I wanted to write to you about our weekend trip to London in September. We spent the Friday in Birmingham, going to museums and an aquarium. Then on Saturday my daughter and I took a train to London for the day. We arrived in Euston Station in northern London and took a bus to the city center. We got off as soon as we saw the London Eye. My daughter remembered the Eye from the movie "Bride and Prejudice". While we were walking towards the Eye, we both got pulled into a street performance. It was silly, but memorable.
We had to wait in line to board the Eye for over an hour. There are about 35 pods on the Eye and the round trip takes around 30 minutes to complete. I would say we had about 16-20 people in the pod at a time. All that to say it takes a long time to get through the line. While we were standing in (and slowly progressing through) the line, I was checking out all the people in line with us. It was amazing the variety of peoples there at once. The family in front of us was the one that caught my attention the most. They were Muslim, but I couldn't tell from their appearance or accent what country they were from. They were almost stereotypical in composition and appearance. The youngest was a girl about 14 years of age. She wore the hijab - head covering that is causing such controversy in France. The son appeared to be a typical tall teenager of 17 or 18 years of age. He wore an NBA jersey, jeans and high tops like any teenager in the world. The father was shorter than me or his son, a fit looking older man with a moustache and the slightest tinge of gray in his hair. The mother was a beautiful woman, about the same height as her husband. She didn't wear the hijab, wore her long hair down and had a little makeup on, badly applied. My daughter was there with me, wearing typical kid clothes and a white knit touring cap with sparkles.
I must admit I was caught off guard when the mother of this family seemed to react very negatively to me. I never said anything to any of them, but she made no secret of wanting to get as far away from me as possible. She slowly moved herself and her daughter in front of the two men (remember, we were standing in line for over an hour). As luck would have it, we ended up on the same pod as them, as still this woman continued her obvious avoidance of me. My daughter sat next to them on the seats in the pod, but almost as soon as she did, the woman moved away from us. To be honest, this judgmental attitude tainted the whole event for me. My daughter was fortunately oblivious to all of this, but I wasn't and I sincerely believe the woman intended me to feel this. When we got off, I intentionally avoided eye contact with any of them.
So, here we were - an American father and daughter living in Ireland and visiting London, being looked down on by a Muslim family of non-English heritage, all trying to enjoy the same silly attraction. The sensation was absolutely amazing.
On the way back to Birmingham, I bought a book called "The Islamist" by Ed Husain. It's about a British Muslim of Pakistani descent who gets caught up in the extreme Islamist movement in London, discovers Sufi mysticism in Syria, and becomes disilussioned by militant Islamism in Saudi Arabia. It's a very good book people should read to get a better understanding of this religion and some of its political manifestations.
At one stop on the train ride back to Birmingham, an older Indian woman got on and sat down in the seat across the aisle from me. I offered to help her put her bag up on the shelf - a gesture of courtesy she obviously appreciated. When she saw the book I was reading, she made at least two second glances - both at me and the book. Her reaction was a refreshing contrast to the Muslim woman's superficial judgement of me.