You Can’t Opt Out At Islamophobia


When I travel, passport checks and security don’t phase me, armed police pay me no attention and no matter where I’m going, the worst I’ll face is a bored employee longing to finish their shift. I do as I’m told. Shoes off, electronic devices in the box. I’m polite and don’t cause any disruption. So why shouldn’t it be like this? The point is it should be, but not just for you.

Last year I travelled with my friend in Europe. We went to France, Denmark and Belgium. Admired the art, loved the landmarks and relished the idea of a city as clean as Copenhagen.

As we progressed through the queues, checks and controls, we followed the rules. Our attitude the same, the only difference being the place of birth on our passports. Stepping into the air with the automatic doors sliding closed behind us, he breathed a sigh of relief, ‘Well that’s never been so easy. Is that what it’s like to travel when you’re white?’ and as he joked it hit me. Yes, yes it is.

I wait in the bus line while he goes to the bathroom. Our relief is short lived. A minute later I look over and see him stopped by four armed police. Steams of people walk past, avoiding the uncomfortable situation unfolding and the defining differences between him and them: a beard and a darker skin tone.

It’s easy to forget the privilege that you have as you go through your daily life. You’re not doing anything wrong, but neither is that women with the hijab, or that man with a beard. Being visibly muslim shouldn’t define who you are or how you are treated.

Even the student community is not immune. Tom Harwood, a candidate for NUS president, stated ‘NUS is in ISIS’ in his campaign video. He flashed the word ISIS within the word crisis, like the opening of a poorly made conspiracy theory documentary. His blatant islamophobia toward the institutions first muslim President Malia Bouattia, shocked me to the core.

This wasn’t a joke, it went beyond an attack for the sole aim of political gain. Harwood equated Bouattia’s presidency – in which she has stood against and tackled racism, antisemitism and discrimination – to a horrific and inhuman terrorist group that has slaughtered so many innocent lives. However what shocked me most was the response.

Where was the response? Where was the backlash?

Remarks like this are made every single day, they’ll be in the comments of this very article. With every foul tweet, street slur and political assault, the silence becomes evermore deafening.

But as I gasp at the video in disbelief my muslim friends shrug as if to say it’s one of many. If they spent all their time engaging with these attacks, they’d never get anything done. From folders of abusive emails on their work accounts to photoshopped videos of their face on a 9/11 plane. They’ve dealt with worse and without complaint.

It’s important to note that this isn’t a new, post-brexit fad. In 2015 a report from Tell MAMA highlighted that anti-muslim attacks had risen by 326% in the UK, with women being targeted the most. Since then the numbers have only escalated.

They’re told that’s just life. Sure they might get a little sympathy, but sympathetic inaction is useless. As the quote goes, ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’

It’s time that we wake up and realise how bad it’s actually become. We need to stop brushing aside the discrimination that appears rooted in our society; stop saying it’s not really our business and start speaking out. Neutrality is not an option in this fight, either you care about discrimination or you don’t. You can’t just opt out at Islamophobia.
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