“Muslamic ray guns”

PART 1 

Defining Islamophobia

Islamophobia is so much more than just a simple ‘dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force’ (Oxford English Dictionary Online). It is an intense hatred for what encompasses the unknown. Islam is foreign. It is violent and it is threatening. Look at the rise of terrorist attacks in the contemporary. Muslim bearded men are radical and fanatical. Veiled Muslim women are medieval. We are submissive and passive. We are the epitome of oppression itself. We have yet to embrace our liberated white feminist sisters who have freed themselves of their patriarchal shackles.

The media

Gathering from the above statements, it is no wonder why Islamophobia is on the rise. Newspaper report after report after report of terrorist attacks, the rise of terrorism, the war on terror, Asian grooming gangs, ISIS, radicalised British teenagers, Hamas, the Syrian conflict, Muslim women’s illiteracy rate, Muslim women’s unemployment rate. Quite frankly, the media has a fetish for Muslims. They have an obsession with focusing on Muslims, and a compulsion with the ‘demonic rise of Islam’. It is manic. And this mania shapes and has shaped the way in which Muslims and Islam are perceived within the present.

Xenophobia unwrapped

Islamophobia however, is not merely just a hatred towards Muslims and Islam. No. It is xenophobia. It is racism wrapped around the fabric of religion. Simple as. Anyone who ‘looks’ Muslim, who ‘sounds’ Muslim, who has a ‘Muslim sounding name’ are the victims of islamophobic attacks: non-Muslim and Muslim blacks, Sikh’s, Hindu’s, Muslim, Christian and Jewish Arabs. Numerous physical attacks carried in the name of harming a Muslim, harming a terrorist have been perpetrated based on physical appearances and characteristics. The fact that individuals try to perpetrate who is Muslim and who isn’t based on physical appearance shows the profound level of ignorance prevalent in society towards minorities. Ultimately, these islamophobic attacks reveal society’s constructed ongoing racism and cyclical obliviousness to those who form the underclass. If people well and truly hated Muslims, and wanted to attack Muslims in the name of ‘protecting society from Islam’, then only Muslims would be the victims of these attacks. But they are not. Islamophobia is so much more than just people having negative stereotypes about Islam which are then manifested into attacks on Muslims. Islam is no longer just synonymous with the Middle East, Muslim men with violence and Muslim women with oppression. Islam has become synonymous with race and ethnicity and physical appearance.

 

We are all privileged in our own right

As a visible Bengali Muslim woman who chooses to wear the hijab, yes, I have been discriminated against verbally and physically, based on my physical appearance. Growing up, as a young child, prior to me wearing the hijab, I was told by adults in my area that my brown skin was ‘dirty’, my South Asian hair was ‘greasy and oily’ and that I need to take a bath to clean the dirt off my skin. The list goes on. Now as a young adult who wears the hijab, yes, I do feel a slight sense of unease every time I go through airport security because of the way I am always patted down excessively, my hijab ruffled up and the way my passport is thoroughly checked at the boarding gate and placed through different scanning systems. My best friends who are predominantly Caucasian, East Asian and black, and not Muslim, just stand there not knowing what to do, because well, it is a ‘routine check’. That’s what I have been told. Yes, I am worried about how I am going to be perceived based on my skin colour, my hijab, everything that constitutes my physical appearance, because people have made derogatory comments to me before in the past, since I was 4 years old. And in the last five years, I’ve been spat on whilst walking home, I’ve been slapped across the face at a tube station, I’ve been called a ‘paki’ and told to go back to my country, a woman screamed at me whilst calling me an ‘Indian terrorist’ and told me that I am directly responsible for 9/11. And in the first few months of sixth form, a boy thought it was funny to throw bacon at me continuously during lunch whilst I was eating. The list goes on. I am not going to bore you. There is a blurred line between race and religion whereby Islam and Muslims have become racialised in the recent contemporary i.e. physical attacks carried out on Muslims have been done so based on ‘how Muslim a person looks’. Look at the prominent case of Balbir Singh Sodhi, just one of many since 2001. Nonetheless, even if I was to remove my hijab supposedly, I can’t remove my skin colour physically, nor do I want to. I am visibly brown, and I am visibly Muslim. And the fine line between race and religion has become significantly blurred in the 21st century. Inevitably, society has, does and is going to treat me a certain way due to these intersections that
constitute my identity.

