A ‘Siht’—pronounced ‘seat’—is person of the Siht faith. A relatively obscure and little-known religion, its rise in popularity coincided with the Industrial Era. Like many organized religions, Sihts acknowledge a single Creator, known in Sihtism as The Manufacturer. A highly nomadic people, most Sihts travel in tribes called a ‘Bus’—or, collectively, ‘Buses’—with no traceable historic origins to a single geographic area. Similarly (and similarly reductionist) to Jewish peoples, Sihtism is considered both a nationality and a religion. Like Buddhism, Sihtism is highly spiritual, seeking to find inner peace alongside harmony within the outside world through a lifetime devoted to meditation. A traditional Siht meditates by spending every second of every day rooted to the same spot—as if bolted there—providing tireless public service and unnoticed support to a generally indifferent world, from birth to death. Thus is the humble, self-imposed duty of the Siht.
I don’t know how many of you are aware, but a couple of weeks ago in Norway, a photograph of six Sihts in a Bus (see above) were misidentified as six Muslim women in burkas when an enterprising practical-joker-cum-social-activist posted it on right-wing Norwegian Facebook page Frederlandet viktigst (“Fatherland First”) to see what the reaction would be. The caption, simple and nonpartisan, said, “What do people think of this?”
What followed was a bevy of the usual BS about ‘terrorism’ and ‘national safety’ that were really just virulent, unhinged, blustering Islamaphobes who see burkas as a tacit act of war. The ignorance is contained in the mistake (re: the six Sihts assumed to be six Muslim women in burkas!), only humorous due to its egregious and humiliating error. (Read this Huffington Post article for more background.)
I had the distinct pleasure (and downright delight) to interview one of the Sihts involved—a man named David. (And, before you ask, yes, that is his real name.) He had this to say:
Me: So, David, tell me, does this kind of thing happen often? You being mistaken for a Muslim woman in a burka, that is?
David: Constantly, Jack. (He laughs a rich, creamy basso profundo—like a chocolate milkshake.) All the time. It’s how this whole thing started in the first place. Johan and I were—
Me: Sorry, that’s Johan Slattavik, the guy who posted the original photo?
David: The very same. So, I was telling him about how Sihts are always being mistaken for Muslim women in burkas, and he was like, “I’ve got a great idea”—but in Norwegian—“What if I took a picture of the six of you and posted it to Frederlandet viktigst” and I was like, ‘That’s f—in’ brilliant.’
Me: (Laughing good-naturedly) You don’t need to censor yourself for me. Or the audience.
David: Oh, it’s not that. Sihts don’t really like to swear. In fact, most Sihts wouldn’t even agree do this interview.
Me: Really? Why’s that?
David: They would find it pedantic—a petty triviality too pedestrian to justify by acknowledging it. It would only disrupt the meditative, harmonious state a Siht is always striving for. That’s not to say we’re indifferent to the injustices, only that it’s callow and destructive and so easy to get entrenched in the inanity of it all, losing yourself in the process. The more people identify with a particular cause or theme, the more that cause or theme begins to define them. Their identity gets entwined with their ideologies in a Gordian knot—an un-untieable knot.
Me: Right. You have to sever the knot.
David: Which is much more practical as a metaphor than as a real-life solution.
Me: Yeah, if only, though… Sorry—(Shake my head clear)—So you’re something of a maverick then?
David: (Laughs deeply) Not at all. I only feel like I should do my part to inform the unaware public.
Me: Do you find it offensive, constantly being mistaken for a Muslim woman in a burka?
David: How do you mean?
Me: Since you’re not a Muslim—you’re not even a woman. You’re a Siht.
David: I’m not big into ‘labels’, but no, I don’t find it offensive. I just chalk it up to general cultural ignorance—but not in a bad way. Just that most people are, at best, only peripherally aware us Sihts exist. (Chuckles) Although they’d sure notice it if we suddenly disappeared.
Me: (Laughing, too) Yeah, there’d be resounding outrage as people the world over crashed to the ground, looking around and wondering where all the Sihts have gone. (Still chuckling) But really, it doesn’t bother you?
David: No. (Shaking his head bemusedly, shrugging his shoulders) So some people seem to think that Sihts look like Muslim women wearing burkas… Frankly, I don’t see it.
Me: Frankly, neither do I.
David: What did bother me, though, were some of the comments. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. There was one comment in particular—“You can never know who is under there. Could be terrorists with weapons.” That kinda got to me. And I was all, like, “Where? Where would I be hiding a weapon?” Under my rump? In my ‘stow-away compartment’? That’s a bit vulgar…
Me: Not to mention it sounds extremely uncomfortable.
David: (Chortling) I can only imagine. But getting mistaken for a Muslim woman in a burka—it’s just a part of life. I don’t find it offensive. It’s human nature—to form associations and try to mold what’s experienced to fit those associations.
Me: That’s awfully enlightened of you. What about you being referred to as a ‘terrorist’?
David: It’s a little disheartening, I’ll admit. I guess some people can’t see past appearances. Even if what they think they’re seeing isn’t what they’re seeing at all.
Me: Yeah. Or they just don’t want to.
David: I suppose you could see it that way. But I prefer looking for the good.
Me: But let’s not be coy, here, either, David, and call it what it really is: racial profiling.
David: That’s true. There’s no way around it. But rather than focusing on the negativity and the ignorance, we should be trying to open a constructive dialogue. And we are. I mean, had Johan not taken that picture, and if you hadn’t read that Huffington Post article and asked to interview me, this discussion wouldn’t be taking place.
Me: That’s a rather august outlook, David, for someone who endures the brunt, brutish side of humanity on a daily basis, ignored until someone feels like taking their anger and frustration out on you and those assumed to be like you. It’s like you’re seen as somehow ‘less-than’ or ‘subhuman’. And that’s just not cool.
David: It comes with being a Siht. Which isn’t to say that I’m always so cheerful about it. It’s extremely common, after a long day’s work, to be on the receiving end of some truly despising glares. I mean, I know at the end of the day I’m looking a bit rag-tag, a little worse-for-wear—it’s not uncommon to have food stuck to me or for someone to leave a puddle of something in my lap—but I try not to think about that. And, sure, sometimes I just want to shout “I know I look like crap, but it’s not my fault. It’s because of people like you don’t respect me!”
Me: But you don’t?
David: I don’t.
Me: I would shout much worse…
David: It’s not in my nature. I’m just a humble, lowly Siht.
Me: I wish I had your rectitude, your grace in the face of indignity. But I’m too much a skeptic, and a cynic, and a pathological dissenter—it could never work.
David: It ain’t easy, being a Siht.
Me: I can’t begin to imagine. I want to thank you, David, for agreeing to speak with me. Hopefully we’ll get people thinking and talking.
David: Hopefully. And the pleasure was all mine. You take care of yourself, now.
Me: You, too. To show our gratitude, we’ve gotten you a traditional Siht cover, with the ‘Don’t Be An Asshole’ slogan—that way you’ll never have to say it.
David: You’re too kind.
Me: Well, that is our goal—being kind. Not that it isn’t an uphill battle.
David: The worthwhile battles always are.