Let me begin by describing my upbringing. I was born in Middlesex Hospital in the United Kingdom, began attending my local nursery from 6 months old (a non-Muslim nursery, mind you), then onto a state primary school, high school, sixth form and finally onto a University of London branch. Until very recently, I held one nationality and one nationality only; British. My passport I use to travel the globe with is red with a lovely note in the inside from dear old Liz, requesting me safe passage as a Briton. I am on the electoral register, and I pay my taxes. I had never considered being anything other than British, until recently, when myself, alongside the millions of other Muslims in the UK, have been told that there was actually an error, and we are not.
I started wearing the headscarf, out of choice, in high school. During lunchtimes at school, I would pray in the maths classroom that the kind Irish teacher let us use. During the month of Ramadan, I would eat before sunrise, attend school, nap when I returned home until it was time to eat. I took half of my GCSE exams early, and left high school with no grade lower than an A. When my international friends would visit London, I would show them around my area, take them to my ‘home’. It was a life without any identity crises. My home was London.
Last night, Channel 4 aired a documentary on what ‘British Muslims really think’, hosted by Trevor Phillips. Interestingly, this ‘extensive survey’ took into account around less than 1% of the actual Muslim population in Britain. I know what you are thinking; does this lady not understand basic mathematics and the way surveys are conducted? I understand this well enough, however what I cannot understand is certain members of the public’s reluctance to question any survey presented to them posing as an accurate representation of the whole. And this, my fellow Britons, is particularly dangerous, especially when dealing with the gravity of the accusations at hand.
Trevor Phillips claims his aim was to promote an ‘active integration’. If so, let us analyse the way this show was conducted and presented to the prime time audience of the popular Channel 4. Around 4% have sympathy for terrorist attacks. Let us address first; what is defined as sympathy? Did we not have partial, if minimal, sympathy for Andreas Lubitz, the pilot of the GermanWings flight, when it emerged he suffered from depression? Are we thus condoning such terrorist acts; or simply being human? If a Muslim responding to said survey had in mind Jihadi John, a known terrorist who suffered from mental issues, and felt a minute emotion of sympathy, does this mean they are condoning his action, or simply expressing the same natural human emotion for a pitiful being? Perhaps they were also simply expressing sympathy for the positions of these men which was dire enough to lead them to join such a cruel organisation. And it is this lack of definition that is made important when ‘sympathy’ is misinterpreted as ‘support’, something which if phrased as such a way in the survey, would have most definitely produced a different outcome.
Secondly, the presentation of the figure is crucial. Rather than telling the audience that 96% of Muslims surveyed do not sympathise with said terrorist acts, they highlight the figure that do. Rather than attempting to prove innocence of the majority, there is instead a highlight on the ‘large minority’, as he ironically phrased it. This is where it becomes apparent that Trevor has not embarked on a mission to promote harmony in the British society; he has set out to destroy it.
My fellow countrywoman, Katie Hopkins, wrote an article in total support of last night’s program. She makes a particularly interesting claim that Islamic Societies are infiltrating university campuses, where any pro-LGBTQ voices are petitioned into silence. My university, SOAS, has both a very active Islamic society as well as a LGBTQ, which both operate on the same campus with no problems. In fact, in a move that will greatly disappoint Trevor and Katie, the LBGT+ Against Islamaphobia facebook page came out with a statement as follows:
“The representation of Islam as more homophobic than any other religion is false and amounts to an excuse for racism”
I cannot deny the position of British Muslims appears distorted. On the one hand, many of us have ethnic ties to the countries that our government is currently taking part in destroying. We attend protests against the bombing of Iraq and Syria, we wear badges on our bags in support of Palestine, sure. But at the same time, we attend protests against austerity cuts, we wear our badges in solidarity with junior doctors, we check in on Facebook on the day of the General Elections with ‘I voted!’, (P.S. there is no Sharia party, I voted Lib Dems).
During the Paris attacks, what was I doing? I had just finished watching a re-run of Come Dine With Me whilst running on the treadmill. My father had the news switched on, and the world was running crazy as tragedy had struck Paris. And what is interesting is that myself, who had spent the past few weeks trying to hand in her land law assignment discussing whether or not Jake is able to buy his land without Kitty claiming her right to it, was suddenly being called upon to defend herself for these actions!
My dear friends, Islam does not condone these actions. Islam does not permit forced marriages or FGM. Islam does not permit rape. Islam does not oppress. Some try to ban the headscarf as they feel we suffer from ‘oppression’. I do not ask you to feel sympathy on my behalf, nor do I ask you to be angered on my behalf at the ‘oppression’ I face. I ask you to view it as no more than a cloth on my head that this country has given me the right to wear for my own personal convictions. You view my headscarf as an oppression, but for me it is a liberation. And I am so grateful that the United Kingdom gives me, its citizen, the freedom to experience liberation on my terms. Live and let live, as we say.
Finally, how long must we keep having to disassociate ourselves from ISIS. My ethnic origin is Tunisia, a country that has received one of the highest number of attacks from ISIS. It is a country which is fighting the same war as you, and one that Tony Blair himself confesses to having ignited. Yet, we must still cry out as Muslims, ‘I do not condone ISIS!’. I repeat once and for all, ISIS is not Islam, ISIS soldiers are not Muslim.
Trevor and Katie were right, there is a ‘them’ and there is an ‘us’. However, what they have got wrong is who ‘they’ and ‘us’ are. The terrorists who kill in the name of a God different from mine, are ‘them’, and we are ‘us’, Katie, Trevor and British Muslims included. Is that not the great tolerance of Great Britain? That whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, whether you believe Aliens are up above, whatever you are. It does not detract from our one common link; being British. And I am sorry, but I will not have that taken away from me by Channel 4 or the Daily Mail.