Who Is This Woman?

Who is this woman?

She is wearing a headscarf so she must be a Muslim. If she is a Muslim, she could be a citizen of any number of predominantly Muslim countries. Perhaps she is Turkish, or Iranian, or...

We all make such assumptions. Most of us look at people and quickly place them into boxes, using group stereotypes to label individuals. It is a shortcut, a place to start in figuring out someone’s identity.

In closed societies, the beginning is also the end. Without further information, the stereotype hardens into prejudice, and the prejudice fuels discrimination by the government and other people.

In open societies with a diversity of people and opinions, we learn how superficial, and often incorrect, stereotypes can be. We learn to recognize prejudice and reject discrimination. Knowledge and experience replace our original assumptions.

The woman in the picture is a Muslim, yes, but she is British.

“I am a Lancashire lass, born and raised in Lancashire,” she will tell you. “Other people may have an issue with seeing me as British. But that’s their issue, not mine. Even if I migrate to the other side of the world, I would never question my Britishness.”

She and other women and men tell their stories of belonging and identity as part of the Open Society Institute’s At Home in Europe Project on the situation of Muslim communities in European Union cities.

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1 Comment


My first thought upon looking at the photograph in this post was, “Not another headscarf.” When people talk about Muslims, it’s often accompanied by a photo of women with their heads or indeed their whole bodies covered or images of violent protestations usually ending in burning of flags or effigies. What is usually missing from stories and reports about Muslims is the silent majority of people who have a Muslim background but who do not wear their religion on their sleeve or indeed their head. I've written a post in response here: http://blog.soros.org/2010/03/not-another-headscarf/.

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