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Eating ice cream in public: A Syrian-flavored debate in Germany - Raseef22


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    To have ice cream be "the talk of the town" during this scorching summer heat is no surprise, but an intense debate has arisen on social media in Germany in recent days, taking center attention in every tweet and post. It all stems from a headline published by the newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" for an article supposedly written by a Syrian journalist named Mohamed al-Khalaf, under the title, “Is eating ice cream outdoors obscene?”

    As part of a series of articles called "My German Experience", Mohamed shares his insights on integrating into German society since arriving there in 2015. He candidly talks about how his face no longer turns red when he witnesses two young women eating ice cream in public. He spoke of how, in the past, he faced difficulties in such situations, he claims, "In many conservative societies like Syria, women are expected to maintain a reserved and respectful demeanor in public. Eating ice cream or any food resembling phallic shapes are considered provocative and frowned upon." Even though he says he got used to it, he recalls how his friend Ibrahim's entire head turned as red as the strawberry ice cream he saw two girls eating.

    In his article for "Süddeutsche Zeitung", Mohamed al-Khalaf argues that women eating ice cream in public or consuming foods resembling a phallic shape is inappropriate behavior.

    As expected, figures from the far-right and media outlets with affiliations to them eagerly jumped on the article, which seemed to have been intentionally published with a controversial headline. The far-right branch of the Alternative for Germany party in Hanover lambasted Mohamed who complained about women eating ice cream and bananas in public places in Germany, urging him to "go back to his country".

    A tweeter of Turkish origin aligned with conservative circles posed a question, "Just because Ibrahim gets nervous when women lick ice cream, should one be ashamed of doing so? There are two possibilities; either the Taliban wrote for Süddeutsche Zeitung, or it's just a fool from the woke movement."

    Boris Reitschuster, a 'journalist' known for his affinity for conspiracy theories, echoed the same question. Eva Maria Strobl, who introduces herself as a doctor from Munich, expressed her disbelief, "According to 'Süddeutsche Zeitung', Mohamed and Ibrahim find German women licking ice cream indecent and obscene. Sadly, this is not a joke, although I searched in vain for any sign that it is."

    In an article for the conservative newspaper "Die Welt", Anna Schneider remarked, "If there is anything indecent, it is the backward thinking that belongs to the Stone Age, which portrays women who lick ice cream as lewd. There is no religious sentiment that justifies restricting women's freedom, and I never thought that this should be a topic of discussion in the year 2023."

    The echoes of ice cream licking also reached Switzerland, where the right-wing magazine "Die Weltwoche" wrote, "How do women avoid sexual assaults? Süddeutsche Zeitung advises them to not lick ice cream when Muslims are around".

    Journalist Niggemeier spoke of a strategy the extreme right uses; concocting a ridiculous demand then expressing anger over it. He says Khalaf merely discussed his own experience and didn't ask others to stop eating ice cream as right-wing commentators claim

    Other journalists attempted to offer a more balanced perspective on al-Khalaf's writings. Journalist and media critic Stefan Niggemeier delved into the strategy followed by the (extreme) right-wing, which revolves around concocting a ridiculous demand and then vehemently expressing anger over it. He argued that al-Khalaf, the author of the controversial article, merely discussed his own experience and did not ask others to refrain from eating ice cream, as the right-wing commentators suggested. They used his words as evidence to argue that people from such "cultural circles" should not be allowed to enter Germany in the first place.

    Niggemeier pointed out that there are also instances of sexist behavior exhibited by Germans, which the right-wing conveniently ignores, preferring to label such biases and sexist attitudes as something that has been imported from abroad. He denounces their treatment of al-Khalaf, who candidly wrote about his journey of integration and the beliefs and customs he left behind.

    Only the voice of other Syrians remained muted amid this customary right-left debate in Germany.

    A journalist from Berliner Zeitung also came to al-Khalaf's defense, ironically viewing his words as a testament to his "successful integration".

    Only the voice of other Syrians remained muted amid this customary right-left debate in Germany.

    Upon examining what al-Khalaf – who became a resident of the German town of Kirchzarten near Munich, after he fled Raqqa under threats from ISIS, according to the newspaper – wrote, we have come across other problematic articles. In April 2020, he discussed how riding a bicycle is sexually stimulating.

    The newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" introduces the article by stating, "In Syria, the author's home country, riding a bicycle is considered indecent/vulgar. In Munich, he discovered other options", before al-Khalaf's article where he gives his perspective and says that a person riding a bike in Syria as an adult is a sign of poor taste and luxury.

    In another article in the summer of 2022, titled "Going to a restaurant in Syria is an insult... but in Munich, it is standard", the newspaper presents his article with the words: "When our writer was invited to a restaurant in Germany for the first time, he felt embarrassed. At that time, he appreciated the benefits of having someone cook for him." In an article published in December 2022, the newspaper presents it with, "In Syria, it is considered shameful for a man to wear house sandals, open shoes, or even warm house socks. Our writer resisted for years and in the end, he gave in..."

    It is problematic and concerning for many Syrians to see some German media outlets appointing a single Syrian journalist as an ambassador for the Syrian community in Germany, dictating what is shameful or unacceptable in Syria to Germans.

    Regardless of how patriarchal or repulsive al-Khalaf's views are, and whether one needs years to consider women eating ice cream as normal, he has the right to express them in this world.

    But it is highly problematic and concerning for many Syrians, as evidenced by reactions on social media, to witness some German media outlets appointing a single Syrian journalist as an ambassador for the Syrian community in Germany, representing the entire land and dictating what is shameful or unacceptable in Syria to Germans. Especially when the choice of this ambassador isn't subject to scrutiny, as if Syria is made up of one society with identical customs and traditions.

    Al-Khalaf has the right to share his personal experiences and life in Syria without generalizing or speaking on behalf of all Syrians, conveying what they like or dislike. The newspaper shouldn't have adopted his views without examination, and Germans from various political backgrounds, whether right-wing or left-wing, should not take these articles as undisputed facts to use as a base for debate.

    This wasn't the approach taken by German journalists who chose to defend al-Khalaf against the wave of extreme right criticism he faced. Instead of consulting other Syrians about the accuracy of the claims in al-Khalaf's articles, they treated his writings as factual and assumed that his descriptions were representative of the entire reality in Syria. From there, they proceeded to advocate for him, claiming that al-Khalaf had transcended these customs and finally integrated into German society, suggesting that every Syrian should follow a similar path to heal and become perfectly assimilated!

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