Written by Maryam Khan. Follow her on Twitter at @MazHalima.
Sometimes it’s just the little things, you know? I was in the car with my dad recently, and for once I decided to wear a shalwar kameez — it was mustard yellow and red – one of those outfits that just makes you feel happy everytime you look down at it. We were in steady traffic with the windows down when I saw a white teen looking at our car, talking pointedly to his friend. As we drove past, he shouted “C*NT!” through my window. My dad didn’t say anything, and neither did I. We just pretended it didn’t happen. Or maybe my dad is a just hard of hearing and I was in quiet shock.
A few days before that my dad had a hospital appointment. We had to wait an hour in a boiling waiting room because this is the British National Health Service we’re talking about. There was an elderly, indigenously English couple also waiting. For over the hour my dad tried to make small talk only to receive looks of disdain in return. I smiled every time we caught eyes with each other, and I too got nothing. When they left, my dad and I looked at each other and said, “What the hell was that about?” We shrugged it off.
I was on a train coming home from work a few days later and saw a white lady looking at me. She’d look at me oddly for seconds that felt as long as minutes, every few minutes. After what felt like she’d been staring forever, I found myself mouthing ‘racist’ at her over and over and over again, and it was really satisfying, and I also felt absolutely insane. Maybe she’d been staring at my outfit. Why did I assume she was looking at me because I’m brown? Shall I stop mouthing “racist” at her now?
I hardly mention these kinds of things out loud anymore — what’s the point? Underlying tension, paranoia, feelings of inferiority and societal shame are just a daily reality for Muslims in the West today. I feel like I can cope with it — after all, people go through MUCH worse — and yet I have random bursts of anger which make me feel like I’m on the brink of civil.
A few days later — on June 14, 2017, to be exact — the Grenfell Tower in West London was burnt to the ground with many of the residents still inside (as I write this, the death toll is 79). It was home to so many vulnerable people, immigrants, Muslims, refugees who had fled Syria’s civil war only to die in a London tower block. I forgot everything that had left me in a mental state of trauma the week prior, determined to buckle down with the community to help.
But then something else happened. I woke on the morning of June 19 to discover that a white man in a van had driven into a crowd of Muslims after taraweeh, screaming, “I want to kill all the Muslims!” This happened in one of the most diverse areas of London — outside the Muslim Welfare House by Finsbury Mosque.
There had been a crowd outside because a gentleman had collapsed — potentially from heat exhaustion it is claimed, but no one can be sure at this time — and was receiving first aid. He died on the scene, and at least 10 others who were in proximity of the van were injured. Muslim bystanders held the terrorist down until the feds got there – the imam even kept him safe from the angry mob that surrounded him – this is the patience of Islam.
As the terrorist was taken into a police van, he waved to everyone, blowing kisses. I think a PoC would have got shot on the spot.
Scrolling the #FinsburyPark hashtag on Twitter, I wasn’t comforted. Some people were jubilant, calling this a “revenge attack against Islamists” with the hashtag #MondayMotivation.
Something is seriously wrong here in England — this has been our fourth attack this year and there is no sign of it slowing. Of course, the people who suffer the most are almost always, ALWAYS — I’m shouting now — Muslim women. It’s Nabra Hassanen, who my heart is bleeding for.
It’s the anonymous woman who was found having a panic attack in East London because two men forced her to the floor and then dragged her across the ground by her hijab. It’s Samsam Haji-Ali, who was kicked in her pregnant stomach so hard for being visibly Muslim that she miscarried her twins. It was 14-year-old schoolgirl Sureyya Ozkaya who was robbed, had her hair set on fire and her hands and feet cut with glass because she dared to be Muslim. It’s the anonymous woman of Milwaukee who was stabbed and beaten by a man so enraged that she dared to wear a hijab. I could go on, and on, and on, but all I’d be left with is tears and anger that no healthy outlet can alleviate.
Whether it’s the “alt-right” (let’s just call a spade a spade and a nazi and nazi, shall we?) in America or the right-wing tabloids (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) of England, something has to change — we’re going through something that won’t make for easy reading in the history books years down the line.
I’m going to continue to practice patience and selfless love but the truth is I’ve never felt sadder, or angrier. Angry that people died in London Bridge for absolutely nothing. Angry that Nabra didn’t have a choice; she will remain as a teenager forever in her parents’ memories. Angry that white people can commit acts of terror and instead of getting shot on sight, get a mental evaluation and even a little empathy. Angry that as Muslims, we are supposed to shut up and be submissive and stay calm in the face of racist abuse in the West and bombs back home.
Everyone looks like a potential threat to me now. I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m just holding on tight and waiting for the storm to pass.