Pubs and Prejudice

Being a South Asian Muslim living in the UK, I have often been made to feel like a victim of prejudice. Stares, comments, tuts- you name it, I’ve received it. That being said, I must admit that I also harbour my own prejudices; labelling people is a flaw that is common among every member of our species.

Precisely a year ago, I went on a little family holiday to Blackpool. Any trip to this seaside resort is incomplete without a visit to its notorious pleasure beach. Although I despise rollercoasters and fairground rides, I decided to get onto the water ride, despite the fact that it was cold, and I was wearing summery clothes.

Inevitably, I was absolutely drenched. I walked around, shivering, looking for a public toilet where I could dry myself off a little. The only public toilets within close vicinity were situated within a pub. This was my first time ever entering a pub (as alcohol is Haram, or forbidden, in my religion). My second time entering a pub was when, earlier this summer, we went on another little trip to Ipswich, and stayed at a small inn. We had breakfast at the adjoined pub.

My initial view was that English pubs were always full of ignorant drunkards, huddling around, discussing sports and why they support UKIP. When I went to dry my skirt underneath the hand drier, I noticed a woman- drunk, white, middle-aged, with a giant tattoo on her arm- staring at me. I braced myself; I thought she would impart some sort of racial slur to me, but she didn’t.

Instead, we had a little conversation about the wretched water ride, and about how hand driers in public toilets are always so weak.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Was Corbyn being anti-Semitic?

This morning, I logged into Twitter to find that the phrase ‘Israel to ISIS’ was trending in London. After further investigation, I discovered that Jeremy Corbyn (the current leader of the British Labour Party) was (yet again) being pressured to resign amid claims that he had made a strikingly anti-Semitic comment in Parliament.

Here is the exact statement he made:

“Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations”

I had several initial reactions to this statement in contrast with the intensely negative responses it received. Firstly, what kind of anti-Semitic person in his right mind would refer to Jews as “friends”? Moreover, Corbyn did not compare Israel to Daesh- rather, he compared the relations of ordinary Jews and Muslims in the UK to fundamentalist organisations, such as the Netanyahu government and (presumably) corrupted governments like that of Saudi Arabia. Daesh was not mentioned in this particular assertion, and yet this is what hundreds of Brits are focusing on.

Corbyn has always voiced views in support of British Jews and Muslims, and yet, due to the above statement, people have deemed the Labour Party “unsafe” for Jews under Corbyn’s leadership. Many gentiles seem to be anointing themselves as spokespeople for the Jewish community, criticising Corbyn’s ‘antisemitism’. But is it really anti-Semitic to oppose the actions of a particular government? Similarly, is it Islamophobic to oppose the actions of the Saudi government? Is it anti-Semitic to actively oppose anti-Semitism on the basis of scapegoating? No. These ideas are fundamentally absurd- they are mere excuses for people to thrive on in order to meet a political objective (in this case, pressuring Corbyn to resign from his position).

Corbyn was right in declaring that Zionism should not be conflated with Judaism, as far too often, ordinary Jews are forced to pay for the crimes of IDF soldiers, and (in a similar sense) ordinary Muslims are forced to pay for the crimes of various ‘Islamist’ organisations. This unjust culture of scapegoating is precisely what Corbyn spoke out against.

Many Jews are tweeting in anger and frustration against the calls for Corbyn to resign, arguing that the Labour leader was right to make such a statement, as people habitually conflate Zionism with Judaism, and physically and verbally attack Jews as a result of this foolish notion. Ironically, the statement that many are branding as ‘anti-Jewish’, was in fact, to protect the best interests of the British Jewish community.

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Source: lbc.co.uk

What I find most disconcerting is that many of the politicians who have criticised Corbyn’s leadership (especially in the past few hours) have never championed the rights of the British Jewish community until now- this is an example of political tokenism at its worst. The interests of the British Jewish community are, once again, being exploited to conform to a political agenda.

Here’s how one of the Jewish activists I follow on Twitter expressed her views on the topic:

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Source: twitter.com

Post-Brexit, British politics have morphed into a thing of childlike folly and deceit, and politicians of high morals and integrity are being held liable for the actions of their (polar opposite) counterparts. Corbyn is not a monstrous anti-Semite as British media outlets are currently portraying him, and anyone claiming Corbyn has an antisemitism problem because ‘compared Israel to ISIS’ is in desperate need of a remedial lesson in basic logic.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Response to Daily Mail’s Littlejohn

The Daily Mail’s Richard Littlejohn is a very pleasant, intelligent chap, known for writing about pressing issues such as immigration (a manifestation of “extremist, expansionist Islam”) and calling a new mother a “gypsy”, before asking her why she “even [came] here in the first place”. 

