You are not going out today. This is a note to the self
to lay low, play safe, shrink inwards.
Today is retreat behind closed minds and opened doors. It will be a day of fat turtle clouds and burgeoning dampness. She in the citrus dress on TV said so
but she didn’t mention the summer hate circling your doorstep. You think you can hear it now, whistling between parked cars.
Mehdi Hasan recently penned an article for the Guardian describing life post-7/7 for British Muslims. He painted a bleak picture of a community largely under the microscope; subjected to relentless hostility and suspicion. The piece exuded a deep frustration with governmental policies and the ‘quiet condoning’ of societal Islamophobia at all levels, particularly in affording media platforms to such views.
I, too, share this exasperation, coupled with a deeper frustration on days like this.
How do you navigate public (and private) mourning when it will always be leveraged against your body? I am reminded of Muslim doctors at Royal Free Hospital tending to the wounded whilst acknowledging what would await their communities. How many were weeping at this human selfishness, that natural instinct for self-preservation? The injured and dying were carted into their care, through the same bleached hallways that had welcomed me into this world years earlier. There it is again. That double-bind everyone from self-appointed Muslim community ‘leaders’ to shrewd politicians and misguided think-tanks has done little to truly engage with, let alone understand.
The syrup of this day rattles its nails along laminated coffee tables. Today is remembrance engraved in stencilled headlines. The spine of a bus folded, heavy with grief. Carriages seethe with human frailty and you know better than to enter in your overseas skin smelling like burnt wire and tube tickets.
Hassan’s article was hardly polemic, not to a Muslim Londoner, or even a young Black Londoner existing at the intersections of half-stories and half-truths. We know what it means to have our physical and mental health disregarded at the same time as sweeping generalisations are made, branded as ‘painful’ truths our community has to ‘address’.
Muslims today know of our own demonization. Sometimes we scratch out spaces where we can try to convince others, try to organise and mobilise despite knowing that being whisked off into the night is a very real possibility. Yet, there is something disturbing about Hassan confessing that he has actively ‘discouraged’ his eight-year-old daughter from reading or watching the news. Gone are the demands for more representation, now we just want to shield our children from seeing themselves in a mould created by others. Toddlers are being ear-marked as potential ‘radicals’. The older they get, in schools, universities, workplaces, the more they will be expected to speak for Middle Eastern geopolitics that mean nothing to them or their realities.
So you’ve crumpled into kitchen cupboards like two tower hearts falling. The sweeping will get done, for once. At least, that’s what you tell yourself.
You watch the soup bubble its
cartoon violence. See your brother refracted in its brown eye,
a scarlet target splayed on forehead. July is
Muslims will continue to have these conversations about complicity, knowing full well how many of our countries are torn apart by the same evils we are told we support. I engage in this ‘dialogue’ despite intimately knowing the disruption in my own heartbeat every time an attack occurs in Mogadishu, where my father lives. He will tell me not to worry and the smallest paragraph at the corner of the papers commonly reserved for ‘African’ news will tell me he is complicit in his own violence. When Sajda Mughal, the only Muslim 7/7 survivor reveals she has suffered death threats and online abuse due to her faith, despite her campaigning against extremism, what hope do the rest of us have?
We do not hurl these ‘condoning’ accusations at David Cameron whose party employed a campaign director who advised that campaigning for ethnic votes was a ‘waste of time’ and to ‘f**** Muslims’ entirely. Members of Parliament who claim to fully represent their constituents whilst voicing support for the hateful, imperialistic mission statements of the Henry Jackson Society and other career-Islamophobe vehicles. We speak of complicity but never about how although 54% of Islamophobic hate crimes target Muslim women; mainstream British feminism and its organising remains disgracefully silent.
You hope no-one bothers Iman, the youngest niece. She’s twelve, has taken to
copying her mother’s every act, wrapped unruly hair
with a pashmina halo. That tender age when the world is a warm lap, teasing feet into bedtimes. You want the only obstacle of her school run to be the laugh of ice-cream vans. Perhaps her mother was wise enough
to send an older brother.
I remain distrustful of ‘progress’. The word itself is couched in the violence of who it removes from the story and what had to happen for its manifestation. Even then, a decade has passed and little of any kind of wider ‘progress’ is to be seen. We can only take comfort in the grassroots work of individuals and initiatives that continue to resist this climate of fear and do the work of healing and community building. The last decade has seen a rise in the number of local inter-faith projects to meet the inter-generational needs of communities facing upheaval.
Ten years on, and I still have hope. Those of us who came of age as the dust hung heavy on Edgware road know we cannot pick a side. Anyone who tells us to is denying us our full lived experience, our totality as human beings. I will mourn for my London the way my parents mourn their forced exiles. We will apologise – but only to ourselves for ever believing those who claim we are unwanted guests in our own city.
Switch the gas on; watch it spark Jubilee Line sighs into being. I will not leave this house today. This is not fear. It is me wanting a moment
to read verses,
the way this day falls in this particular holy month.
It is me reciting how ‘it has all been determined for, in phases’ and knowing
why our elders read this
when a beloved passed.
Note: Please support and give voice to organisations and efforts made by the likes of Foundation for Peace, FAIR, TELL MAMA, Muslim Youth Helpline, Faith Matters and the London Interfaith Centre, amongst many.
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Momtaza Mehri is a Medical Science student and passive aggressive writer who is interested in decontextualizing knowledge production and exploring how it informs race, gender and nation theory. Her writings inhibit a world where the big C also denotes capitalism and colonialism. She currently works in the community sector, running mentoring schemes and educational support involving BAME youth. Her thick-rimmed glasses disguise a love for intersectional hip-hop analysis, bubble tea, and long, hot summers abroad teaching English. Her work will be featured in an upcoming poetry anthology showcasing new London talent. Laugh with her @RuffneckRefugee
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More by Momtaza Mehri
Black, British & Muslim; We’re not just a “Complication” (mediadiversified.org)