Though I’ve had and will have my experiences of being discriminated against based on my physical appearance, nonetheless there is no denying that I am privileged in other ways. I feel that sometimes, people can see privilege in a very black and white way, literally. In fact, people forget how privileged they are, and that privilege itself does lie on a spectrum.
I’m privileged. I live in inner West London. I went to school. I went to a good sixth form. I went to a Russell group university. Every single day my dad would pick me up from school. When I used to come home, which was a 3-minute walk from my primary school, I would have a shower, I would then have my dinner which was waiting for me at the table. When I wasn’t doing my homework or extracurricular activities, I was at the library or I was playing out with my friends who lived in my area. I went to school. I was in full time education for 18 years. As a young primary school student, I had parents picking me up from school, holding my hand up until we reached our home. School was a 3-minute walk. One time my friend and I ran from school to home, it took us 1 minute. Not every child in this world has the privilege of going to school, let alone a school that is so nearby. One of my great Aunts would always tell me that she had to climb mountains and swim through lakes and rivers to go to school. I’m pretty sure she was exaggerating slightly, but she would always tell me that she used to go to school every single day, and as she set off, the poorer children her age in the village would set out to do their domestic and agricultural duties. On top of having a good education, not every child is privileged to have a parent or parents, let alone parents picking them up from school. My father passed away when I was 15 years old, at a young, crucial and pivotal moment of my life, but nonetheless, I had a strong father figure growing up who was there for me. On top of that, I had, and I do have access to clean water every single day. I never have to worry about trekking for miles looking for water, let alone water that is sanitised. I never have to trek anywhere. As a child, I was able to play out with the other children in my area without my parents having to worry extensively about my health and safety. The area in which I grew up in was a relatively safe area with a decent neighbourhood, well during daylight hours anyways. And though there were gangs in my area, incidents of knife crime, people being shot, drug dealings, arson attacks, like a lot of London in fact, which goes unheard of in the great British media, even the affluent boroughs, nonetheless it was London, West London, a city of opportunities within an economically developed country.

My mum was born in 1958 in Bangladesh, a decade after the Indian partition. Prior to 1947, Bangladesh was controlled by the British Raj. From 1947 to 1971, Pakistan intervened socially and politically in Bangladesh, trying to gain control over this small territory. After many years of conflict and turmoil Bangladesh finally gained independence and formally became a country in 1971. My mum is literate. She knows how to read and write in both Bengali and English. Growing up, she had the privilege of going to school despite her school being bombed and closed for a couple of years due to the war. My grandfather who went to Pakistan to study at university ensured that his daughters were educated and aware, so frequently he would sit with my mum and listen to her read, the same way my dad would sit with me and listen to me read my library books to him. As a child, I was never surprised that my mum knew how to read and write in Bengali, it was her mother tongue after all. And I was never surprised that she knew the history of her country so well, all the way from the British empire to the Portuguese settlers, to the Moghul, Turk and Afghan rulers, and the first Arab Muslim to set foot in her village. But, my mum would frequently tell me that she was privileged to come from an industrialised area in Bangladesh, and privileged to have a father who stressed the importance of his daughters to be educated. I never knew up until recently in fact that the adult literacy rate of Bangladesh was 29.2 % in 1981 and in 2015, 61.5 %. According to UNESCO, the average adult literacy rate in 2018 is 72.76%. I was so surprised to see these figures because 1. My mum was born in the late 1950’s, when the literacy rate was probably lower than 29.2%, and 2. It really made me put things into perspective. Unlike my mum who lived through the Bangladeshi liberation war, who saw her father, friends and other family members kidnapped, harmed and tortured right before her very eyes, who did have her house raided by the Pakistani military frequently and all their belongings stolen, and livestock burnt up, I have it good. But I realised that although my mum went through a lot growing up: being born after the Indian Partition, the dismantling of the British Empire and living through the Bangladeshi liberation war etc, she like me, saw herself as privileged primarily because she was literate and educated in comparison to other girls her age growing up who weren’t.
We are all privileged in our own right.

