Uniting against #PunishAMuslimDay: A year-round challenge

Uniting against #PunishAMuslimDay: A year-round challenge
Comment: The issue of Islamophobia is structural; embedded in the UK's foreign and domestic policy, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
06 Apr, 2018
Two women celebrate their friendship outside Newcastle Central Mosque on #PunishAMuslimDay [Getty]
This week, many breathed a sigh of relief following a largely uneventful 'Punish a Muslim Day' that threatened to take place on Tuesday, following a letter that was posted to muslims across the UK. Possible punishments listed in the letter included throwing acid in a Muslim's face, ripping the hijab off a Muslim woman's head, burning or bombing a mosque, and nuking Mecca.

Understandably, fear and worry among Muslims grew as the date neared. The number of community Whatsapp and social media messages mounted, with precautionary advice that attempted to ease peoples' worries, and encouraged those who wished to stay at home to protect themselves from potential harm.

Visibly Muslim women were advised to find alternative, less 'Islamic' head coverings including beanies or caps and told to remain vigilant. Suggestions that were shared included not walking in public spaces alone or without a male companion, if one had the privilege to remain at home all day, then to do so.

Some took to social media in opposition to this approach and critiqued the assumption that Muslims are more likely to bury their heads in the sand and hide, rather than take on the racists of our society. Others said it allowed Islamophobes to 'win', because so many had internalised the fear.

While I share some of these frustrations, I can also sympathise with those who chose to stay indoors with their loved ones on 3 April. Their response highlights the level of insecurity and lack of confidence within the Muslim community. It brings to the fore that many are not convinced there are far more people who oppose Islamophobia and the targeting of a community, than those who legitimise and perpetuate our oppression.

It was also telling of the lack of trust in many institutions, institution which claim to exist for our protection, from the police to the government, and even representative organisations which attempt to tackle anti-Muslim hatred.

If Muslims don't feel that a strong resistance which 'has their back' is present on the ground, then why should they potentially risk their lives to take a stand?

The reality is, that every day is punish a Muslim day, and has been for a very long time.

It can feel like a well rehearsed claim, yet we really only have to look at the UK government's foreign and domestic policies to develop an understanding of how Muslims are defined and treated by the West.

When you see that the other 364 days a year are filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric in politicians' speeches, tweets and scaremongering newspaper headlines, and that Muslims are systematically targeted through the PREVENT agenda, austerity measures as well as migration policies, is it any wonder that few had faith in solidarity and protection on the 3rd?

Following a summer of acid attacks and attempts to mow down mosque-goers, the most powerful country in the world enforcing a literal ban on so many of us, and little girls being warned that they will face interrogation by Ofsted if they choose to wear the hijab, Number 10's reaction has repeatedly been weak in the face of such repeated attacks.

Equally, is it that surprising that the far right felt confident enough to threaten such an action given the context?

What little was said or put in place by official and governmental channels has been cancelled out by their insistence on othering and attacking countless Muslims through its practices in public services, borders, or workplaces.

There were however visible actions of solidarity that took place across many cities in both the US and the UK.

Is it that surprising that the far right felt confident enough to threaten such an action given the context?

Activists and community groups in Bradford, Nottingham, London, Sheffield and Leeds (to name a few) organised #LoveAMuslimDay, which included rallies and cultural celebrations, to show that vibrant opposition is present across society.

The #LoveAMuslim hashtag invited an international response to the hate-filled letter, especially when the letter also made its way to Oregon in the US.

Others put practical help in place for any who fell victim to violence or were deeply anxious on the day, via the #ProtectAMuslimDay helpline organised by over 100 volunteers.

As the dust settles on the day, it is important to remember that Islamophobia is a year-round affair and our response must therefore rise to the challenge.

The fear and apprehension in leaving one's home only strengthens with every attack we hear about, every bigoted word hurled on the streets, every bill introduced to parliament that reinforces the 'Muslims are innately violent' narrative, and every news story that paints us as a collective problem.

The truth is, the government will only respond adequately if it is forced to do so based on pressure from below.

The visibility of an uncompromising anti-racist movement that takes on structural questions will do just that. This requires a fundamental re-think of our approaches both within and beyond the Muslim community.

The issue of Islamophobia is structural; embedded in both foreign and national policy, and at the heart of current trends of policing, repression and the rolling back of civil liberties.

The approach that encourages accommodation and aspirations to respectability asks us to close our eyes to these issues and focus on case by case problems. But if we want the collective pressure and fear to be defeated once and for all, we will need to fight back collectively and continuously - until it is the system of oppression, rather than its symptoms, that is defeated.

To stay updated with the trial and receive updates for solidarity action visit the website: End Deportations 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.