“The evidence is very clear: Islamophobia is on the rise – yet we have a Government that not only fails to properly recognise the daily injustices that people like me are forced to endure but are still pursuing a political agenda that targets us, disadvantages us, oppresses us & persecutes us.”Apsana Begum MP
Every single day people of Muslim backgrounds like me face discrimination and prejudice, and under this Government Islamophobia is only increasing.
Comments such as Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letterboxes” is just one example of the acceptable prevalence of Islamophobia.
I am never allowed to forget that my presence in parliament – the first MP to wear a hijab – makes many uncomfortable.
From the regular mispronunciation of my name to being mistaken for other hijab-wearing women in politics or House of Commons staffers, to even being asked if I am related to Shamina Begum.
Recently we have seen the Islamophobia at Yorkshire County Cricket Club being brought to light by the testimony of former player Azeem Rafiq, after an initial internal investigation into racist abuse he experienced led to no action.
Despite some coverage, the news cycle has now moved on. Even in the news reporting that did happen, broadcasters and outlets failed to use the word ‘Islamophobia’. This is not surprising; we know that studies have highlighted the role of British media coverage in contributing to the rise in Islamophobia and that most news outlets give predominately negative coverage of Muslims.
We, as Muslims, are cynically used as a focal point for people’s fears and anxieties – as scapegoats for the failings of the political and economic system. We are set up to be the “enemy within.” It should be no surprise therefore to anyone that I am constantly having to cope with a vicious torrent of abuse.
Below are a few examples of what I have been subjected to, and these are by no measure the worst, which I would not want to share so publicly.
“Vile and filthy religion … importing vile and filthy creature like Apsana Begum”
“Muslims should be banned from public office. Their religion is one of conquest, and we can’t trust their allegiances.”
“These people are really detestable. Lying and cheating is genetic and cultural to them. It worries me intensely what this country will become as more and more of them obtain positions of influence!”
“Deport the Filth”
“Throw her and her family back to where they came from.”
“Chop her hand off”
“This could be one of your last statements”
All too often Muslims live with a constant, persistent fear overshadowing our lives. There are very real reasons to be fearful, especially given that the latest data shows that Muslims are the largest target of religiously motivated hate crimes.
The rise of the far right, in particular, is a threatening and very present danger.
However, the prevalence of negative stereotypes, harassment and hate crimes are only part of a whole structure of discrimination. Muslims are also the most economically disadvantaged faith group in the UK with some reports showing that half of British Muslims face poverty and deprivation.
Despite the last two years being marked by the inspirational global Black Lives Matter movement calling out the state regarding racism, Parliament has passed legislation after legislation that will further entrench discrimination, from the Policing Bill to the upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill.
The truth is that we live in a society whose state-sanctioned approach to counterterrorism is modelled on Islamophobic stereotypes.
Earlier this year, when addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, reported that institutional suspicion and fear of Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, has escalated to “epidemic proportions” – and that “numerous” states, regional and international bodies were to blame.
Across the world, under the auspices of fighting terrorism and religious extremism, we see people of Muslim backgrounds facing persecution and the denial of basic citizenship rights. From the Rohingya refugees being forced to flee their homes, to the escalating harassment of Muslims in France, to the human rights abuses in India, Kashmir, and the Xinjiang region in northwest China.
The evidence is very clear: Islamophobia is on the rise.
And yet we still have a Government that not only fails to properly recognise the daily injustices that people like me are forced to endure but are still pursuing a political agenda that targets us, disadvantages us, oppresses us and, at times, persecutes us.
But there is hope. I am inspired by the history of progressive politics in East London, my home and where I have the absolute privilege to represent the constituency where I have lived all my life.
I know that I owe so much to those who have gone before me. From the 1960s onwards, for example, when racism was prevalent and people were frequently attacked, alliances between different communities and anti-racist organisations were built in resistance. I am humbled and inspired by how people continue to organise to protect our communities to this day.
I would like to pay tribute to the enormous contribution that Muslims across Britain make. No matter what – I am proud of my culture, my heritage, my background, and my faith.