Turkish men who work for a university-backed accelerator and will visit Arizona in January.  And this morning I was visited by a young woman, the sister of a Thunderbird student whose pitch I had judged five years ago, who is working for a VC thinking of opening an office in Turkey. My life is exciting and full, with new people joining old friends in it every day. It has been illuminated by the retina displays of an amazing array of technology devices, none of which existed  when I was born, or even when I was forty. I have traveled the world, on my own steam.

For this reason, every time I am in a Muslim country and I see a woman in a full burka and hijab, with only her eyes showing, garbed in either black or white and walking behind a husband with his golf shirt, Bermuda shorts and sandals, I am thankful for the fact that I live in America, where I can be angry that Obama is ineffectual and Romney is a flip-flopper. Our government may be corrupt, but it is still, for the most part, secular, and the dress codes are minimal.

I am not sure how I would have gone through life as a Muslim woman. It’s not even a matter of principle for me; it is a matter of convenience and comfort. For the most part, these countries are hot. Turkey is the coolest, and it was warm. The men are free to make themselves comfortable, while the women are in fabric restraints. I can’t help thinking it’s a metaphor.

This goes far beyond the religious convention of wearing a head scarf and not exposing the body. There’s something more subtle going on here, a form of discrimination that cages women the way 19th century corsets and bustles imprisoned women before suffrage.

On the other hand, in Tel Aviv on the beach women in bikinis sip Mojitos into the night with men, and I take off my shoes.

I know I am thinking these thoughts because it’s election season in America, and because I am projecting on to these women my own need for self-expression through fashion. I could be 110% per cent wrong about how the women feel, but it has emotional resonance for me having fought through the women’s movement.

But I will think these women have barriers around them that will forever keep me from knowing them, and forever keep them apart. And how can separation be a good thing?


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