It was a memorable day for me, my daughter, grandson, in fact for my family. We were on our way to watch a film from South Woodford to Ilford. It is a trip we have made many times before. We were 10 minutes into our journey when we turned into a small road and as we were moving suddenly my daughter who was driving the car was unexpectedly forced to stop and attacked by a gang of thugs, four in one car and two on a motorbike. As we were about to cross through this small road, the car almost blocked my daughter’s exit and cornered her and was forced to stop with flashing lights. Instead they stopped and cornered my daughter so there was no space for her to move out and they pulled out what seemed to be a huge iron ball and smashed it against the driver side of the window where my daughter was sitting. They were shouting “let’s smash the car”. They then moved to the side and my daughter rushed out quickly.
I was completely in shock, the window was shattered, I thought it was a gun. My daughter’s face, hair and clothes was blasted with tiny pieces of glass fragments. Glass shattered to my side where I was sitting opposite my daughter. I thanked God that my daughter did not stay in one spot and slowly moved on to the main road.
I cannot comprehend what would have happened if the men had come back and hit out the second time. She parked on one side and my grandson called the police. Police asked if we noted the car number and we hadn’t. This was due to the flashing light and the deep shock we had clearly experienced. Even more shocking was the fact that the Police refused to come to where we were and informed us that they would come the following evening.
I was utterly distressed once I had got home. I reflected on this experience and compared it to our earliest times during the period of 1975 to 1978 when we lived in Canning Town. I remembered vividly the number of times my sons were attacked on their way to and from school. So concerned was one teacher that they had to accompany my sons home. So horrific was the brutality of raw racism of the 70’s that whilst my children were asleep, stones would be thrown through our window and my children would wake and scream out of fear. One night someone put burning paper through our letter box and our door started burning. What happened recently to my family however was a distasteful reminder that I myself was beaten up by 14/15 year old boys in front of other people who simply stood outside the pub and watched. No one came to help or stop it. I was screaming.
Thankfully a priest and a woman came running out of the nearby church and took me inside the church and gave me water to drink and help me calm down. These three and half years were traumatic for my family alongside the handful of Asian families that lived on our estate. We received no attention or sympathy from the Council and they took no account of my situation as a single mother with five young children. I tried everything. To the best of my knowledge local officials were fully aware of the severity of racism directed against my family and a handful of others, but nothing was done. The local MP visited me but refused to speak to the Council. I learnt that there was one Housing Association willing to look at my case and accepted we were in danger. I was truly grateful to them as I was moved to South London. Police did nothing then just as they did nothing in 2017.
Outrageously police had the galls to ask me if I had known them or whether I knew where they had lived. The victims become the accused. This incident enraged me to think of all the horrors of racism I had experienced could come back and impact me and my children once again. What really made me cross was that my grandson had to witness this level of hatred.
Alas, I am despondent to say it’s happening again at this day and age, despite laws and despite so many of us having made this country our home. We must stand up against such attacks. Although I feel devastated to have witnessed this incident and felt as helpless as I did, I want to say that I am as courageous as I was then and proud to say I will not let any bullies deter my peaceful coexistence.
Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, nearly all of us are using at least one of these if not all and I think it’s safe to say that the word sharing encapsulates best what these platforms do. Thinking about it, the saying “sharing is caring” comes to mind, but how much of this “sharing” has been elevating the opportunities for Muslim women and how much of it has been not “caring” in the least?
I explored how using social media has been instrumental in putting Muslim women on the map, working to challenge many preconceived notions about them and Islam. However, some of the darker realities of these open platforms became very apparent. That doesn’t mean to say the downsides have been a deterrent in every case! Especially when you look at those building careers through social media, using it as a podium for their voices to be heard. Sadly though, it seems to have a resounding impact on how and who is using them in a number of ways. The recent negative press about Amena Khan’s L’Oréal campaign highlighting her comments made on Twitter in 2014, illustrates this point exactly. Suffice it to say that due diligence probably wasn’t done thoroughly on L’Oréals part, nonetheless, it ended up with Amena taking most of the backlash from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. On the other hand, there are plenty of those who are going very far with the use of social media and taking full advantage of its benefits. Look at Dina Tokio, Nabila Bee, Zukreat, Huda Kattan, Habiba Da Silva, Nadia Hussain and those are just to name a few.