1831

People love to act like Anti-blackness doesn’t exist in the Muslim community, but it does. I’ve seen it and heard it with my own eyes from people who I went secondary school with, people from university, and even my own family members sad to say. We all love to say racism doesn’t exist in Islam and recite a few passages from the Quran: An Arab is not better than a Non-Arab (…) or that Bilal R.A. one of our prophet’s dearest companion, a freed slave and the person who used to recite the call to prayer was black, but how many of us actually believe in that? When we are called out on our racism, we deny it and use Bilal R.A as the token Muslim black guy to justify our attitudes of racism, discrimination and prejudice, or we say that we ourselves are people of colour or a religious minority, therefore we cannot be racist nor discriminatory nor prejudice towards another group of people. That is bullshit.

Growing up, I’ve heard prejudice and discriminatory views projected towards Black people, both Black Muslims and Black non-Muslims, or even my own race by other Muslims, from people who I’ve called my friends. When it comes to Islamic events at universities or mosques, biryani amongst other South Asian dishes are always served. Where is the bariis, canjeero, jollof, jerk chicken, rice and peas at please?

Racism in the Muslim community is real. There is this whole idea reiterated that we can talk to Black people, perhaps be friends with them (God forbid our families see us walking down the road with a Black person), maybe even give them dawah and thus be the one to show them Islam, but then when you want to invite them to your house, or even marry one of them, then no, it’s not allowed.

These attitudes, feelings and ideologies of anti-Blackness have deep colonial and imperialist roots, which have passed down from generation to generation despite us living in a post-colonial era, supposedly. And when I speak of the colonial era, I am not speaking of explicitly the Britsh, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Italian empires, I am speaking of the Arab empire as well.

Stereotypes surrounding the Black womam as an ‘angry woman’ or the Black man as a ‘thug’ still exist in the contemporary. The media have a significant hand in constructing the Black identity, which in turn affects consumer’s and viewer’s perceptions surrounding blackness.

We ourselves need to question what we see and hear, and what we have seen and heard.

1980

Intersectional feminism is a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: an American civil right advocate, as well as a professor specialising in racial theory. Though coined by Crenshaw, black feminists prior to Crenshaw such as Audre Lorde made intersectional feminist theory what it is prior to its founding as a study.

Intersectionality is the idea that different social, economic and political components come together to form an individual’s identity. These components include class, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, religion etc. Due to these different components, every man and every woman is perceived differently by society.

A middle class white woman’s experience, and how she is perceived in life, is different to that of a working class white woman’s, because of social, economic and financial factors which determine which class a woman fits the category of. A white woman’s experience is different to a black woman’s experience because a Black woman is seen in light of her Blackness.

Identity is very complex. There are so many different constituents that come together to determine why an individual is the way they are. Due to this, generalisation is an issue. To say that white feminism can be used to represent the struggle of black feminists is inaccurate. White feminists can use their voice to speak out against social injustices against themselves and other women, but they will never ever be able to relate to the oppression, discrimination, prejudice and struggle that black women go through on a day to day basis because they will never be discriminated against based on Blackness.

Similarly, to use the word Black culture to describe a Black individual or a whole race is very vague. There is a wide diaspora of Black people across the world who don’t share the same demographic location, each having their own cultural and ethnic customs and values distinct to them. In Ghana alone, there are around 250 languages spoken and over 100 different ethnic groups. Therefore, to generalise a person or group of people based on one shared intersection such as skin colour is both problematic and inaccurate.