In Denmark, back in the 1980s, I had my first encounters with refugees. I was young, liberal, and filled with hope for a better world, where we all would be free to live in bonds of friendship, from different cultures.
I was a healthy, young student, with a love for history, religion, acting and writing. So, I knew I had a lot to offer to the first refugees who entered here some 30 years ago.
I volunteered to help at a receiving center, and I loved my afternoons teaching my Danish culture and history. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen at the asylum center. I wanted to help these poor guys find hope for a new future in my home country. I wanted to make them feel welcome, because of what I thought was a “stupid capitalistic war” that they had fled.
I also wanted to learn about their homeland, which seemed so far away. All that I knew about the land of Persia came from my reading of the folklore tales of Scheherazade, One Thousand and One Nights. The main frame plot of the collection of tales’ centers around the king’s marriage to a succession of virgins. He executes each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonor him. To save herself on the night of their marriage, the king’s newest bride, Scheherazade, begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story will end, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. Then each night, she begins, but does not conclude, a new tale for the king. I understood this trick, by which Scheherazade kept herself alive, as a plot device. But I never felt the deeper meaning until later.
As I got to know the refugees at the center, by just casually hanging around with them, we became more relaxed with each other. Our only rule was to never be alone, to always be in teams. I thought it was to make sure we didn’t misbehave or somehow overstep our boundaries towards those guys who had fled for their lives. And that may have been the basic reason for the rule. Today, I would never advise anyone to go into such a project, as I did. But if you do want to go, then I would warn you to at least educate yourself first.
One Saturday afternoon, I was going home on my bike, after some study project. As I rode past the center, I saw one of the refugee guys who I knew, smoking outside. He called me over and we talked, while we had a cigarette together. I knew him as an atheist. At least, that is what he had told me. He knew that I was working with kids at the YMCA, so he knew that I followed some kind of faith. But it didn’t seem to bother him, and we had never discussed private matters in the kitchen. We had only talked about stuff that would be good for the guys to know if they were to stay here for a longer time.
He had some questions about some political stuff, and asked if I had time to come up and explain it over a cup of tea. I agreed. Why shouldn’t I? He said there were a few other people in the kitchen there.
So I felt OK. As we entered, a loud discussion was going on in the kitchen. I have forgotten what it was about, but what happened within the next 15 minutes will never leave my mind.
It was far too loud to talk separately in the kitchen. So I agreed to go to the room he shared with his roommate, to talk. I knew his roommate. He was a good guy. I had talked to him many times.
When we came into the room, he told me that his roommate was away for something with one of the male volunteers, and for me to have a seat. And then I heard the key click in the door. He looked at me, and then he drew out a pocketknife and came at me. He pushed me on to the bed, while holding the knife to my chest. He tried to force a kiss on me, but I wouldn’t let him. So he pushed the knife up under my chin. He tried ripping open my clothes with his other hand, while sneering at me in his own language. I thought right then, “This is it… I am going to die…”
I mastered all my strength, and looked him in the eyes. I told him to get off me, and that even as he didn’t believe in anything, I was sure that God would not let him do this without punishment. That just made him more aggressive. I had gotten myself in a position where I could move my leg. So I banged my knee into his private area, with all my might. He moaned, and in that moment, he weakened his grip on me.
I rolled to the floor, got up, and ran for the door. I got it opened, and ran out. I didn’t even think of running to the kitchen for help. I just ran out the door, and down the stairs. As I opened the glass door to the outside, I could see him standing on top of the stairs. He held his knife and showed me with a gesture how he would cut my throat. He hissed at me, “If I ever see you here again, then you are dead.” Needless to say, I never went back.
I made it home, went to my room and cried for hours. I never went to the police, as I had no proof. He never did rape me, I told myself, just left a small cut on my chin, nothing that the police would take in evidence. I felt violated, but powerless. I lost my freedom, by somehow trying to help these guys to understand their newfound freedom. What a price it was for me to pay.
That night, I tried to explain it to myself, to understand how this could be happening to me, what this was all about. And that is when my journey to study Islam began. It was when I found out that the problem is not keeping informed — it is not wanting to get informed.
(This article is from our new LUTF contributor in Denmark. She goes by the name of Gefion, the Viking goddess of truth and fertility.)