Being called an unbeliever by a group of teenage girls in headscarves on the streets of Cairo has a specific resonance. I hear it as follows:
“You don’t have rules governing your life. You do what you want. That woman walking with you is not your wife. Actually, we are fascinated and scared by the freedom you claim and flaunt–about the possibility that it opens up in our consciousness. But rather than confront those conflicted thoughts inside ourselves, we will externalize them and demonize them. You are the incarnation of what is dirty and naughty.”
There were smiling and twittering before one of them said it. I had even smiled knowingly at one of them, as if to say, I know you are talking about us. It was as if they were getting up the courage to say…something. As it happens, the white, American woman I was walking with grew up here and speaks perfect Arabic. She responded with: “Be polite,” which in Arabic is much harsher. It means, don’t be uneducated savages. They must have been pretty surprised by that, but they hid their surprise well.
Walking away, I said to my friend, “It makes me want to adapt the Monkees song to: ‘I’m an unbeliever.'” When I came back to the hotel in the evening, I learned that Davy Jones had died.