Ash Mistry and The Savage Fortress

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Sarwat Chaddas Blog

Stereotypes Kill

I've been mugged at knife point, twice. I've been detained by Homeland Security. I've had people move carriages when I've got on board a train and I've swapped buses because I saw a guy with a beard and a backpack sitting in front of me.

Let's talk about the mugging. The first was in Nicaragua and two guys wanted my wife's handbag. Now we were seasoned travellers and had no money in that handbag because it was an obvious target (and Nicaragua has a reputation) so I can only hope the two muggers got a lot of use out of our Spanish phrase book and travel guide. Still, it was a hairy and reminded me to avoid men with large knives. Nevertheless, Nicaragua was AMAZING. We had a wonderful Honeymoon and my wife came back pregnant. That kind of wonderful. We explored Guatamala, scuba-dived off the Bay Islands and went to Ometepe and wandered around forests and jungles and dined on the beach and enjoyed the hell out of it. The mugging certainly didn't put me off having the best time ever.

The second mugging was slightly more complex. I got in a taxi with three guys who, truth be told, looked rather suspicious, but it was snowing, I'd been out since about 4am and just wanted to get home so thought I'd share the taxi since they were going my way. Lo and behold, they got near their destination, drew knives and demanded our phones. Thsi was back in about 2003 and mobile phones were expensive and frankly, I thought a waste of money and didn't have one. They saved on a cab fair, I suppose.

I will be honest, that, more than the Nicaragua thing, scared me. I spent the next few weeks worried about getting on teh train and whatnot, looking around to see who else might be there and basically letting fear control my life. Not a good way to live.

Then, September 2001 and London 2007. 9/11 was weird, but, being in London, 7/7 affected me more directly. I noticed how people cleared the train or moved seats when I got on. Now these people had seen me at teh train station every single day for the last 4-5 years, but I was Asian and a bunch of Asian guys had just blown up 50 people. I admit, there were moments when I would see a 'brother', have a look at the size of his backpack, and think about moving. And I did.

My first trip to America got off to a somehwat rocky start when I was detained for hours on arriving at New York. Now I don't travel well (and was reading a book with an exploding plane on the front, my bad) but tehre was a moment when I got quite afraid. What if there was someone on the FBI wanted list with the same name as me? What if someone had made a spelling mistake on a form and itself of writing 'Osama bin Laden' had written 'Sarwat Chadda' in a 'cut and paste' mixup? Come on, we've all done it sometime on an email, haven't we? Sent it to the wrong person or the predictive text got out of control. Easily done. Not so easy to fix. It's a condition called 'travelling whilst being Muslim' and I'm afarid it'll be around a while yet until people calm the hell down.

Some people say stereotyping is in our genes. We are programmed that way. It saved us from being eaten by sabre-tooth tigers back in the day. We see one creature (big, fanged with claws) which attacks us and eats half the tribe and make a generalization (big fanged creatures with claws are to be avoided). That may well be part of our programming but then, deep down, so is climbing trees and eating nits off our neighbours fur but we seem to have got past that. Sadly we've seen the fatal consequences of stereotyping with the death of Trayvon Martin, and I suppose that's what's prompted this blog.

There is no eay answer, but our response is. We can either live afraid of the different or we can enjoy the world for its diversity.



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