People often ask me where I am from. This question irritates me in a way that even I cannot comprehend. I was born and raised in Britain, yet the question of ethnic origins appears to be of more importance, despite the fact that I’ve only visited Bangladesh thrice in my life, for three weeks at most each time. Despite my outward features (headscarf, brown skin, dark eyebrows and the like) I naturally consider myself very British.
Perhaps what I admire most about Great Britain is its values of mutual respect and tolerance: how men, women, black people, white people, Christians, Atheists, homosexual people- people across a vast spectrum of diversity- are accepted and celebrated. Though these are the fundamental values of Britain, not everyone is willing to abide by them.
It supposedly all began after the tragedies of 9/11; I was only a year old at the time, and yet the events of this day continue to resonate around me wherever I go. I shuffle in discomfort when the line “Please report any suspicious items or activity to transport staff” is articulated over the Tannoy system on the Tube, and bow my head in discomfort when I am stared at afterwards- sometimes with quick glances of sympathy, but far too often with unmoving glares of hostility. I am seen as not an individual, but a representational piece of the bigger picture- the media narrative that speaks of rapes, bombings, female degradation, beheadings and mass terror. People fail to acknowledge that not all Muslims harbour ideological stances adjacent to that of ISIS. In fact, most Muslims openly condemn the acts of ISIS, as the Quran explicitly advises Muslims to “Enjoin in what is good, and forbid what is evil”.
On one end of the spectrum, I am afraid of ISIS and its reign of terror, and of similar ‘Islamist’ organisations that threaten to deface Islam and invade countries, spreading terror and unrest across the world. On the other end of the spectrum, I am afraid due to the stories I hear from my aunts and uncles, of racist assaults and verbal abuse that they themselves have been victim of.
I myself am not immune to being a target of such misconduct. For instance, when I was aged twelve years old, during a boat ride down a river in Kent, a group of men instructed me to “Jump in the lake, for everyone’s sake” and that “EDL will someday destroy” me, and also quite recently, when my two-year-old brother and I looked on as a man physically assaulted our father because he was a “F***ing Paki”.
Whereas before, I was extremely confident, proudly displaying my eccentric nature wherever I went, I am now afraid of lingering alone in public areas, for fear of both being a victim of racist abuse, and of reminding others of the brutal acts carried out by alleged constituents of my faith. I feel as though I must constantly show signs of remorse, despite my prodigious distance from the villains in question. When someone stares at me, I smile awkwardly and apologetically.
Over the past few decades, the influence of mass media has grown exponentially with the advancement of technology, to the extent where people uncritically rely on the media as an objective source of information. With the growth of mass media, the term ‘terrorism’ to describe crimes committed by ‘Islamists’ has become exceedingly popular. The definition of this term according to the Oxford dictionary is:
(n) The unofficial use of violence/intimidation in the pursuit of political aims
So what of right-wing fascist movements? Where are the front-page articles reporting their offences? Where is the generalised vilification of them?
Young British Muslims are somehow externalised from their rightful British identities, unduly forced to choose between their religious and cultural identities, regardless of where they were born, or the colour of their passports. A mere scarf over my head to express my pride in my faith is somehow enough to provoke a torrent of Islamophobic abuse, even as a teenager.
I believe that in a country where freedom of expression and values of tolerance and respect are central societal components, this should not be the case, and that young Muslims should have the freedom to uphold and be proud of both their Muslim and British identities- the two are not mutually exclusive.