This isn’t about me.
This isn’t about me.
Firstly, this is about more victims of yet another senseless attack. This time in London, this time in another hub of metropolitan life. There is no justification for this, and there is no religion on this planet that would ever support such horrific actions.
Those words are meant with utter compassion, but they’re said so often now that they feel like rote. And unlike so many other non-BAME authors offering their savvy hot takes this morning (several enjoying the word ‘solution’), this is a preface someone like me would be crucified for not having. As if someone like me would be exempt from a common tenet of human decency.
“Silence is compliance,” we’re told. As if someone like me could be compliant to the twisted ideology of mass murder.
Being a young British Muslim in 2017 often means holding your breath. From the aftermath of an atrocity to the simple act of walking around with your mum in her headscarf around the local shops. Is that person staring at me with my bag on the tube for a reason? Are they approaching me and my mum to sell us something or punch us in the face? There’s no woe-is-me here. This is just life. This is just accepted by someone like me.
“This has to stop,” we’re told. How? Immigration won’t stop — for lack of imagination and tired frustration — a cunt being a cunt, homegrown or otherwise. Islam is the problem, we’re told. Regardless of the millions of us who scream ourselves hoarse decrying such a thing in our name.
But the statement doesn’t seem to matter unless it comes from a white politician, or celebrity, or some sort of public figure. Even compassion is viewed with suspicion for someone like me.
I keep hearing that Islam breeds a certain ideology, that it says xyz in the Qur’an. That’s always the oddest thing — I sit here typing this as an openly gay Muslim from a conservative family, born and raised in the city of Bradford. By outsider accounts, people like me shouldn’t exist. Yet there is an entire legion up north that has learned to reconcile their beliefs with sexuality and live with it in harmony.
But someone like me always the exception. Someone like me is never the rule.
Growing up in Bradford meant difficulty with that side of life, just as it would be for anyone living in a relatively small place, regardless of religion. It may sound trivial, but I found (and still find) solace in Marvel’s X-Men comics. They were always said to be a metaphor for being gay, trying to constantly do good & seek acceptance in a world that hates and fears them. As I walk down the street, it’s hard not to extrapolate that further for someone like me.
After every horrific attack, someone like me can be left with issues of self-worth. Wondering what the point is of living in a world that ostensibly hates and fears us. More often than not, we’re left with an inexplicable guilt. One that takes years to erode and mere moments to return.
And what we face now is this: attack so frequently and in these “it could have been me” epicentres so that even the most liberal people start to fear. And had it not been for cancelled plans, that London Bridge route would be the one I’d take at that time to a home less than five minutes away. When any practising Muslim would be peacefully breaking their fast in the holy month of Ramadan (which, if there’d been more media coverage, people would realise these idiots don’t practise considering they’ve also attacked Kabul).
This time it really could have been someone like me. Some days I’ve begun to hope that it is.
Because I’ve realised this year that the guilt, for me, has been one of a survivor. There are times that I look at the anger in the world that follows such an event and hope that next time it might be me. So that people can see it could happen to someone like me. That it might promote some sort of tolerance, or reason, and make people realise that terror doesn’t see the bio-data of its victims. That it might make the world a better place.
If that sort of psychological battering can happen to someone like me, imagine what it could do to an angry lone wolf. Or a group of idiots. We’re at risk of another generation becoming so disillusioned that they turn to extremism to give their life some meaning. To act out, to be seen, to be heard. To feel like they matter.
People I know and love on social media are beginning to reach their breaking point and a question mark appears over their tolerance. So much so that a subconscious divide begins to appear between them and someone like me.
Here’s the thing: knowing me doesn’t exempt you from feelings that are rooted in racism or Islamophobia. I am the very product of the thing that you fear and hate – you insult that, you insult the reason I am who I am. And even if that upbringing hasn’t always agreed with what I am, I would not change any of that strife for the ideological and psychological equilibrium that came as a result.
The hardest thing to do for people sometimes is show each other compassion at times like this. As if doing so would be fraternising with the enemy. And despite all the vigils Muslims hold, all the outreach we do, all the charity we collect, no voice is loud enough to overcome that basic fear of otherness.
But otherness comes in all sorts of forms — it’s just that ours is most obvious. There is always a danger in talking about groups in that it reduces people to an amorphous mass, with no care or sentiment for the individuals that reside within them. Regardless of the fact that Islam contains about 72 sub-divisions. Regardless of the fact that there are people who identify as Muslim who come in all shapes and sizes.
There are Muslims that might drink, Muslims that might be gay; there are Muslims that might eat non-halal meat, or Muslims who don’t pray five times a day; there are Muslims who have won the Nobel prize, just as there are Muslims who have run child abuse rings.
Imagine saying the same about any other group of people where an ideology exists. After gangland violence in Harlem. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Say those same phrases and replace the word Muslim. If that doesn’t sound uncomfortable to you then we’re already miles apart.
This group is made up of individuals, the same sort of individuals who can physically do as much to ‘root out terrorism’ as white people could to stop the murderer of Jo Cox.
Someone like me might feel like fleeing. But we are here to stay. This country is mine and I’m proud of being a part of it. We gear up for another mental health battle — life in the intersection is one of the biggest blessings I’ve had, but no one warns you about the feeling that comes with it. Like every single day you’re manually directing four-way traffic, every lane so intent in insisting they have right of way that no one is actually looking toward the clear and peaceful road that you’re trying to signal in between.
But this isn’t about me. I sit here looking at more innocent faces who haven’t asked for any of this and I remember once again that this isn’t about me. This is about those who might one day grow up to be someone like me, of any religion and any colour.
And they deserve a hell of a lot better than the legacy of cyclical hatred we’re about to leave them.