The Met police Muslim recruitment catwalk: You criminalise us yet want us to work for you?
Of all the things you’d expect to find at a Muslim shopping event, a significant police presence is certainly not one of them. Amongst the luxury abaya stalls and the half-price hijabs, the gourmet halal burgers and the Eid decorations, holding a recruitment drive encouraging Muslims to join an arm of the state that has, at best, held a historically fraught relationship with ethnic minority communities feels a lot like an insidious and tone-deaf encroachment on a safe community space. And yet, that’s what was found at last weekend’s London Muslim Shopping Festival at the ExCel Arena.
Events like these are opportunities for Muslims to exist freely and peacefully. To immerse ourselves in a world of Muslim business and entrepreneurship that is usually confined to online spaces - a rare example of Muslim joy, of not having to live in the margins. And so, the presence of the Metropolitan police at such an event not only compromises the security and safety of those attendees, but sends a deafeningly loud message that there is nowhere we are safe and that the pain inflicted on our communities simply does not matter.
As a woman and a Muslim, this makes me uncomfortable. And angry.
''We cannot lose sight of the fact that the treatment of Muslims and marginalised communities at the hands of the police are no more acceptable and are not any less violent if they are enacted by a brown bearded face or a woman in “modest” dress. The scourge of representation does nothing to secure genuine change.''
Any Muslim can attest to the uniquely pervasive way that we are policed in this country: how anti-terror legislation allows the police to question our children in school without our permission, how our appearance warrants extra scrutiny on street corners and in airports, how Prevent criminalises us as terrorists for doing nothing but practising our faith.
Those who have been faced with the sheer brutality of the state, who have experienced aggressive immigration raids or have been stopped and searched for the colour of their skin should not have to relive their trauma by witnessing the police playing dress up with Muslim children at a community event.
When in the last year a police officer was sentenced over child sexual abuse, others have also been struck off for sending explicit texts about raping women or making memes out of pictures of dead people of colour, what message are we sending when we provide the police an uncritical centre stage in our community events?
Let us not forget that the Metropolitan police service is in heavy disrepute, and the shadows of the likes of Wayne Couzens and David Carrick - serving police officers who used their power to systemically brutalise women - still loom large.
In fact, a recent public enquiry found that misogyny is “endemic” in the Metropolitan police and that women were routinely “used casually” by officers for their own gains. Muslim women are already forced to battle misogyny and islamophobia across society - at once suspected by the authorities and deemed weak and subjugated. What does it say about how we value the safety of Muslim women if we platform an organisation which has been proven time and time again to be institutionally sexist and racist at an event populated by Muslim families?
Public trust in the police is in dire straits. A recent YouGov poll found that half of Londoners do not trust the police at all, with only 35% of ethnic minority Londoners voicing their trust. Of course, defenders of initiatives like this will say that without outreach, public trust in the police will never improve. And yes, short of defunding the police, rebuilding trust and creating institutional change is undoubtedly paramount to moving forward. However, there is something undeniably insidious about seeking to gain public trust by allowing young Muslims the opportunity to sit in a police car or try on a police hat.
Sticking a hijab on a police uniform and calling it inclusion without tackling the disproportionate way that these very young Muslims are likely to be handled by the police as they enter adult life is not the solution.
Perhaps it is an indictment on our highly capitalist system and its pervasiveness even in apparently religious community spaces, that an entire history of state-sanctioned abuse, hyper-policing and inequality can be watered down to a hijabi police uniform in a fashion show and approved as “progressive”.
Additionally, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the treatment of Muslims and marginalised communities at the hands of the police are no more acceptable and are not any less violent if they are enacted by a brown bearded face or a woman in “modest” dress. The scourge of representation does nothing to secure genuine change.
And although capitalism’s hook in our modern definition of modest fashion may say otherwise, adding an optional head covering to a uniform that quite literally symbolises state brutality and violence does not somehow make it Islamic.
What’s more, Muslims are already more likely to live in poverty than the average UK citizen (over half of Muslim households facing poverty compared to around 18% of the general population), meaning that our communities are likely to face the sorts of insecurities and instabilities that attract disproportionate policing in the first place, such as insecure housing or uncertain immigration statuses.
With that in mind, what does it say about the Metropolitan police’s so-called outreach efforts if the sphere they choose to conduct it in is a capitalist cornucopia of consumption and luxury that half of British Muslims cannot even begin to afford? After all, wealth and privilege shelters even those in the most marginalised of communities. As far as outreach initiatives go, it’s hard to distinguish this particular one from a shiny PR stunt, convenient for Instagram likes and not much else.
As Muslim communities, we need to refuse to be distracted by such shiny PR stunts. Inviting agents of an intrinsically islamophobic state into our safe spaces and allowing them to portray themselves as a progressive force for change does nothing to empower and secure our liberation. Until we as Muslims unite and mobilise, things will never change. And to truly demand change, we need to hold the police to account, not invite them to play dress up with our children.
Nadeine Asbali is a secondary school teacher in London.
Follow her on Twitter: @najourno
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