The-Alif-Team

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Bearded Commute


9/11, 7/7, 5/52, 3*x to the power of 6. All of course, events that have shaped society’s views in this, the most crazy of decades. Whereas before, Muslims were seen as eccentric Arab millionaires and kebab shop owners; they are now wife-beating terrorists hell-bent on disturbing the fabric of modern free society by way of blowing up a small part of it.

Naturally, common folk are somewhat apprehensive when encountering Muslims in their daily lives; this apprehension turns into outright pant-crapping fear when they see a bearded man of Middle Eastern appearance take a seat opposite to them on the train.

As a bearded commuter/student who uses public transport on a regular basis, I can provide a somewhat (note: somewhat is a qualifier, so cannot be used in conjunction with unique, unless you did this deliberately for comic effect) unique insight into what us poor bearded folk have to go through on the daily commute. This can be best summed up by the different types of 'looks' (evils, innit) I get from various fellow rat-race participants.

The "Cautious look"

The most common of the 'looks', the cautious look is usually characterised by a general unease, a somewhat unnerving feeling takes hold of the starer as he sees a bearded man stroll into the carriage. The cautious looker is afraid, though surprisingly calm at the same time. Unlike the other lookers, the Cautious Looker will usually give semi-threatening glances - a squint in the eye develops as the whiter-than-white Caucasian tries his darndest to pull off his best Genghis Khan impression. A feeling of doubt wonders in and out of his mind - "the likelihood of this guy doing anything is slim to nil; I'm worrying for no reason". Common sense prevails. He realises that trendy bearded men who own ipods cannot possibly be part of an all together fiendish plot to destroy the bedrock of western civilisation that is, the 7.00 am jubilee line train from Stanmore. The looks become less frequent, his shoulders relax, he gets back to reading yet another needlessly sarcastic and only mildly witty movie review in The Metro.

The "Oh my god, what's he got in his bag" look

This doesn't really happen all that often, but always a joy when it does. Most likely to occur when the beard is thick, the man is big, and the rucksack has an eerily bulging look to it. This particular stare is usually characterised by an almost overwhelming expression of distress coupled with bowel movements similar to those experienced after eating a dodgy kebab down Woodgreen High Street. If not completely flabbergasted at the 'potential' of being blown into smithereens at any given moment, the nervous wreck will proceed to think of ways in which she (yes, it's usually a she, men have common sense) can become the heroine of this nail biting Hollywood drama. Should she shout out something? A warning? Should she wrestle him to the ground? She does neither. Too scared to move, her body won’t let her do anything besides give intermittent glances to Osama's European representative. The rucksack, oh Gordon Bennet, the rucksack - he's opening it. Heavens above, lord of the worlds. Her face, already drenched in sweat, turns red. She looks around in a seemingly vain attempt to rally support for her, as yet, verbally unexpressed cause. What's this? The man pulls out...his lunch. Suddenly his rucksack seems a little less bloated and yes, oh so suddenly, she realises that Muslims don't wear bright orange turbans - the man is a Sikh.

There are various in-between looks, ranging from the "Overcautious" (one rung above Cautious) to the "Wasn't he the same guy I saw on the news last night?" Each possessed of varying degrees of seriousness, displaying, in all their glory, the full array of facial expressions bedazzled morning commuters have to offer. Joy indeed, but for fear of flogging this article’s dead horse, we won’t go into the specifics.

If you've gotten this far without thinking yours truly is an overly arrogant moron with his love for sarcasm only surpassed by his love for writing wildly exaggerated pieces on the perils of Muslim commuting, there is a lesson to be learnt in all of this. A quite important one at that. You see, There is a mis-generalisation, albeit one lurking in the depths of sub-consciousness, that an awful lot of non-Muslims have about the British Muslim community. The generalisations aren't totally unfounded. Considering the general media hype surrounding terrorism, immigration and all things Islamic, it is sometimes hard to keep your mind in an informed state, ready to make judgments based on intellect, rather than a warped, inherently sensationalist western media.

You may consider yourself a well-read liberal, a cultured man of the world whose opinions aren't at all swayed by Daily Mail rants and right wing crackerjacks cast in the Littlejohn mould. Nevertheless, whether you realise it or not, somewhere in the realms of your sub-conscience lies this belief that Muslims in this country have the potential to carry out the most heinous of crimes against humanity. You may have all the Muslim friends in the world (it's funny, the 'I have a black friend' syndrome is slowly being replaced by it's 'I have a Muslim friend' cousin) but it still doesn't stop you from suspecting that rucksack carrying Muslim...does it? And why not?

So next time you see that bearded man of Middle Eastern appearance nonchalantly stroll into the carriage, rucksack on back - give him a smile. Give him a wink. Give him a hug...and give him your copy of The Metro - he needs something to hide his beard behind damnit! - figi!