Muslim representation is hollow if it doesn’t speak up for Palestine
In the face of Israel’s continued ethnic cleansing of the people of Gaza, and the world’s unwavering sanctioning of it, it’s hardly Muslim celebrities and influencers who deserve our harshest criticisms. That should be reserved for those aiding and abetting genocide.
But amongst a sea of horrific, graphic, traumatising content online, it does seem like a glaring truth is becoming ever more visible. What purpose does Muslim representation in the mainstream really serve, especially now? And have we been sold a lie about what representation can do for us as a community?
I’d like to think I have better things to do with my time than keep track of who is posting what online, but it is precisely because so much of this unthinkably callous genocide is being played out through social media that the deafening silence and weak two-sidedness is so noticeable from the people I have long followed and even admired.
''Like many, these days I am at the senseless, deliberate mass murder of an entire people. I am angry at the impunity that the Western world is handing Israel on a shiny platter. But I am also angry at who we have looked to as our representatives, who we have taken to be our voices and our faces in the mainstream.''
I have to say, I once brought into the idea of Muslim representation meaning something. The politics of representation tells us that it matters if there is a hijabi smashing our baking competitions, an athlete named after Islam’s most beloved prophet winning gold medals for Britain, Muslims presenting the news, featuring on makeup adverts and starring on Big Brother. These things are supposed to make a difference to us because they normalise Muslims as part of British society, exposing the public to perceptions of Muslimness that defy the stereotypes of us as oppressed or violent or foreign.
Women wearing the hijab pivoting their entire platform around being the first to do something were the heroes of my teenage years. As I moved into the motherhood phase of my life, I have gravitated towards Muslim women who post about gentle parenting and the highs and lows of life with small children whilst navigating faith and islamophobia. I saw myself reflected in them and felt like we were making progress as a community when these women were given national and even global platforms - not despite of their Muslimness but because of it.
But there’s something gutting and undeniably stark about seeing of images of obliterated babies and then clicking on the next story and seeing a Muslim woman featuring in a publicity campaign for a major corporation (that at times can be one that deals with, and profits from, the state of Israel). There’s something uniquely tone deaf about watching a genocide of unfathomable brutality live on our phones alongside someone’s inane post about their lunch, makeup routine or their latest Shein haul.
Some figures whose entire online persona is centred around their Muslimness will post one thing about Palestine and then move on to their holiday content.
Of course, in our increasingly online world there is the argument to be made that influencing is many people’s careers nowadays. I haven’t stopped turning up to the school I teach in because of the ethnic cleansing of my brothers and sisters in Palestine. No matter how fraught we are with despair and anger for our Palestinian counterparts, the unfortunate reality is that the endless cycle of life continues for us outside of Gaza. This is certainly an argument that has been made by most Muslim influencers who have gone back to sharing curated content because they have deals with brands to uphold.
I think we are at a turning point as a Muslim community, that our anger and outrage are bubbling over, and I believe it is vital we use this to demand what we expect from one another. We must vocalise what is valuable and meaningful for our liberation and progression as an Ummah in the West, and what’s hollow and ultimately serve nobody but capitalism’s insatiable aims.
If we see representation as the end goal, if the only aim is to nudge and fight our way to the table then what have we really done to elevate our community? What does a hijabi in a makeup ad do to eradicate hostile politics? What has it done to interrogate the Islamophobic policies that curb our freedoms? What has it done other than to sell that product to Muslims and earn more money for whichever corporation looks the most diverse?
That’s the problem with representation. It is hollow. Pointless. It’s useful, even lucrative, as a personal unique selling point to further own’s career. Indeed, getting to the table and just looking around at the view is meaningless without attempting to ruffle feathers whilst you’re there, disrupting the status quo rather than just of skin colour or religion and demanding your voice is actually heard over the cacophony of monolith.
Like many, these days I am at the senseless, deliberate mass murder of an entire people. I am angry at the impunity that the Western world is handing Israel on a shiny platter. But I am also angry at who we have looked to as our representatives, who we have taken to be our voices and our faces in the mainstream.
If you made your career through your Muslimness and yet have been silent or two-sided whilst Palestinians are being bombed, crushed and starved to death, then really you are no representative of the Muslim community at all.
The people of Gaza are pleading to the world to bear witness to their suffering, to share the footage that will hold Israel to account, to inform and educate about their plight. They are using their dying breaths and dwindling internet connections, recording their dead children and raw grief all to send us as a message desperately hoping it’ll make a difference.
Amidst Gaza’s ashes, it feels as though a new generation of politically vocal, unrelenting and well-equipped activists are blossoming who will be able to use social media to hold Israel to account in ways that we have never seen before. I hope that this also leads us to collectively demand that the people who claim to represent our community actually hold Western governments to account. Maybe then, it will be the end of the hollow promise that is the ‘Muslim influencer’.
Nadeine Asbali is a secondary school teacher in London.
Follow her on Twitter: @najourno
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