In order to make the most of these platforms, Muslim women have to create the fine balance between deflecting the negative and actively participating.
We all have a multitude of opinions and social media allows for these to be heard. Working on the campaign Change the Script has given me the scope to understand why some Muslim women are often reluctant to use it nowadays. For most, it’s about the current icy climate blustering in the direction of Muslims. How can you blame them? When you put yourself on these platforms, it’s a given that you will be thrown some kind of abuse no matter who you are. Putting it simply, people can be very mean. The thing is not everyone you come across in life will like you, and I think that’s just the point. That concept spreads through social media like wildfire. It’s even more apparent because of needing to have that “like” button pressed to attract adequate amounts of attention to in order to establish your online presence. Because of this, we spend a lot of time singling ourselves out. When you consider the current state of affairs in the UK, singling yourself out isn’t just an exercise you practice on your own. It is placed upon you. That is because the media seems to think that being Muslim comes hand in hand with being an irate extremist owning nonsensical beliefs. We know that is far from the case, and demonstrating that through social media is quite possibly the best way to tackle that absurd narrative.
In order to create the balance mentioned before, here’s what I have come up with lately – the three steps you ought to take is to accept, deflect and utilise.
Accepting the negative sides of social media isn’t about condoning the unwarranted attention you might get, instead, it gets you further by showcasing your identity just as any non-Muslim would. This is especially the case when you take into consideration that it will challenge the very stereotypes which attracted that negativity in the first place. Deflecting the negativity won’t make it go away, granted, but being exposed to it when using social media shouldn’t be a reason to stop you. It’s a tool you can use to show how determined you are! Lastly, utilising the hell out of it is important whether it’s to endorse and build your career or simply as a means to live as human being in the 21st century. Oh, and all of this acts to serve as a platform to challenge the narrative the world has placed on Muslim women, which is most certainly not our own.
Amira Hasan is the Resident Writer for Change the Script. She has a passion for writing, style and design. In her spare time, she writes short pieces and blogs on lifestyle.
The media has generally caricatured Muslim women as meek, passive, oppressed and in need of liberation. This formed a cluster of stereotypes that are a hallmark of our generation. Nevertheless, much of this has changed recently. However, the change, in my opinion, has not been completely positive. We are seeing Muslim women, with hijab, on ads and even on TV shows (including the newsroom). Yet, much of this has been a shift from stereotyping to playing identity politics. The complexity of the issue surrounding Muslim women intersects with issues of religion, politics and their interaction in everyday civil society.
What overshadows some of the positive aspects of the portrayal of women in general, and Muslim women in specific is the constant need for justification. Muslim women always need to prove themselves, whether in a Nike advert to show themselves as active or to participate and break some ceiling of what is expected of them. This does not help solve the problem of their representation but exacerbates the problems. This is a natural process of globalisation that seems to rob women in general of their sense of autonomy. To conform to some global outlook that is dictated by a given company. The narrative of everyday women of faith (Muslim in this case) is ignored. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind how much we have moved on in the discourse from misguided representation to a place where we can discuss this as an issue rather than deny its existence.
There are also economic aspects and the much ignored colonial gaze that seems to still be present in how Muslim women are portrayed. 2017 was a tragic year in terms of the abhorrent attacks taking place across the world, both from terrorists and institutional state based wars. At the forefront of these events are the slow but certain rise of the far-right (as seen from the recent elections in Germany) and the normalisation of violent rhetoric from many groups. With the Burka ban in Austria, we can see how fear of the ‘other’ is building. Yet, in all this, we don’t have a space in which true expression of grievances can take place, for all sides.
The media, unknowingly or knowingly, is engineering a clash by not dealing with humans as humans, but seeing them through the lens of identities. Muslim women are the new frontier for exploration and patronising activism that lacks touch with the reality of individual life. We are not victims, we don’t wish to be victims nor do we appreciate being turned into victims. We wish to be portrayed as we are in our daily lives; we are not exotic beings who need to be discovered. If we wish to break the pattern of self-righteous rhetoric, then an appropriate structure and framework for dialogue need to be constructed. An environment in which we solve our problems through knowledge, acknowledgement and progressive dialogue. That is, to be simply human beyond all other labels.