Recently, I came across an article by him about Michelle Obama’s visit to Mulberry School- a girls’ school in Tower Hamlets, earlier this year. I was simultaneously humoured and appalled.

See the article here

In the article, Littlejohn begins by asking a very crucial question: “Did Michelle Obama not see the irony in delivering a speech on female emancipation to a school full of girls in headscarves in the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets?”. I must admit, I found this hilarious. He obviously believes (without cited sources or statistics) that the Hijab is somehow a symbol of oppression, and that it is absolutely impossible to be a liberated female British human being if you wear a scarf on your head. With regards to the ‘Islamic Republic’ aspect, according to the borough’s website, Tower Hamlets is the only British local authority where the Muslim population is the largest single religious group.  35% of people in Tower Hamlets are Muslim, whilst 27% are Christian. The rest of the population is made up of atheists, Jewish people, Hindus e.t.c. I don’t think such figures add up to make the borough an ‘Islamic Republic’.

Littlejohn claims that “majority [of the pupils] have no option to wear headscarves and long robes”. I wonder if he’d conducted a survey of some sort before reaching this conclusion, or whether his statement was entirely speculative, designed to conform to an Islamophobic agenda. Hmm… I’m going to go with the latter.

He goes on to state that his “guess” is that the Department for Education chose the venue deliberately to showcase “our new, rigorously enforced State religion: ‘Celebrating Diversity'”. Well, sir, your article seems to be full to the brim with similar “guesses”, unsupported by solid evidence of any kind.

The term ‘ultra-religious’ is used to caption an image of the First Lady standing in front of a group of Mulberry students. Granted, most of the girls are pictured in Hijabs, but does this reflexively mean that they are ‘ultra-religious’?

Many conjecturable statements are made in the article, including Littlejohn’s view that “Mulberry School is one of the least diverse schools in Britain”. I doubt he has ever ventured out of London to schools in Kent, where most of the students are white. My cousin attends a grammar school in Kent; she is the only Hijab-wearing student in her entire year, and is one of the only two non-white students in her class.

The idiocy does not stop there. Littlejohn claims that the article is “not directed at the…pupils”, however he mentions how the pupils come from a predominantly Bangladeshi background. He goes on to talk about the then “Muslim mayor” of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, as though religion was a central factor in his vote-rigging fiasco. Essentially, through this article, Littlejohn is denigrating Islam; he finds it ironic that the First Lady “delivered a speech on female emancipation in front of a [mainly Muslim] audience”, as though the students are feeble, submissive, voiceless victims of oppression, who “have no option other than to wear the restrictive clothes imposed upon them by their parents”. When will the media accept Muslim women as the powerful and creative people that they are?

Littlejohn speculatively labels  the Hijab a “symbol of seperatism” and “female oppression”, but who are the oppressors, I wonder? The truth is, Muslim women who choose to express pride in their religious identities are oppressed by ignorant imbeciles who write entire articles about their ‘oppression’ without even consulting them first.

In an attempt to save himself from inevitable accusations of racism and Islamophobia, Littlejohn makes clear that his intention is not to vilify, but rather to prevent “young Muslim men and women” from being “susceptible to extremist interpretations of Islam”. Yeah, right. If that was truly the case, he would have portrayed the fine students of Mulberry school in a positive light- for they are brilliant individuals, as the school’s achievement statistics show. Littlejohn unfairly uses their Hijabs to demean them, insisting that they will probably be “forced to stay at home” or “take part in arranged marriages”.

“Now try to gauge your reaction when you discovered that Michelle Obama was actually in London”. Here, Littlejohn conveys just how disgusted he was at the fact that none of the prefect students pictured with the First Lady were white. How adorable.

This was not the only instance where a Daily Mail columnist openly expressed Islamophobic attitudes: when the Queen of the Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya Hussain, was crowned, journalist Amanda Platell was actually offended by the fact that Flora Shedden did not win, claiming that she would have stood a better chance if she’d made a “chocolate mosque”.

In conclusion, the Daily Mail is an ocean of bigoted tears, and its columnists are in desperate need of a lesson in intersectional feminism.

Unfair media representations of Muslim women

Islamophobia

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.

The word ‘terror’ is now popularly associated with Muslims.
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.