Muslims mourn the Queen under Prevent’s watchful eye
The Queen is dead. The Queen lived long. Close to a century, in fact - an expected consequence of leading a sheltered life as an extremely wealthy monarch.
In the aftermath of her passing, we continue to see a response in the media and in the general public that is as sycophantic as it is predictable. We all knew this day would come. But in the throes of overwhelming support for the late monarch, and the British monarchy by extension, it’s possible that not everyone got to express how they truly felt about it.
On social media, from amidst an outpouring of reverent grief, a counter-narrative also emerged. People from former British colonies expressed grief of a different kind – one that came not from the loss of a monarch they knew from a distance, but from the pain this monarch caused, often actively and directly, in the not-so-distant past.
''For British Muslims, as we know, citizenship has always been conditional. And now, counter-terror and anti-extremism measures such as Prevent work hard to ensure that Muslims stay in line. So an occasion such as the Queen’s death isn’t an opportunity for sincere reflection or honesty – rather it serves as a test of loyalty.''
It was interesting, then, that in this counter-narrative, the voices of Muslim organisations in particular were notably absent. Not only were they absent, but prominent organisations went out of their way to pay their respects on the occasion of the Queen’s demise.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), ostensibly the largest representative body for Muslims in British public life, paid tribute to, “how the Queen devoted her life to public service and sought unity among British communities”.
MCB’s statement claimed that “[a]ll of us, of all faiths and none, will remember Her Majesty’s legacy of public service and celebrate her achievements”. It’s almost as though the MCB witnessed the reign of Queen Elizabeth II in a reality parallel to this one, where 20th Century colonialism – and its legacy of brutal, bloody devastation – never happened.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) released a statement saying it was “deeply saddened to learn of the death of Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second”. CEO Shaista Gohir claimed “Her Majesty’s role as the longest serving female monarch during a time when patriarchy has been endemic is nothing less than iconic”.
This was basically a more formalised iteration of ‘yas Queen!.’ Who knew that colonial crimes, especially those against the many, many women in former colonies, become “iconic” if they’re committed by a woman.
As the first generation of my family not born in a British colony, I would dance on the graves of every member of the royal family if given the opportunity, especially hers. https://t.co/yeIQRSyCQM— Zoé (@ztsamudzi) September 8, 2022
MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) issued a shorter statement via Twitter saying “a loyal servant to this country has departed”. It’s a sentence that’s not entirely untrue, although it remains unclear in what capacity the Queen acted as a servant of this country rather than its publicly-funded sovereign head.
Other mosques and local Muslim organisations also offered their tributes and condolences. But while offering condolences is part of the Islamic faith, a question remains as to what motivates both the need to issue these statements as well as the urgency with which they were thrust into the public domain.
For British Muslims, as we know, citizenship has always been conditional. And now, counter-terror and anti-extremism measures such as Prevent work hard to ensure that Muslims stay in line. So an occasion such as the Queen’s death isn’t an opportunity for sincere reflection or honesty – rather it serves as a test of loyalty.
And it is imperative for the sake of belonging, integration and acceptance that Muslims pass this test. Although whether Muslim organisations and representative bodies realise this, and are conscious of it in their responses, is difficult to say.
Is it calculated and deliberate? Does a cautious awareness of being watched result in attempts to aid the perception of Muslims as integrated citizens and, more importantly, loyal subjects? Or is it simply fed by a desire to not rock the boat?
Or maybe the effect of Prevent’s surveillance and thought-criminalisation is so insidious that Muslims have internalised it, causing them to believe unquestioningly that these are their true feelings. That at the death of one of the greatest colonisers in recent history, the only contribution they can make on behalf of Muslims is one of reverence and adoration.
The British Empire, under the Queen’s own reign, committed widespread violence, theft, repression and manipulation. This is a documented part of history, and the space to share it should exist within any society that claims to champion free speech.
There are, no doubt, British Muslims who feel anger over the romanticisation of the Queen and the whitewashing of her reign. There are British Muslims who would like to see the monarchy abolished, not least because it is a fundamental symbol of inequality in this country. And there are British Muslims whose grief is reserved for their grandparents who lived, and died, under the boot of British colonialism.
A woman has been arrested for holding a sign saying "abolish the monarchy" in Edinburgh.— Lowkey (@Lowkey0nline) September 11, 2022
Bur Prevent, and the associated fear of counter-terror surveillance, has caused a throttling of Muslims’ collective and individual voices. Britain wants Muslim immigrants to embrace being British, but without allowing them the rights and freedoms to which white British people have a claim, including freedom of speech.
And perhaps this muzzling of Muslims is the point. Because whether or not the responses from Muslim organisations were a conscious attempt to shield these organisations, and Muslims at large, from state suspicion and criminalisation, they succeed in both depoliticising and de-historicising Muslim civil society. Prevent, therefore, while proving ineffective as a counter-terror strategy, has succeeded as a colonial tool to keep Muslims in check.
After news of the Queen’s death broke, within hours #AbolishTheMonarchy was trending on Twitter. But if Muslims can’t even express the mildest intellectual criticism when an oppressive ruler dies for fear of the consequences, it’s clear that Prevent is working exactly as it was designed to.
Afroze Fatima Zaidi is a writer, editor and journalist. She has a background in academia and writing for online platforms.
Follow her on Twitter: @afrozefz
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