On Friday I was passing through a busy London train station. A small group of Orthodox Jews caught my eye. I have always been fascinated by their traditional dress (the men) and how the women are compelled to cover their hair with wigs. My daughter often tells me off for staring at them, such is my fascination. Anyway, the group consisted of two men, a woman and some children. The woman saw me looking at them and started drumming her fingers in a 'walking' manner up and down her thigh. There was fear in her eyes. I was going down the escalator and they disappeared from my sight. I was rushing to get home to cook for a dinner party that I was hosting only three hours later.
The look in the Jewish woman's eyes disturbed me. The penny dropped the next day. The woman had been using her fingers to to alert her male companions to my presence. She kept glancing at them nervously but they were engrossed in their smartphones. It seems so obvious now that I don't know why I never thought about it before. Yes, I know it is rude to stare but why was she so scared? She must have thought that I was a Muslim. Brown skin equals being a Muslim in the Western world. Only a few days earlier my new boss had asked me if I was observing Ramadan. I don't. I am an Anglican, a CoE regular attendee. Recently, people whom I meet for the first time have started asking me whether I am Muslim. This has never happened before. Nobody assumes that I am Christian. Quite strangely, nobody makes an assumption that I am a Hindu either. The latter would qualify as being quite an educated guess with a high chance of being correct. Many in my family are Hindus.
The whole strange episode has got me thinking. The blowback of Israel's policy against Palestinians seems to be a feeling of individual and personal insecurity within their own people. Jewish friends who live in North London tell me how they have to be extra careful over their personal safety whenever Israel launches an attack on Gaza etc. If a woman sitting in a London station could fear a brown skinned woman dressed in a business suit then their individual fears multiplied across their population globally must amount to some sort of breach of their own liberty. If you cannot live in peace even when you are not physically caught up in the conflict zone then surely it is time to question what good the policy is and for whose benefit?