Mehdi Hasan argued that fear-mongering and negative stereotyping of Muslims in public life has spun out of control. He outlined the racial abuse he encountered in trying to be a voice to a voiceless community and argued that "You can now say things about Muslims, in polite society and even among card-carrying liberal lefties that you cannot say about any other group or minority." His post caused a number of other prominent commentators such as Owen Jones and Jonathan Freedland to show their support.
While I could not agree more with him, you do not have to be a prominent Muslim to experience such abuse.
From individuals who take an interest in politics to bloggers and
organisations who are vocal in support of Islam and Muslims, somewhere
along the line every one of them would have been labelled as an
'extremist' or experienced some form of racial abuse.
One only has to look at the number of websites which attacks
practically every Muslim organisation that tries to engage and empower
Muslim communities as "encouraging and promoting extremism." The term
'extremist' has now become acceptable in society to be directed at
Muslims who decide to take a role in being politically active about
Islam and Muslims.
I do not write for a living nor am I anywhere as near a prorominent Muslim writer like Mehdi Hasan,
but I have always taken an interest in politics and have been involved
in a number of political activist initiatives ranging from my student
Islamic society to online blogging. Have I ever had some form of abuse
for simply trying to educate myself and make a positive contribution to
Plenty of it and I'm not alone. Anyone that shares similar viewpoints
and interests as me would have suffered some form of 'Muslim bashing'
abuse. The sad thing is that it has now become the norm and expected if
you decide to say something positive about Muslims.
I cannot begin to recall the amount of times I have been told to "go
back where you came from" or as in a most recent Twitter conversation
where I merely asked if mainstream media outlets contributed to
Islamophobia, in which I received a reply; "well look you have the
option of going back to where you're from, where it's all about Islam
and nothing else." Exactly where should that be? My parents are both
from western countries. I'm a British citizen. I grew up in a county
where Christianity was the prominent religion. Where exactly should I
go home to?
I am not alone in this. The constant stream of abusive comments
geared towards Muslims whether it's on social networking or in the media
can be very disheartening. I merely have to log into my Twitter or
Facebook account to see phrases such as "Muslims, if you don't like our
country, go back home" and "Muslims need to integrate" from individuals
of all backgrounds.
However, the worst abuse I ever witnessed was the response to the poppy burning incident which
took place on Remembrance Day 2010 by now banned extremist group Muslim
Against Crusades. I logged into my Facebook account to see numerous
anti-Islam messages against the entire Muslim population of Britain.
Comments ranging from "Muslims go home" to ''filthy Muslims'' were
prevalent across my Facebook newsfeed. It really was a shame that an
entire 3 million Muslims had to feel the repercussions for the actions
of 50 Muslim individuals.
And it's not just anti-Islam comments that are worrying. Being
associated with causes relating to Muslims puts one in a category of
"supporting extremism." At one of my previous jobs, I was called an
'extremist' for simply relaying that I spent my weekend travelling to
London on a coach to attend a Palestine protest. However when it came
to another colleague who defended the English Defence League,
he was labelled as patriotic. A Muslim friend of mine also refuses to
publicise his interest and involvement with politics at work because of
the career limitations it would bring.
I've also met a number of Muslim graduates who are hesitant about
writing about their involvement with Muslim groups on their CV for fear
of being stereotyped. When filling out job applications last year, I
deliberately refused to include my role as contributing writer at Canadian online magazine, Suite101,
for certain roles because of the risk of it being used against me to
land an interview; even though the skills utilised in that position
could have been easily transferrable. Even now, I'm still hesitant to go
into work and say 'everyone, my blog post is published in the HuffPost today.'
However, it would probably be a different story if say my area of
writing would have been movies or sports.
Should we be surprised at this? Muslims are often always portrayed by
the British media in a negative light. Even government policies have
always emphasised the need for Muslims to integrate more into British
society. With such fear-mongering prevalent, it's no surprise that
Muslim representation in public life and politics is at its minimum.
But it's just not in wider society that we are seeing such abuse.
Even in Muslim communities, those who take a stand on issues as
Islamophobia, foreign policy and extremism are also stigmatised as being
too 'out there.' I've encountered numerous occasions where Muslim
individuals would point out, "You shouldn't be too vocal you'll be
mistaken for a terrorist," or "Blogging about these issues is not your
concern, you will gain a negative reputation." Well whose concern is it
then? Should we just shrug off the growing threat of Islamophobia and
accept such discrimination?
One has to wonder why the fear. The problem is extremism, foreign
policy and political activism are not openly discussed in Muslim
communities. How many mosques address such issues in their Friday
sermons? Or how many Muslim parents will encourage their children to get
involved in politics?
I stand with Mehdi Hasan
on this one. Fear-mongering and negative stereotyping of Muslims has
indeed spun out of control to the extent that you cannot be a Muslim and
politically active about Islam and Muslims without being called an
'extremist.' Muslims wanting to go down the route of politics, activism
and public life should not have to undergo such abuse.
It's about time the word 'extremist' is untagged from the words Muslim and Islam and actually assigned to the real 'extremists.'
Featured in the HuffingtonPostUK
Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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