For so long, Islamophobia has been the elephant in Britain’s room.

I was born in 1998, so I grew up in the post-9/11 era.

That elephant has sat there since Prime Minister Tony Blair launched the Prevent programme in 2003 (later, it became legally enforceable in 2015), which compels teachers and even nursery staff to monitor ethnic-minority children for extremism. Prevent wasn’t a singular program – it was part of the larger overall post 9/11 counter-terrorism approach (CONTEST) that seeks to “prevent the radicalization of individuals to terrorism.”

Of course, the reality is a lot less rosy: across the United Kingdom, Muslim communities like my own have been the only ones affected, all under the pretense of keeping the country “safe.”

As young British Muslims, we grew up in this climate of distrust and scrutinization.

Some tactics of the Prevent programme? Infiltrating mosques to find out what is being taught. Girls in primary school being taught to spy on their parents for “terrorist” activity. Indoctrinating educators and public sector leaders to focus on “saving” girls who wear the hijab, in order to “free them from their oppression.”

As young British Muslims, we grew up in this climate of distrust and scrutinization. Our parents taught us to not question the status quo. That we should keep our heads down until we can make a difference in the greater British system.

This year, I graduated from Lancaster University.

It took me until right before I graduated to gain the confidence to talk about issues that affected me, both as a member of the South Asian diaspora and as a British Muslim.

I rock the boat and I feel the brunt of it. I see it every day on Twitter when I see the alt-right tweeting me trying to white-splain my life, denying my experiences of Islamophobia and bigotry. I can tweet the same things as my white friends, but the only person who gets the abuse? Me. It’s not hard to guess why.

During my first year at uni, I wanted to write an essay on terrorism, but I was terrified. I was terrified about how my words would be taken. I worried about how my grade would be impacted.

When I brought this up to my seminar tutor, he was surprised. He was a white male who’d never been stripped of his privilege, so his response was that of reassurance. Reassurance that I would be treated as any other student.

Yet this did not prevent anxiety from filling me to the brim. Having grown up in a world ruled by the Prevent policies, nothing seems safe.

The impact that the so-called terrorist legislation has had and continues to have on Muslims is often ignored.

Many British Muslims don’t feel that they can speak about issues that affect them, simply because of how they can be perceived. Many British Muslim students tend to keep away from student politics because of this, a reality that results in being unable to take part in university life. The impact that the so-called terrorist legislation has had and continues to have on Muslims is often ignored.

Why? So people outside of the Muslim community can ignore the unequivocal reality: that the Prevent program is nothing but anti-Muslim legislation.

It’s important to recognize that such privilege and ignorance doesn’t only happen with people who don’t know Muslims.

One of my closest friends told me that “I need to get off my high horse” because Islamophobia is “not real.”

Hearing these comments from the people closest to you is heartbreaking. These are the very people you trust more than anything, yet they can’t understand how things affect you. Instead, they choose to play the devil’s advocate.

It’s exhausting constantly having to convince my friends that Islamophobia is very real.

Unfortunately, it’s not just me who has faced this.

It’s something my parents have had to deal with most of their lives. My mother works with old people. She is not allowed to touch their belongings in case “her color would rub off.” She has been called racial slurs. She was spat on when she stopped an old man from falling over. When she told me, I was furious. I told her to refuse to help him and she had no obligation to him anymore.

My mother’s response was, “Beta, we should be better, it’s not his fault.” I commend my mum for her response, but the sad fact is she does not expect anything else.

We are constantly having to prove that we aren’t what the media portrays. In a 2016 ComRes survey, 72% of respondents agreed that most people in Britain have a negative view of Islam. In March 2015, Trevor Philips, the former head of the Equality Commission, stated that “Muslims were not like the rest of the population and they have a problem integrating.”

One of my closest friends told me that “I need to get off my high horse” because Islamophobia is “not real.”

Muslims are always the problem, regardless of what the situation is.

Tez Ilyas put it best in his TED Talk: “When Muslims we create our own safe spaces, our own community, own places of worship we refuse to integrate. But when more than one of us congregate in mainstream spaces, we have to hear whispers like, ‘they’re bloody everywhere.’ My question is this: What do you want from us?”

On the 22nd of May 2017, my worst fear happened.

My home city of Manchester fell victim to a suicide bombing in which 22 people (23, counting the terrorist) tragically lost their lives. I mourned the people who had died, whilst preparing myself for a backlash. Even though I grew up on those very streets, I was scared to go home.

I remember stepping off the train into Manchester a short while after the bombing, home for a break from uni. I was shaking because I didn’t know what I was about to face.

Ultimately, Mancunians lived up to the name of being some of the best people in the world, because everything turned out okay. I will always be grateful for that – but I don’t want to live life in a perpetual state of fear anymore.

Having to justify being a British Muslim is a joke.

I’m Muslim when I criticize the British Empire, but British when I talk about my love for the Beatles?

Why can’t I be both? Why don’t I have the privilege to be both of my identities that I love? Why can I not be treated like a goddamn human being?

I’m sick of it. I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I’m an Other in my own community and an Other in my own country. How is that fair?


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  • Aafiyah Shaikh

    Aafiyah is a graduate from Lancaster University with a BA in International Relations. In her spare time, she loves writing poetry, and dismantling racist and patriarchal structures