I can’t tell you my name or my father and brothers might try to beat or shoot me. I refer to this in the indefinite sense because I don’t think they would succeed. You see, I am not like a growing number of Muslim women in Europe you recently read about, the ones who pay plastic surgeons three thousand dollars or more to make semicircular cuts in their vaginas and sew them up with dissolving stitches to reestablish virginity, that primitive standard of purity, so they can pass a grim gynecological examination demanded by potential husbands and their families. If they fail, millions of Muslim women fear, they will be branded as dirt and condemned to life without a man. They should talk to me.
Twelve years ago I came to Europe with my nineteen-year old face partially obscured by a hijab and my body shrouded in a burqa. At the university I was surrounded by young women whose attire I at once found appealing. The attention they received from males also resonated. Stay away from those guys, my two older brothers ordered; back home Father will decide which man you marry. Every month at school that notion became more absurd. Even dressed as I was, plenty of young men noticed me. We began to talk under trees and in the cafeteria. Several asked me out. I always declined until the right one persisted, and one cool morning during a two-hour break between classes he drove us to a restaurant a few miles from school. Afterward, he rushed me back minutes before one of my brothers picked me up.
In a few months this routine was no longer adequate. My boyfriend and I decided to be alone. That night he drove me home. You want us to kill you, my brothers shouted. No, I said, first I’ll emasculate you for having girlfriends. My youngest brother slapped me. I grabbed a vase and smashed his forehead. He threw both hands over his wound and collapsed. My elder brother charged and punched me in the jaw, which broke. I went to the hospital. He served three weeks in jail, and for that I commend the Western authorities and judicial system.
I moved in with my boyfriend, who told my brothers, and through them my glaring father, who’d rushed in from our country, that next time a gun awaited them. If my romance had flourished into a marriage that endured, there perhaps would not have been an irreparable break. Regrettably, I tired of my boyfriend, a decent fellow but not for life. Unable to return to family or country, and not interested in so doing, I took off my repressive garments and worked as a waitress in a fine restaurant. Over the years leading to my law degree, I had romances with two more Frenchmen, a fling with a Dane, and an engagement to a Belgian. Right now I’m dating a German. As an attorney I earn more – I expect, since we don’t talk – than both brothers combined. Financial independence makes my voice louder, true, but I’d demanded freedom years before.
To Muslim sisters in Europe I say: if you like burqas, keep them. If you want lives dominated by jailers and matchmakers, so be it. If you need more, go to school. Get some job skills. And tell male relatives this is a new century.