Wednesday 11 March 2009

Media stokes up "mob" attitude against Muslims

Guest post by Fatima Hassan

As I made my way into work this morning I was completely blind sighted by the cover of the Daily Mail. In fairness, it takes a lot for me to gawk at a complete stranger while they quietly read their morning paper, but what I saw made me uncharacteristically upset. On the cover, was the quintessential image of ‘Muslim’ men, bearded and fully cloaked in black above a headline; which read, ‘Welcome Home! These soldiers, who’ve lost 12 comrades, returned from Iraq yesterday, to be greeted by this hate-filled mob.’

The ‘mob’ in question - incidentally consisted of 20 or so Muslim protesters who held up anti-war placards and heckled the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment as they marched through Luton. I’m not here to debate the definition of a mob or defend the right to free assembly, but what I’m really upset about is how the Daily Mail’s cover reinforced 25 years of personal Muslim stereotyping – and if this is my reaction – how must young British Muslims feel?

I’m American, born and bred, raised in New York and experienced the loss of 9/11 first hand. My parents are Pakistani immigrants, working class, who paid their dues and raised their child in a loving Muslim household. My cousin is in the army and fought in Afghanistan and although I never supported the war itself, I believe in the right to respect the beliefs of others. I moved to Britain to work in a political system that accepted diversity and encouraged the Sadiq Khans and Shahid Maliks of the world. I was often told – ‘you don’t look Muslim’ or ‘you don’t act Muslim’ and that predominantly influenced my identity as a Muslim woman who was not only defending her Islamic credibility, but defending the actions of Muslims around the world.

Islam is the elephant in the room – too far removed to discuss and to close on Europe’s doorsteps to discuss, but what I hope this blog will achieve is to make a very clear distinction that the Luton ‘mob’ does not represent all Muslims in Britain or all Muslims for that matter. The mob represents free British citizens exercising their right to demonstrate. And often even if we may not agree with their beliefs, it’s this unequivocal right that many have fought for and defended – it’s the true essence of democracy. The tragic shootings in Ireland teaches us this lesson, when violence, rather then words, are used to distinguish a message. Nowhere in Britain did a national headline evoke hatred or classify all Catholics as supporters of the shooting, in fact the opposite occurred – it unified the peace process. So, as my frustration subdues and my venting is over, I hope this Muslim can reassure you that not all Muslims are black cloaked, violent people – that image just embeds fear and sells papers.


Unknown said...

"Encourages the Shahid Maliks of the world" - hang on, as someone who self-identifies as Muslim, how is that something to be proud of? Is that what we aspire to, Muslim politicians who choose to side with a government that has promoted hatred of Muslims at home and abroad?

Calix said...

Fatima, I agree with what you are saying and I do think anti-Muslim prejudice has become the biggest prejudice, perhaps overcoming racism and sexism (although it includes elements of both). I noticed personally how wide-spread it is when I was stopped by a respectable looking man who launched into an anti-Muslim tirade and expected me to agree with him. When this kind of thing happens in daily life it shows that people feel secure in sharing their prejudice and they presume most other people will agree with them - I don't think he would have said those words against gay or black people.

However (there's always a however!), in this case I do think the Luton protestors were being deliberately provocative and created a dangerous situation. Free speach and the right to demonstrate is a fundamental right but the problem comes when it incites violence and confrontation. Where do we draw the line? if at all?

Spectators of the Luton parade were likely to include many friends and relatives who would naturally have strong emotions of pride and relief (i.e. their sons survived). In this context the demonstrators accussing the soldiers of murder were bound to cause a heated reaction.

It's partly common sense to avoid those situations. I wouldn't go to an Arsenal parade and shout about how I am a Tottenham fan. I am in my right to do so but it is not sensible if I want to remain intact.

Counter demonstrations always run the risk of leading to violence. You mentioned Northern Ireland and one of the annual flash-points was the Orange Parade because the two sides squared up. I always used to wish the Catholics would just stay away and allow the Orange-men their day of juvenille fun in their bright costumes with their drums.

I'm afraid I believe the Luton demonstrators wanted to cause Daily Mail head-lines and this will just lead to more prejudice.