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.