By Shaista Aziz
4 Apr 2018
Twenty-four hours on from the “Punish a Muslim Day” and the well-meaning but deeply reductive framing of “Love a Muslim Day”, the UK’s Muslim communities and no doubt the police and authorities are breathing a huge sigh of relief that this designated day of hate passed off without major incident.
“Punish a Muslim Day” started off last month, with a number of anonymous letters arriving at the homes of Muslims in the north of England, the Midlands and east London. Four Muslim MPs received it, including at least one copy being received in parliament, leading to a security alert. The letter boasted of horrific “rewards”, encouraging people to carry out attacks on Muslims, including torture, burning down mosques and throwing acid in Muslims’ faces. It is still not known who was behind them, although counter-terror police are investigating,
Muslim women were picked out and slotted in a special category – as we’re used to – with points being offered to those who pulled off hijabs from women’s heads.
There may not have been a major incident, but “Punish a Muslim Day” did what it was designed to do – strike fear in the hearts of individual Muslims and those already being impacted by hate crime and racism.
The impact cannot be underestimated – especially on the mental health of Muslim women. I personally know of four women who refused to leave their homes yesterday, taking the day off work or changing their social plans. One told me that she had taken her daughter out of nursery for the day because she didn’t want to risk anything happening to her child or to her. Another friend, feisty, independent, and very visible in her community, sent me a WhatsApp message the night before, asking: “What do you think? This is a farce isn’t it and it should be ignored, right?” I understood that this was her checking in with me to show solidarity with me as much as it was to silence any niggling doubt that she was going to go ahead with her day as planned.
Many argued that the best way to deal with “stunts” such as “Punish A Muslim Day” is to ignore them. Best not give oxygen to whoever is responsible for orchestrating this campaign of terror. But to me, that’s burying one’s head in the sand. We cannot avoid the fact that British Muslims are facing rising levels of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate and the mainstreaming of racism in our country on a daily basis.
This “Punish a Muslim Day” is not a one-off day of hate targeting Muslims; for many it represents the daily structural Islamophobia we are up against and the increasingly poisonous rhetoric directed against Muslims in everyday life.
Only last month the leaders of the far-right group Britain First were jailed for a series of hate crimes against Muslims. The group’s leaders, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, were found guilty of religiously aggravated harassment after being investigated for the distribution of leaflets and online hate material.
A few weeks later, Paul Moore, 21, was convicted of attempted murder after running over a Muslim woman and trying to hit a 12-year-old girl with his car in Leicester as “revenge” for terrorist attacks in London.
Moore targeted Zaynab Hussein with his car in September last year. She was thrown into the air. He then turned his car round and drove over her. Hussein, 47, was left with severe fractures to her pelvis and spine and a broken leg. She was in hospital for almost three months, and remains confined to a bed.
Anti-Muslim hate can’t only be measured by the increased reported hate crimes and acts of terrorism such as that carried out against worshippers at Finsbury Park mosque last summer – Islamophobia is fully mainstream and is part of our daily public and political discourse. Take the research paper by academics in Portsmouth and Birmingham, which found that Muslim parents are homeschooling their children because of bullying.
Or the carelessness displayed by our public figures including Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, who a week ago expressed “regret” after sharing a Facebook post from an American anti-Muslim website. It wasn’t the first time Blackman had made such an apology. In 2016, Blackman retweeted far-right extremist Tommy Robinson, later saying he made an “error” and apologising. Blackman is not alone in making such “errors”; the voices and views of violent Islamophobes are commonly amplified on social media.
To counter Islamophobia at its roots, we need a grounded and honest national conversation about the extent of the problem. We also need a prime minister and government that will lead by example and make it crystal clear those structural barriers impacting Muslims’ lives and the racism Muslim communities face will be tackled robustly.
We also need a strong and diverse anti-racism movement willing to tackle the politics of bigotry and division head-on. “Love a Muslim Day” is a worthy gesture but most Muslims I know are not bothered about being loved – we just want to feel safe and secure in our country. We’d like the right to live with dignity, to be seen and valued as full human beings and citizens without having to prove how good or how British we are.
• Shaista Aziz is a journalist, writer, standup comedian and former aid worker