As I am writing this, I am still not sure if this post will actually get published. Because it doesn’t exactly present me in the best light, and especially in the light in which I want to see myself.
A couple of hours ago I was standing on the metro platform, reading a book while waiting for the train to arrive, when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye: a woman taking a video of the station with her iPhone. Just yesterday I wrote about the hard time I was given by a metro cop for taking photos in the Metro; however, while photography is allowed, video is not.
Now, I am no stranger to minor breaches of rules and regulations, such as jaywalking or taking pix of the Uffizi ceiling frescoes (definitely NOT allowed), and don’t begrudge anyone else the same acts of rebellion. But something didn’t sit right with me. Several somethings, in fact.
There was nothing happening in the station, and the station itself is not particularly remarkable. The woman was taking the video of just the pavilion, the passageway, then moving on the the platform itself. She continued to shoot as the train approached, then — as this point I could see her screen — zoomed in on a half-empty car. She did not get on.
She was wearing a hijab.
I have already briefly touched on the history of terrorist attacks in the Moscow Metro: 7 bombings since 1996, with the most recent one in 2010. Most of them were carried out by suicide bombers, with radical Islamist groups (usually tied to separatist movements in Dagestan or Chechnya) claiming responsibility. The most recent attack was executed by two female suicide bombers.
So when I saw a dark-haired woman in a black headscarf and a black floor-length skirt underneath her parka making a detailed — and illegal — video documentation of a near-empty, ordinary metro station and train late at night, my insides chilled.
I hate, hate, HATE being this person — one who profiles others based on the color of their hair, skin, facial features, on what they are wearing or the religion behind it. I rail against homophobia and racism on a regular basis, in my home and at work, regardless of whether I’m preaching to the converted or it’s falling on deaf ears. My Jewish father wears a beard and could pass for Osama bin Laden’s better-fed brother. I, a Slav-Scandinavian-Jewish mix who identifies as Russian-American, have been told by several people that I “sometimes look Jewish” — and in some places around the world that’s just as bad as wearing a headscarf.
Well, bully for me. There was no way in hell I was getting on the train that the woman just video’d — and skipped. I kept watching her. I contemplated going to get one of the police officers patrolling the station. I didn’t — in no small part because I did not want to be THAT person, but also because I did not want to let her out of my sight. And because I was scared, even though I was not sure of what. Then I started to feel a different kind of fear. What if I don’t do anything? What if she is going to be responsible for the next attack? What if I am the one responsible for allowing it to happen?
I’m not sure where this train of thought would have ended up; a few more seconds of this suffocating anxiety and I probably would have gone to fetch a guard, but lo and behold, there he was, approaching the woman, politely asking her for her documents — and her phone.
I got on the next train and exhaled.