I see you. “Hang on, Laila, what? You’re kidding. That’s not a thing and you’ve made some outlandish hashtag for clickbait.” Alas, no, it is genuinely #PunishAMuslimDay tomorrow. You may not have heard about it. But that is a copy of an actual letter that was genuinely sent to Muslims around the UK a few weeks ago.
The islamophobic agenda in this country starts right at the very top. The press, the government, the media. Muslims are hugely underrepresented and issues affecting the Muslim community are rarely widely reported. For the last few weeks, the media has been non-stop in covering Corbyn and anti-semitism. And I’m not saying that’s not a problem, because it obviously is. But you would think this, a clear call to arms to incite racial hatred and violent, criminal attacks, against an extremely persecuted and already threatened section of society would be granted at least some mainstream coverage, right? It hasn’t.
Absolutely fuck all. The police have been “investigating” the letters, and that’s about it. Muslims who received the letter have not received a second letter from their local MP, or from government, or from their council police force reassuring them that they will be safe. There have been scattered reports around the country of people receiving e-mails from work and so on, but there has been no nationwide message of safety. Nothing from no 10 condoning the attacks. Fuck all in the media about staying safe.
It’s been left up to Muslims to sort out their own protection, to organise safety schemes where those who feel vulnerable can be accompanied by a volunteer; those in unsafe areas can be checked up on. The Muslim community gets a big bashing in this country for a) pulling the victim card and b) being insular. Where do you think that comes from? If Muslims didn’t speak up about this issue and their (valid) fears, thereby “pulling the victim card”, would you have heard about it? What are we supposed to do? If we weren’t busy being “insular” and organising our own protection, who else would be? Why do you think we look inwards for the support? Are you offering it from outside?
In fact, there was a counter campaign launched: the #HugAMuslimDay and the #LoveAMuslimDay initiative. STOP. STOP DOING THINGS LIKE THIS. We don’t need hugs, we don’t need lame gestures of friendship and love and understanding. Muslims need PROTECTION and SAFE SPACES and a society that WELCOMES AND LOOKS AFTER THEM. The #HugAMuslimDay thing is like the safety pin thing all over again: surface-level action that means nothing to the receipient and just serves to slightly bolster the ego. I did the right thing: I hugged a Muslim. I tweeted about how wrong it was. I took action. That’s really, clearly, demonstrably not helping.
I actually haven’t been fully following the lame, pathetically small bits of mainstream media coverage this has been getting because I am terrified and disgusted. This is one of the first times I’ve felt unable to properly follow a news story because my anger is overtaken by fear. I don’t normally feel like that. You might have seen my rant on insta earlier. Everytime I speak out about this country or race issues I get numerous people popping up saying stuff like “it’s just such a shame you don’t like the country”. Or “maybe you should go somewhere else because clearly you’re not proud of being British.” But how can you be proud of this? We all make this country, and it should be on everyone to offer help to those who need it. At least, that’s what I think.
I am British born and bred. I was born in London: I’m more of a Londoner than like 90% of people here and I’m proud of that. But my pride runs out extremely quickly when I have to talk about the UK. I’ve spoken so many times about targeting racism, islamophobia; about what people can do and how we can try to make things better. It’s just gone from bad to worse to hell. 2015 elections: racial abuse in the streets. Post-Brexit referendum: worse, more calculated racial abuse. And now, this. Things aren’t getting better. The right action isn’t being taken. It’s not just about condoning groups and sending a few tweets. It’s about actually engaging with and dismantling islamophobia. That’s not a one-person job. That’s on everyone.
You can sign up to help tomorrow. You can offer protection to Muslims near you – reach out to them, are they okay? For God’s sake don’t just go around hugging the nearest brown bearded male. But get in touch with your Muslim friends, let them know you can come round, escort them places. Don’t even think about fucking putting a safety pin on your coat. Just actually show up, you know? And for god’s sake don’t send your sympathy back to me. I do not live in a high-risk area and I do not wear a hijab. I appreciate the comments of love and support, obviously, but we need to spread the word and, crucially, I already know about this issue. Do me a favour and share your agreement, instead of telling me. Action over words.
And what can you do in the long term? You can address racism and islamophobia. Start having the difficult conversations that you don’t want to have. There is NEVER going to be a good time to call out your ignorant, racist, immigrant-hating Gran, or your Uncle who voted Leave and is clearly a massive islamophobe. There just won’t be. Accept it and suck it up and have the conversation anyway when you can. And look, I’m not saying they are necessarily the guys out there with the acid, but do they blame Muslims for random nonsensical shit? Do you hear them mumbling vague derogatory shit about Sharia Law? Then those relatives/family friends/colleagues are part of the problem. And you’re a lot more likely to ween them off the Daily Heil than a brown-skinned stranger. The country is in fucking ruin and tatters. It needs a clean up, and it needs mending. Start the hell at home.
What else can you do? Support Muslims. Buy our shit, consume our art, spread our work. You can pay attention to the Muslim community. Like, just try adding more Muslim voices into your social media feed for starters. And if you’re white, why not try amplifying those voices? Share our experiences, our stories. We do what we can but obviously, we aren’t loud enough.
Look, I’m angry. I am really. fucking. angry.