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"You Just Have to be Human": A Hijabi's Tale of Pro-Palestine Protests

“Are you bald under that?” 


I first became aware of islamophobia on a day like any other – primary school bathroom, smelling of damp and sweaty feet and a cold draught seeping in through the door leading out to the playground. The small hand of a friend reaching out and pulling the fabric from my head.


“Did your family force you to wear it?”


France, 2018. That afternoon, a geography teacher had served me an ultimatum in French – take that thing off or get out of my classroom. I chose the latter. Dazed, I returned to my French exchange partner’s family home that evening to something akin of an interrogation of my faith. Was my religion and, most importantly, my appearance something of my own volition? Because why would anyone choose that?


-.-.-.-.-

In a survey taken in 2018, 22% of respondents held a negative view towards Muslims (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2018). From March 2022 – March 2023, 44% of all religious hate crimes were targeted against those perceived Muslim (Police recorded crime, 2023).


From these statistics, Muslims in the UK evidently face prejudice in many forms and recent global issues – particularly that of the war in Gaza – have caused tensions to rise even further.


As a hijabi (person who wears an Islamic headscarf) born and bred in the UK, it is a particular issue I have had to learn to circumvent. Being ‘visibly’ Muslim, means I am at a higher risk of faith-based discrimination or being subject to hate crime. My mother herself has experienced this just this month, having stones thrown at her and my baby sister on their way to and from our local mosque. When I heard of this incident, I was instantly reminded of the attack on Palestinian-American Hanaan Shahin and the murder of her six-year-old child, Wadea Al-Fayoume in a blatantly Islamophobic attack by their landlord in Chicago, USA in October this year. (The Guardian, 2023)


The tragic genocide that continues to unfold in Palestine has been trivialised as a Muslim-Jewish conflict since Hamas’ attack on October 7th. This is a gross oversimplification. 


Having attended almost every national march in London so far, I have seen hundreds of Muslim and Jewish people come together to march in opposition of ethnic cleansing and the murder of thousands of innocents in their own homes. One of my favourite signs I’ve seen at these marches simply reads “you don’t have to be Muslim to support Palestine, you just have to be human.”


Despite being almost entirely peaceful, these protests have time and time again been dismissed by MPs as “hate marches” (Sky News, 2023) and were even demanded to be called off when coinciding with Armistice Day. In stark contrast, the violent clash with police by far-right protestors on the same day, was only condemned after the situation spiralled, with more than 100 arrests (Quinn, 2023). Yet still, the various articles reporting on the far-right are deliberately unclear and forgiving in their headlines – preferring not to name the far-right specifically and instead vaguely labelling them ‘protesters’ or ‘counter-protesters’.


All this carefully curated media coverage in the past few months is the perfect breeding ground for prejudice and festering hatred. Today, both Muslims and Jewish people alike are worried that this sentiment will soon erupt. Having been egged on by politicians’ haphazard comments, it feels as if the far-right has been given a free pass to pass ‘judgement’ on those who step out of constantly shifting boundaries.


Recently, the Met Police had reportedly handed out Hate Crime Protest Leaflets, once again pushing the idea that these marches, which simply demand a cease to merciless killings, are a secret front to campaigning for antisemitic violence. Furthermore, the Arabic language has been deliberately misappropriated by far-right sources to stoke Islamophobia – did you know “jihad” simply means to strive or struggle, not some mythic ‘holy war’?


And in opposition to the demand of the hundreds of thousands of protestors across the UK, our government chose to vote against a ceasefire.


Our government voted against a ceasefire.


Over 12,000 deaths, many of which were those of children, were not enough to sway the decision. Weekly protests screaming for peace were not enough. Millions of people signing petition after petition or emailing their local MP were not enough.


With no permanent ceasefire in sight and the level of Islamophobia almost sure to rise, I still hold out hope despite it all.


I plan to attend any upcoming protests and march alongside my fellow human beings calling for peace. The world will change piece by piece, but that cannot happen without our voices. History is doomed to repeat its tragedies if we remain silent and forget the horrors of the past. 


And even in the face of rising islamophobia, I will not be silenced.



References

Equality and Human Rights Commission. (2018). Developing a national barometer of prejudice and discrimination in Britain. 


Police recorded crime, H. O. (2023). Hate crime, England and Wales, 2022 to 2023 second edition. Retrieved from GOV.UK: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/hate-crime-england-and-wales-2022-to-2023#documents


Quinn, C. (2023). PM and Met slam chaotic Armistice Day which saw more than 100 arrests and nine police officers hurt. Retrieved from LBC: https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/pm-and-met-slam-chaotic-armistice-day-which-saw-more-than-100-arrests-and-police/


Sky News. (2023). 'These are hate marches': Home secretary hits out at pro-Palestinian protests as UK terror threat level remains 'substantial'. Retrieved from Sky News: https://news.sky.com/story/these-are-hate-marches-home-secretary-hits-out-at-pro-palestinian-protests-as-uk-terror-threat-level-remains-substantial-12996645


The Guardian. (2023). Landlord pleads not guilty to killing US Muslim boy, 6, and stabbing mother. Retrieved from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/30/landlord-pleads-not-guilty-killing-muslim-boy-hate-crime


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Maïs is a work-in-progress librarian, who adores poetry and all things that blur the lines between literature and art. As a queer Muslim who's heritage is a marvelous mix of Southeast Asian and North African, they are still finding their feet in the world but heading full force into the future with hope and love. For more of their works, head over to @poetryghostmais on Instagram.

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