We cannot stay silent as Islamophobia becomes accepted in society
As Islamophobia Awareness Month comes to an end, the tragedy for Muslims is that the Islamophobia they face sadly doesn't.
Last week, as a Muslim Labour MP, I responded to the Islamophobia Awareness debate in Westminster Hall.
I stated in my speech that “in 2011, the former chair of the Conservative Party, Baroness Warsi, said; Islamophobia had "passed the dinner-table test". A decade later, in 2021, I am saying Islamophobia has now passed the "mainstream media test."
Prominent figures can use Islamophobic language and tropes without remorse and still have prominent roles within the media
Just this week, the Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring (CFMM) published a report analysing over 48,000 online articles and 5,500 broadcast clips, between October 2018 and September 2019. They found that almost 60 per cent of the articles and 47 per cent of the television clips associated Muslims and/or Islam with negative aspects of behaviour.
I mentioned within the debate how prominent figures can use Islamophobic language and tropes without an apology or any remorse and still have prominent roles within the media.
Sadly, it seems that Islamophobia has become palatable, and it is for this reason that I believe Islamophobia has passed the "mainstream media test".
I am, therefore, not surprised that sections of our society seem unshaken by the everyday Islamophobia on their television screens, in their broadsheets and in tabloid newspapers.
When it comes to attacks against Muslims, in 2020/21 45 per cent of religious hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales, were against Muslims.
We are seeing an upsurge in attacks on the British Muslim community, but too often we are made to feel like we are playing the victim card.
Since becoming an MP in 2015, a man has been sentenced for sending me a death threats, I have sued Leave EU for a libellous “grooming gang” slur, I have been called a p***, c***, b****, evil, nasty, a cancer that is ruining this country, a terrorist supporter, a “paedo” lover and have been told to “go back to Pakistan”.
I continue to deal with Islamophobia every time I post on social media. Unfortunately, I have learnt to live with the hate, as those who see it often also remain silent and have learned to ignore it.
In the US, Rep. Ilhan Omar has faced a constant barrage of Islamophobic attacks, recently being called “Jihadi Squad” by a fellow legislator and a "bloodthirsty" apologist for terrorism by another Congresswoman.
So, this isn't about me, or even the vile open-ended Islamophobia that is rampant towards Muslims in public life because we still have a platform.
This is about the ordinary Muslims in the UK, Europe and across the world, who are forced to either accept Islamophobia or feel the need to hide their Muslimness to progress, to catch a bus, to walk into a shop or walk on the streets.
I have heard first-hand, how a sizeable percentage of British Muslim females don’t wear the headscarf. Not because they don’t want to, but due to the fear of being attacked or the fear of being prejudiced, thereby reducing their chances at succeeding and reaching the top.
Similarly, many of us have watched the Select Committee hearing with the former Yorkshire Cricket player Azeem Rafiq, as he broke down in tears recalling the moment he had wine poured down his throat as a 15-year-old and how he became part of the drinking culture just to “fit in”.
We have also seen how Islamophobia can lead to terrorist attacks and murders and we have seen how institutionalised Islamophobia can manifest in the workplace and the media.
It should not be the case that Muslims must hide or lose a part of their faith and identity just to fit in, as though there is something inherently criminal about being Muslim.
So, when we call out Islamophobia, we are not asking for special treatment for being Muslims, we are simply asking for equal treatment. We are asking to be accepted as “us” and not “them”, because we are proudly British.
We are fighting to remove Islamophobia and other forms of hate from our society, as it is our shared values which should prosper, and which are a truer representation of who we all are.
Naz Shah is the Labour MP for Bradford West and vice-chair of the APPG on British Muslims.
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