A lack of engagement by senior Conservatives is part of the process of ‘othering’ us, as the risks to Muslims of extremism have been ignored. Treat us as equals, not enemies
The first half of 2017 has felt relentless. Barely a week seems to pass without news of some kind of catastrophe, whether natural or man-made. There is an abundance of news, and it is exhausting.
As a Muslim, though, I cannot remember any Ramadan that has been as emotionally draining as this one. While the country was still reeling from the Manchester bombing, the first weekend of the holiest month in the Muslim calendar was punctuated by the attacks at London Bridge and the surrounding area. The fire at Grenfell Tower – and our deepening understanding of the catalogue of errors, mismanagement and neglect that allowed dozens of people to burn to death – has left many of us devastated. And on Sunday night reports began to emerge of worshippers being run over while leaving a mosque in Finsbury Park.
Each of these events was tinged with its own horror. To bomb children attending a concert suggests an utter lack of regard for life and the capacity for humans to be joyful. To kill people in multiple coordinated attacks in the name of Islam at precisely the point in the day that most Muslims were praying and breaking their fasts, as Khuram Butt and his accomplices did, shows how perverted their understanding of Islam was.
The events of Sunday night mean that the discourse has to change, though. For too long, Muslims have been cast as a risk to public safety and security. We have been vilified by politicians and the popular press; we have been described as “terrorist sympathisers” and accused of being unwilling to integrate into British society. But what those accusers fail to understand is that it is difficult to integrate into any society if you’re permanently being cast as a threat to the world around you, and if the solution to that threat – a “final solution”, as Katie Hopkins might term it – is for your places of worship to be monitored and your schools to be investigated on the most spurious of charges.
In consequence, the risks to Muslims from others have effectively been ignored. It is well documented that anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased exponentially in recent years, with particular spikes following attacks carried out by those purporting to be Muslim. Both in the UK and the US, our communities are increasingly afraid. But cohesive societies cannot be built on fear, and unless something changes, the social fabric that binds us together will continue to fray.
It was positive to see Theresa May visit the Finsbury Park mosque yesterday, but it is worth noting that it was her first visit to a mosque since becoming prime minister. In fact, there seems to have been a remarkable lack of visits to mosques from senior Conservative figures in recent years, despite a number of well-publicised visits to Hindu and Sikh places of worship. But to visit a mosque only because people were attacked outside it – because you have to, rather than because you want to – also tells us that there is an unwillingness on the part of the government to engage with us as citizens. It is part of the process of “othering” and it sends a powerful message that we are different and that our spaces are dangerous.
This is not good enough. Muslims are part of society and we contribute to it in myriad ways. We have our problems – poverty and a lack of opportunity being implicated in all sorts of negative outcomes – but we are not the enemy. We are citizens, just like everyone else. And while some sections of the media seem intent on portraying us as people to be feared, we need a different discourse to emerge. But we can’t create that discourse without support. We need the government to make a stand: it has to engage with us positively, rather than seeing us as a threat to be contained. It has to treat us as people it values and accepts, and it has to develop policies that reflect those attitudes. So, Mrs May, Mr Johnson, Ms Rudd: consider this an invitation. Come and meet us. Consult us. Engage us. Get to know us. Treat us as your equals, not your enemies. Help us to change the discourse.
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